For reasons that aren’t precisely clear, the media and a number of Republican officials have been loudly proclaiming the danger posed by radical far-left “antifa” protesters. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has even proposed legislation that would brand “antifa” a “terrorist organization” as well as a “hate group.”
Beyond even the cold reality that “antifa”—short for “antifascism”—is not an organization, but a loosely connected movement involving hundreds of smaller left-wing or anarchist groups, there’s an even more stark reality: Despite lots of headlines, talk segments, and podcasts about “violent leftists” surrounding a recent assault on a provocateur-cum-journalist in Portland, the levels of violence emanating from the radical right fundamentally dwarfs, like a tsunami to a swimming pool wave, whatever violence left-wing extremists have manifested.
Over the past three years, far-right killers have been responsible for over 100 murders around the world, including mass killings in Christchurch and Pittsburgh. There were at least 20 such murders in 2017; that number more than doubled, to 50, in 2018.
In that same period, the number of “antifa” killings has totaled exactly zero, as it does in most years.
Late last week, the Justice Department released the sentencing memorandum for the three young fascists from the neo-Nazi Rise Above Movement who traveled from California to Charlottesville, Virginia, on the weekend of the Unite the Right rally of Aug. 12, 2017, as the culmination of which a young white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a young woman named Heather Heyer and maiming 19 other people. The document offers some searing insights into the nature of these groups, and the kind of violence these new young radicals intend to inflict.
It also makes for a vivid reminder of just which sector is producing a serious and disturbing threat to American society: namely, the radical right.
The memorandum contains federal prosecutors’ reasoning for recommending long sentences for the three California men: Benjamin Daley, 26, of Hermosa Beach; Michael Miselis, 30, of Lawndale; and Tom Gillen, 25, of Torrance—sentences of 42, 30, and 46 months each, respectively.
The trio pleaded guilty in early May to multiple federal charges of conspiracy to riot and crossing state lines to riot. The sentencing recommendations are reflective of the plea deal prosecutors cut with the defendants.
Prosecutors explain in the memorandum that they are seeking hate-crimes enhancements to the men’s sentences, in no small part because all three men made their hatred of—and intent to target with violence—feminists and Jews explicit in their online writing, in their speech at the events, and in every aspect of Rise Above Movement organizing.
The group’s existence and its activities were first exposed in detail in a ProPublica investigative piece published in October 2017. Nearly a year later, federal prosecutors filed charges against the men and another Charlottesville participant, Cole Evan White. Four other RAM members, including co-founder Robert Rundo, were charged in October 2018 with conspiracy to riot as well; however, their convictions were overturned on appeal last month by a federal judge who deemed the law unconstitutionally overbroad.
RAM, as the sentencing memo explains, “represented itself as a combat-ready, militant group of a new nationalist white supremacy and identity movement. RAM regularly held hand-to-hand and other combat training for its members and associates to prepare to engage in violent confrontations with protestors and other individuals at purported political rallies. All three of the defendants attended these trainings to prepare for their violence.”
Like most far-right street-brawling groups, their entire raison d'être was to provoke fights with far-left and anarchist groups, particularly those attached to various campuses in California and elsewhere. “RAM’s goal when they attended these rallies was simple: They sought to provoke physical conflict, or—even better—they looked for any reason to serve as an excuse which they believed would justify their use of violence against their ideological foes,” the memorandum notes.
And like similar white-fight groups, such as the Proud Boys, American Guard, and Patriot Prayer, it worked hard to present a kind of mainstream-friendly image that was a deliberate attempt to hide its hardcore white-supremacist ideology by eschewing typical fascist symbology and rhetoric, even as it embraced old-fashioned thuggish behavior. “Contrary to many white supremacist groups, RAM’s image and its membership were calculated to make their more incendiary racist and anti-Semitic views appeal to the mainstream right-wing and alt-right sympathizers with the goal of later indoctrinating new recruits,” the memorandum notes.
