Atomwaffen Benjamin Daley FBI Games Longform MAGA March News ProPublica Rise Above Movement Robert Boman Robert Rundo Taylor Laube Thomas Gillen

Rise Above, Unmasked: A Former Weekly Intern Recalls How His Surf City Assault Became an FBI Criminal Probe Into an Alt-Right Group

Rise Above, Unmasked: A Former Weekly Intern Recalls How His Surf City Assault Became an FBI Criminal Probe Into an Alt-Right Group
Illustration by Richie Beckman

It’s the afternoon of March 25, 2017, and I’m surrounded by pissed-off Donald Trump supporters accusing Weekly photographer Brian Feinzimer of hitting a lady. I’m considering, ‘Fuck, we’re about to get jumped.’ One such supporter all of the sudden costs into Feinzimer, so I stretch out my arm to defend him, just for the attacker to show his consideration on me and begin throwing punches at my face. Whereas the organizer of this Huntington Seashore pro-Trump rally and march, Jennifer Sterling, makes an attempt to cease my first attacker, Rise Above Motion member Tyler Laube runs in to lob some low cost photographs at me. Sterling tries to guard me from the blows. An antifa protester named Jessica Aguilar involves my rescue. She jabs at Laube’s face whereas one other antifa member pepper-sprays the gang.

The tactic buys sufficient time to save lots of me and Feinzimer from the mob, though the spray sadly hits Sterling. Feinzimer and fellow photographer Julie Leopo pull me away in the course of the scuffle. The mob turns to chase the antifa members who saved us. No one is aware of it but, however that is the exact second when the neo-Nazi battle membership we now know as Rise Above Motion (RAM) made its ignominious public debut.

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Final month, the FBI made headlines when it arrested eight members or associates of the Huntington Seashore-based hate group for allegedly violating federal rioting legal guidelines. The fees got here after a year-long collection of investigative tales into two violent neo-Nazi teams (RAM and Atomwaffen) by ProPublica reporters A.C. Thompson, Ali Winston and Darwin BondGraham. Each the FBI affidavit and the ProPublica investigations cited the violence perpetrated by the group on the Huntington Seashore march at which I used to be assaulted.

Whereas the Weekly’s unique reporting earned on-line harassment and accusations of being pretend information, these investigations affirm what we’ve stated because the starting: Neo-Nazis got here to Huntington Seashore with the precise aim of beating up any counterprotesters who occurred to point out up. These indignant younger males who first appeared in Surf Metropolis would later take their hate-filled act to Charlottesville, the place a pro-Trump “Unite the Proper” rally attracted tons of of Klansmen and tiki-torch-carrying alt-right protesters and resulted within the dying of an anti-racism counterprotester.

Regardless of RAM’s violent actions in Orange County, nobody aside from Aguilar, the antifa counterprotester who tried to defend me, has been charged with a criminal offense by Orange County regulation enforcement. Because of some decided reporting, nevertheless, the FBI lastly did what OC cops did not do. Of the eight individuals arrested by the feds up to now in connection to the violence in Charlottesville and elsewhere, we will now affirm that at the very least 5 (Laube, Robert Boman, Robert Rundo, Benjamin Daley and Thomas Gillen) have been current on the day of the Surf Metropolis march and that 4 RAM members dedicated acts of violence.

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Illustration by Richie Beckman

Again on the seashore, because the alt-right mob chases down the anti-fascists, Boman kicks one of many antifa protesters, then Daley begins utilizing the “DEFEND AMERICA” signal the group is carrying to cover his strikes at Aguilar. She makes an attempt to battle again, solely to get tackled and punched to the bottom by a Trump supporter. She hops again up, as RAM strikes in to assault the opposite two antifa members. RAM chief Rundo punches one in every of then, then knocks the opposite to the sand, at which level he begins pummeling the pepper-spraying antifa member on the bottom. Whereas Aguilar tries to assist her comrades, members of RAM seize her and Daley drags her to the place cops are standing. She is arrested.

The pepper-spraying antifa man escapes from Rundo. I assist him up, and he makes an attempt to flee. Instantly, a Trump supporter hits him with a flag. Then one other RAM member throws a rock at his chest. Lastly, the California Freeway Patrol takes the antifa protester into custody.

Now, Laube and the rock-thrower are in my face, angrily taunting me. Protester Naui Huitzilopochtli joins me, holding a telephone that data the motion. Spooked, Daley makes an attempt to reel in his boys.

“We see you, dawg,” he says.

“Fuck la raza,” says one other RAM member.

I understand I’m coping with a racist gang of white males. So I start to memorize all of their facial options, their South Bay tattoos and different distinctive marks.

I’m going to seek out out who these males are.

