• Tue. Oct 20th, 2020

Man who attacked Virginia protesters avoids federal prison

A California man who pleaded guilty to attacking anti-racism protesters at a white nationalist rally and at a torch-lit march through the University of Virginia’s campus will avoid serving a term in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Norman Moon on Friday sentenced Cole Evan White, 26, of Clayton, California, to 14 months in prison but gave him credit for seven months he served in jail after his arrest and five months of home confinement. That leaves two more months of house arrest followed by two years of supervised release.

White was one of four members or associates of a white supremacist group called Rise Above Movement who were charged with conspiring to riot at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Moon previously sentenced White’s three co-defendants to between two and three years in prison.

A prosecutor said White deserves a more lenient sentence because he immediately cooperated with authorities, disavowed the hateful ideology that led him to participate in the Charlottesville violence and provided substantial assistance in this and a separate investigation.

White said he is ashamed of his actions but used his time in jail to make himself a better person.

“My foolish actions caused me to be confined to a small cell for 23 hours a day, resulting in the loss of many relationships,” he said. “Words cannot express the guilt and embarrassment I have for being part of something so destructive.”

Video footage captured White head-butting a clergyman and a woman, bloodying her face, during the confrontations between far-right extremists and counterprotesters on the streets of Charlottesville, according to an FBI task force member’s affidavit. The violence culminated with an avowed neo-Nazi, James Fields, deliberately ramming his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman.

As part of his guilty plea, White admitted that he struck people with a torch during the march through the University of Virginia’s campus on the night before the rally. Torch-bearers chanted anti-Semitic slogans, such as “Jews will not replace us!” before surrounding and attacking students and other counterprotesters.

White also acknowledged that he joined members of the now-defunct Rise Above Movement at an April 2017 political rally on the streets of downtown Berkeley, California, where he punched protesters in the head. White befriended one of the group’s members at the Berkeley rally. Members of the California-based Rise Above Movement, or “RAM” for short, frequently posted photographs and videos of themselves engaging in mixed martial arts street-fighting techniques.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh recommended a prison sentence ranging from 12 to 18 months but said prosecutors aren’t opposed to letting White complete his sentence on community confinement or home detention since he already was incarcerated for more than seven months.

“He fully and entirely accepted responsibility,” Kavanaugh said.

Kavanaugh said White had agreed to testify against his co-defendants as well as a Florida man who was charged separately with waging an online campaign to terrorize and harass those who opposed his white supremacist ideology. Daniel McMahon, 32, of Brandon, Florida, pleaded guilty in April to using social media to threaten a Black activist to deter the man from running for office in Charlottesville and was sentenced in August to three years and five months in prison.

Kavanaugh said White could have helped prosecutors prove that McMahon’s call for using a “diversity of tactics” against the Black activist, Don Gathers, was a euphemism for violence. “Cole White was familiar with the ideology that was used by white supremacists and people online and knew the context surrounding that phrase,” the prosecutor said.

Last week, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to reconsider an appeal by two of White’s co-defendants. A three-judge panel rejected the two men’s arguments that the Anti-Riot Act, the law they pleaded guilty to violating, is unconstitutionally vague under the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

Benjamin Daley, 27, of Torrance, California, was sentenced to 37 months in prison. Thomas Gillen, 26, of Redondo Beach, California, received a sentence of 33 months. Michael Miselis, 31, of Lawndale, California, was sentenced to 27 months.

Miselis was released from federal custody on Sept. 2, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website. Gillen is due to be released in February 2021. Daley is scheduled for release in May 2021.

White has attended San Francisco State University since a federal magistrate agreed to free him from jail in May 2019, according to defense attorney Michael Hemenway. White was detained for more than seven months between his October 2018 arrest and his release on $10,000 bond.

University spokesman Kent Bravo said in an email Monday that White is a part-time student who first enrolled in the fall 2017 semester, which started less than a month after the Charlottesville rally. Bravo said the admissions process for San Francisco State and other schools in the California State University system does not ask applicants about their criminal background.

“San Francisco State University unequivocally condemns white supremacy,” Bravo said in a statement. “We send our compassion and concern to those affected by the events of that tragic weekend, specifically the victims and families of those who were targeted by individuals motivated by hate.”