By Sarah N. Lynch and Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four men linked to a white supremacist group were arrested on Tuesday in connection with the white nationalist rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, authorities said.
Benjamin Drake Daley, 25, Michael Paul Miselis, 29, Thomas Walter Gillen, 34, and Cole Evan White, 24, were arrested in California and were to be transported to Charlottesville after making initial appearances in federal courts in California on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said at a news conference.
They were each charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the federal riots statute and one count of violating the federal riots statute.
U.S. Justice Department officials said the men had traveled from California to incite a riot and bring violence to the August 2017 rally in the Virginia college town.
They said the men were part of an organized, militant white supremacist group, named in the criminal complaint as the “Rise Above Movement.”
Each man faces 10 years in prison if found guilty, according to authorities.
“This case should serve as another example of the Department of Justice’s commitment to protecting the life, liberty, and civil rights of all our citizens,” Cullen said.
Reuters could not immediately ascertain if the men had retained counsel.
Cullen said he expected a trial could start as soon as the end of the year.
Authorities decided the men’s alleged activities could be prosecuted under a federal statute on riots, instead of laws prohibiting hate crimes, but Cullen said there may be other charges against them.
Hundreds of people descended on Charlottesville in August 2017 to protest the removal of a statue honoring Robert E. Lee, a commander of the Confederate Army in the U.S. Civil War, in what was billed as a Unite the Right rally.
The 2017 rally drew international attention when James Alex Fields Jr. was accused of driving into a group of people, leaving 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead and dozens injured. Fields was charged with the killing in June. He has pleaded not guilty.
At the time of the rally, President Donald Trump was condemned by Democratic and Republican political leaders for saying that “many sides” were to blame for the violence.
According to the criminal complaint, which was filed under seal in August, the FBI used “open-source research,” including the Rise Above Movement’s public Twitter page, to help investigate the four defendants.
The FBI alleged in the complaint that the men had previously taken part in acts of violence at rallies in Huntington Beach and Berkeley, California.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Bill Trott, Toni Reinhold)