Laube and the rock-thrower make yet one more try and intimidate me on the seashore earlier than lastly fleeing. OC Weekly’s then editor-in-chief Gustavo Arellano holds off on publishing something the identical day, directing us to first try to find the id of the attackers. Thus begins an investigation into the membership of RAM, also referred to as the “DIY Division,” this new model of alt-right battle membership that has seized on Trump’s election to make their presence felt on the entrance strains of an ongoing tradition warfare.

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Everyone on employees started digging. I discovered a number of members of the group inside a couple of days just by looking by way of social media and checking all of the hashtags, geotags and feedback on posts concerning the occasion, even good friend lists. A RAM affiliate had commented on a Fb publish about somebody dubbed “Based mostly Elbow Man,” figuring out the person as his good friend “Rob” Rundo; from there, I used to be capable of monitor down a number of members of the group in his pal listing. Then, on an Instagram submit displaying Laube being punched within the face by Aguilar, Laube commented, “lol I do know that man,” including an emoji of a winking face with its tongue protruding.

Arellano used his identity-database assets to confirm that Laube, a then-21-year-old Redondo Seashore man, was truly on probation the day of the march, because of a 2015 theft conviction.

Scrolling by way of members’ Fb profiles revealed anti-Semitic and racist posts, in addition to well-known alt-right tropes comparable to Boman’s “Da Goyim Know” signal from the rally, all of which confirmed we have been coping with a neo-Nazi group.

Social-media searches turned up pictures of the group posing with members of the violent skinhead gang Hammerskins. We couldn’t determine everybody within the group, so we gave every part we needed to Southern Poverty Regulation Middle’s weblog Hatewatch for its April 7, 2017, story. The violence on the April 15, 2017, “Battle of Berkeley” gained the group extra fame, but phrase on-line stated their chief “Based mostly Elbow Man” had been arrested. I checked the record of the arrestees and narrowed issues right down to the one potential suspect: Robert Rundo of San Clemente. I couldn’t make clear with 100 % accuracy that this was his actual identify, so I drove to San Clemente Excessive Faculty to take a look at yearbooks in hopes of discovering an image that matched the identify. No luck. We knew he had priors, but police departments have been unwilling to share his mugshot.

And not using a chief of the group to call, the story went chilly.

For the subsequent couple of months, I turned my consideration away from RAM to assist Gabriel San Román in his investigation into OC’s alt-right motion. However I continued to control RAM because it grew stronger. The Northern California Anti-Racist Motion (NoCARA)’s July 2017 piece on RAM turned essential in figuring out the Hammerskin members and establishing an official connection between the 2 teams. RAM crossed paths with our reporting on Johnny Benitez’s vigils for the victims of unlawful immigrants, and the Weekly caught Hammerskins attending the Aug. 20, 2017, America First! Electrical Vigil in Laguna Seashore.

After the Charlottesville occasion, I pored over footage on-line from the infamous march. I simply noticed Daley’s mustard-yellow haircut within the crowd and Gillen’s big brow. The timing matched up completely when our now editor-in-chief Nick Schou organized a gathering with ProPublica’s Thompson and Winston on Sept. 12, 2017. “The foundational reporting [on RAM] was completed by [the Weekly],” Thompson says. “For those who hadn’t recognized the group from the bounce after the Huntington Seashore rally, I don’t know that any of these items would’ve occurred, or it might’ve taken lots longer for individuals to determine who they have been.”

On Oct. 19, 2017, ProPublica revealed “Racist, Violent, Unpunished: A White Hate Group’s Marketing campaign of Menace,” exposing RAM in a a lot deeper method by digging up members’ prior felony histories and naming key members of the group. The reporters even snagged an interview with one of many RAM’s mysterious founders in Orange County. When the Weekly first appeared into the group, its numbers seemed to be not more than 10, however, as ProPublica revealed, its ranks had grown to incorporate a minimum of 50 individuals. The piece additionally shined mild on the inaction of police departments in pursuing fees or investigating RAM, calling out the California State Parks Police’s failure to research the group’s violent actions on the HB MAGA March regardless of being conscious of the assault towards me.

Whereas the piece didn’t cease RAM, it put them beneath a nationwide microscope, with hundreds of shares of the article throughout social media. “What we needed to do was take a look at the individuals who didn’t need to be within the highlight, however needed to interact in violent felony exercise,” Thompson says. “Expose these individuals, identify these individuals and determine what that they had completed—that was kind of a driving impetus for us.”

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Illustration by Richie Beckman

One of many difficulties we reporters confronted in chasing this story was figuring out members who hid behind masks and goggles. It wasn’t till July 2018 that RAM member Michael Miselis was revealed by ProPublica and Frontline to be a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA and a security-clearance-possessing methods engineer at protection contractor Northrop Grumman. He misplaced his job the day after that report was revealed, in line with ProPublica’s follow-up story, which additionally uncovered RAM’s journey to Europe by which it linked up with numerous Euro white-supremacist teams. The 2018 model of the group had expanded with a clothes model dubbed “The Proper Model.” Income from the Huntington Seashore-based enterprise helped to pay for the group’s “activism” and any authorized bills which may come up.