RAM members also sought to infiltrate traditional and mainstream conservative groups, conceal their extremist views, and indoctrinate (or “red-pill”) them.1 For example, when an individual contacted Daley on whether any RAM groups were in his area, Daley told him that “We are not branching out but we do heav[il]y encourage our style of networking and activism. ... if the[y] have trump or maga events out where you are definitely go. Good place to meet people. Also can have guys get in with the college republicans.”
The memorandum also details the various events in which RAM participated leading up to Charlottesville, particularly its “coming out” event in March 2017 in Huntington Beach, California, and more notably its members’ eager participation in the ugly rioting in Berkeley on April 15, 2017.
Afterwards, they boasted about how they actually instigated the violence at the event throughout the day: “In one of the first such instances, RAM members, including the defendants, crossed the police barrier separating the attendees and protestors, and assaulted protestors and other individuals. Afterward, on their Twitter account, RAM celebrated how at the Berkeley riots “we were the first guys to jump over the barrier and engage [which] had a huge impact.”
Several of the defendants were caught on camera engaging in some of the more extreme violence: “Earlier in the day, Miselis had broken his hand by punching someone in the back of the head, and later casually stood by and watched Gillen and other RAM members in this encounter. According to Miselis’ text message describing this instance, he ‘was about to jump into that but our guys were just wrecking them’ and that there was ‘not even any room to get a hit in.’
“Meanwhile, … Daley pursued other counter-protestors down the street, one of whom he ran up to and kicked from behind ….”
The memo also details how the RAM members prepared to travel to Charlottesville, knowing full well they intended to participate in acts of violence, so they worked hard to cover their paper trail—buying tickets through friends, disguising purchases of helmets and tiki torches.
Then, once in Virginia, the RAM gang once again played a leading role in provoking violence on the streets, both at the Aug. 11 tiki torch march onto the University of Virginia campus and at the main Aug. 12 event in Charlottesville around the Robert E. Lee statue in a downtown park. The men were especially exultant about the Friday night march in which they had massively outnumbered counterprotesters and had mercilessly assaulted them: “After the students and protestors left, Miselis’s own Go-Pro video captured him yelling ‘total victory’ and ‘we beat you tonight, we’ll beat you tomorrow too!’”
At the Saturday event they engaged in such violence as punching protesters and knocking them to the ground, at which point they began kicking them so hard that Miselis broke his own toe. Daley infamously attacked a feminist and began strangling her, caught in an image reproduced frequently, and then threw her to the pavement with such force that she suffered a concussion.
Afterwards, online conversations made clear that “the defendants’ primary regret about their time in Charlottesville was not having exacted enough violence.”
Activist Emily Gorcenski noted on Twitter that the case was significantly bolstered by evidence provided by a California bartender who was present when Daley attempted to recruit a new member after Charlottesville. The man collected evidence and reported it after Daley told him that RAM intended to target feminists at future rallies: “We’re going after feminists now,” he told the recruit.
The call for hate-crimes enhancement of the sentences is made particularly in the details about how the RAM members talked and organized, because it is thick with hatred of Jews and feminists: “On the Discord thread, rally organizers and participants were venting frustrations about the uncertainty with the pending preliminary injunction hearing to take place in the Western District of Virginia. Daley responded to the thread: ‘Regardless, we should all still go. I’m flying out from CA with a handful regardless. Fuck these Jews.’”
The memo explains, “First and foremost, the evidence proves that the defendants’ crimes were motivated by their misguided perception that their enemies and their victims—specifically counterprotestors at the California and Charlottesville rallies—were Jewish. Second, the defendants’ crimes—which involved acts of violence against at least two female victims—were motivated by gender and their targeted hatred of women and feminists. Third, and no less significant, the defendants’ acts of violence were also motivated by the fact that their victims were allied with groups they despised, to include Jewish people, African Americans, women, and others they perceived as non-white.”
Once again, no such court documents exist for antifascist groups, in large part because they neither practice nor plan for acts of offensive violence, nor do they organize rallies intended to be scenes of mass violence. That zone belongs entirely to the radical right.
Strangely, no one has yet proposed legislation that would outlaw them.