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'Among The Most Violent Of The New Breed': A Q&A About SoCal White Supremacist Group Tied To Charlottesville Violence

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August 12, 2017: A Virginia State Police officer in riot gear keeps watch from the top of an armored vehicle after car plowed through a crowd of counter-demonstrators marching through the downtown shopping district in Charlottesville. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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This week, federal prosecutors announced the arrests of members of a Southern California white nationalist group, who allegedly took part in last year's deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Benjamin Daley and Thomas Gillen of Redondo Beach, and Michael Miselis from Lawndale, appeared in court in Los Angeles, charged with traveling to Charlottesville intending to incite violence.

Investigators say they belong to the white supremacist group Rise Above Movement, or RAM. The group was the subject of an extensive probe by nonprofit news organization ProPublica last October, and prosecutors said that reporting played a large part in their investigation. One of the reporters on the story, A.C. Thompson, spoke on air with KPCC's John Rabe.

The following Q&A is excerpted from that conversation.

What is Rise Above Movement, or RAM?

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RAM was founded by a man who went to prison in New York State for stabbing a Latino man six times. He's Rob Rundo, and he lives in Orange County.

Basically, when he got out of prison and moved from New York to California, he started a group that was one of a new breed of white supremacist or white nationalist groups that are out there.

But this group RAM, which is based in Southern California, with members going from San Diego up to Los Angeles, is perhaps the most aggressive, most violent of the new breed.

Just how violent?
What we're talking about is a group of young men -- and estimates range from 20 to 50 at any given time -- who spend their days working out, training in martial arts, training in boxing, going out to the desert and engaging in shooting practice, who are actually just much more skilled at physical combat than most of the other members of this kind of white supremacist movement that are out there.

We've seen them engage in violent altercations in Huntington Beach, in Berkeley, in Charlottesville, and these guys are sort of the vanguard, the tip of the spear, the people that really go out and aggressively assault counter-protesters, leftists, anti-racists, that type of thing.

Your report specifically mentions Daley and Gillen, the men from Redondo. What's their background?
As far I know they're both kind of in blue collar jobs. Ben Daley runs a tree trimming and palm care service, and I believe Tom Gillen does similar work. They are guys that I believe got into this movement in just the last couple years, as there's been an upsurge of white power activity across the country, and they became very hard core, very serious members of this scene and of this gang. So they're sort of founding key people.

You said that RAM has been involved in public acts of violence but police haven't taken much action.
Well, what we've seen is, over the last year, a single arrest for Rob Rundo for allegedly assaulting a police officer in Berkeley. Those charges were dropped. But what I believe has gone on is that there has been an interest in the group from local law enforcement as well as federal law enforcement, and interest in building a more significant case against them, and I think that's what you're seeing today.

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What is it that sets RAM apart from the groups that protest? You know, they may have repugnant views to us, but they're just protesting, exercising their First Amendment rights?
I think when you see RAM members, they're showing up to engage in physical violence. That is their cause. That is what they were built to do. That is their agenda, and I think that's different than some of the other groups that are out there.

You know, I've also had members who've left the group, who came to me and said "look, the larger long term agenda is to prepare for a race war and to arm ourselves and equip ourselves to engage in a race war in which we will go out and slaughter people of color, Jews, Muslims and immigrants."

Actually, having a group like this in Southern California, despite our progressive tradition -- it really actually fits into the history of Southern California.
Well, yeah, it's remarkable. When you start looking at the white supremacist movement, it has had a big hold in Southern California for decades.

You could go back to the second iteration of the Klan, which was huge in Anaheim and Southern California. Or you could go more recently to Tom Metzger and his White Aryan Resistance, based out of Fallbrook, which is one of the big white supremacist outfits of the 80's and early 90's, and you can see that there has been activity in Southern California of the pretty extreme variety for a very long time.

Is RAM using the internet the way all the other groups are?
They are, and they've been repeatedly kicked off of social media platforms. They've been repeatedly kicked off of Instagram, and Twitter, and they kind of keep popping back up.

I would say they're not as savvy as some of the other groups, and they're less Internet based than some of the other groups. Some of the groups out there are really excellent at hacking, at social media, at memes, all this kind of stuff. RAM use the internet and social media but really their world is in the flesh. It's out there in the physical space.


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