The ultimate blow to the group got here with the Aug. 7, 2018, Thompson-narrated PBS Frontline documentary Documenting Hate: Charlottesville, which targeted on RAM and Atomwaffen. Lower than two months later, the FBI arrested Daley, Gillen, Miselis and Cole White for violating federal rioting legal guidelines. Inside 4 weeks, 4 extra members or associates have been taken into custody, together with Rundo, Boman, Laube and Aaron Eason.

Whereas RAM members at present face fees, it’s but to be seen if they may stick. The affidavits included personal communications between members, and Thompson believes extra shall be revealed concerning the mysterious group through the courtroom proceedings. “The query that I’m questioning about is what are the opposite members going to do now,” he says, “and are they going to maintain up the battle, or are they going to sort
of disappear?

“Notably the blokes who haven’t been arrested,” Thompson provides. “I feel it’s a query of whether or not they’re going to be nervous as a result of they’ve seen all their colleagues get wrapped up they usually’re going to put low or they’re going to struggle again in some sort of means that’s going to be scary and ugly.”

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Although the FBI lastly nabbed the one that attacked me and my fellow Weeklings, as San Román identified in his Oct. 29 weblog publish, it took the feds to return in and do the job native regulation enforcement wouldn’t. The day of the MAGA March, the California State Parks Police did little to cease the violence and arrested principally people who have been truly victims of assaults from the alt-right. It didn’t examine the assault towards me, with regional superintendent Captain Kevin Pearsall citing a scarcity of assets regardless of being given proof by Arellano. Even Alameda County prosecutors dropped costs towards Rundo for assaulting an officer and resisting arrest.

On the Oct. 29 screening of Documenting Hate at Chapman College, a number of the questions by viewers members targeted on who the hell we flip to within the face of violent white supremacists if the police gained’t act. “A part of why the group was capable of develop and maintain itself,” Thompson says, “is as a result of it was principally capable of function with impunity for fairly a while. In order that they have been capable of go to those occasions, get into these violent altercations, have fun them and construct their rep within the underground scene.”

The one individual from the march the Orange County district lawyer’s workplace (OCDA) continues to pursue a cost towards is Aguilar, who allegedly slapped Laube twice after he referred to as her a “bitch.” The case has seen two prosecutors come and go; a battery cost was dropped from the grievance after I labored together with her lawyer, James Segall-Gutierrez, to offer video proof proving she had been misidentified.

Regardless of a narrative by Arellano final yr for the Weekly and once more final month in Capital & Important, the OCDA gained’t drop the cost towards Aguilar. Her arguably courageous actions on the seashore in protection of not solely myself, but in addition her fellow protesters must be celebrated. Whereas I owe all of those that helped me on the seashore a debt of gratitude, she paid the very best worth for probably the most braveness. I hope she will get the justice she deserves.

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Illustration by Luke McGarry. Design by Richie Beckman

The MAGA March stays related. The assault on us Weeklings made the nationwide database documenting crimes towards journalists. Throughout June’s failed try to stop Josh Newman’s recall, buddies despatched me a business that used video of me getting attacked to induce individuals to vote No and take a stand towards Trump’s America. It was additionally cited in a proposed Journalist Safety Act by Bay Space congressman Eric Swalwell, who additionally talked about the assault in his press launch. When the second set of fees towards RAM hit the information, Democracy Now invited me to be on the present with Amy Goodman, however I replied two hours too late.

Thompson notes a tilt towards political terrorism, underground exercise and lone acts of violence, together with the current Pittsburgh synagogue capturing. He shared on Twitter that he’d interviewed a outstanding white supremacist who informed him to anticipate extra massacres.

The subsequent Documenting Hate episode is subtitled New American Nazis and can deal with white supremacists’ connection to the army. It’s set to premiere on Nov. 20 on PBS.

On the earlier episode’s Oct. 29 screening, viewers members have been left with involved expressions and shocked reactions in the course of the panel dialogue. In response to moderator Dr. Lisa Leitz’s query relating to what to do concerning the rising menace of violence from white supremacists, Arellano stated, “An important factor is to shed mild.

“Again once I was on the OC Weekly, we’d all the time get criticized: ‘Why are you reporting on these fringe teams? They don’t matter; they don’t do something in any respect. They’re losers,’” he defined. “And our response was ‘Yeah, they’re losers, however any person must regulate them, and extra necessary, anyone wants to show them.’ As a reporter, you’ve gotten to have the ability to expose these individuals, and you may’t cease.”