Three members of a now-defunct white supremacist group were sentenced to more than two years in prison Friday for punching, kicking and choking counter-demonstrators at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville and events in California.
Benjamin Daley, 26, Michael Miselis, 30, and Thomas Gillen, 25, were members of a group known as the "Rise Above Movement" and previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to riot, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia said in a statement Friday.
"These defendants, motivated by hateful ideology, incited and committed acts of violence in Charlottesville, as well at other purported political rallies in California," U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen said in a statement.
"They were not interested in peaceful protest or lawful First Amendment expression; instead, they intended to provoke and engage in street battles with those that they perceived as their enemies," he said.
Daley was sentenced Friday to 37 months, Miselis to 27 months, and Gillen, 33 months, prosecutors said. All three are from California.
A fourth man, Cole Evan White, who has also pleaded guilty to the same charge, will be sentenced later, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Prosecutors say from March to August 2017, they traveled to political rallies in California and Virginia to engage in violence.
They all are accused of traveling to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, where they attended a tiki-torch march the night before where participants chanted slogans like “Blood and soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!"
At the rally the next day, they attacked counter-demonstrators, prosecutors said, and as part of their pleas, they admitted the violence was not in self-defense.
At the Unite the Right rally, another man, James Alex Fields Jr., drove his car into a group of demonstrators opposing the white nationalist rally. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed. Fields has been sentenced to multiple life terms.
Daley's attorney, Lisa Lorish, told the Associated Press that she and lawyers for Miselis and Gillen argued that prosecutors had not proved that a hate crime sentencing enhancement should apply. Lorish said the judge denied the enhancement for all three men.
Separate federal charges in California against three other men who were accused of being in the Rise Above Movement organization and inciting violence at rallies in that state were dismissed in June, the AP has reported. The judge ruled in that case that their actions amounted to constitutionally protected free speech.