Charges dismissed against alleged white supremacists
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Federal charges against three alleged members of a violent white supremacist group accused of inciting violence at California political rallies were dismissed by a judge who found their actions amounted to constitutionally protected free speech.
Members of the Rise Above Movement were charged with conspiracy to commit rioting for using the internet to coordinate hand-to-hand combat training, traveling to protests and attacking demonstrators at gatherings in Huntington Beach, Berkeley and San Bernardino, prosecutors said. The group also posted videos to celebrate violence and recruit members.
Despite the group's "hateful and toxic ideology," a rarely used criminal statute passed during civil rights and Vietnam War protests went too far in regulating free speech, Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
"Make no mistake that it is reprehensible to throw punches in the name of teaching [anti-fascists] some lesson," Judge Carney wrote. "Nor does the court condone RAM's hateful and toxic ideology. But the government has sufficient means at its disposal to prevent and punish such behavior without sacrificing the First Amendment."
The judge threw out the charges and ordered the release of RAM leader Robert Rundo and Robert Boman. Charges against Aaron Eason, who was free on bond, were also dropped.
The Los Angeles ruling alarmed groups that track white supremacist activity and fear the court victory could empower the group known for espousing anti-Semitic and other racist views.
RAM's account on Gab, a social media network known as a haven for racists and anti-Semites, hailed the dismissals and announced it would relaunch its Right Brand clothing line.
"It underscores their sense of vindication," said Joanna Mendelson of the Anti-Defamation League. "This court victory has the great potential of giving them renewed energy and will reinvigorate the group overall."
Prosecutors were disappointed with the ruling and reviewing grounds for appeal, spokesman Ciaran McEvoy said.
A federal judge in Virginia reached a conclusion opposite of Judge Carney's in a similar case involving other California members of RAM who participated in violent white nationalist rallies in both states.