Four men linked to a white supremacist group were arrested on Tuesday in connection with the far-right 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, US 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.
US Justice Department officials said the men had travelled 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 organised, militant white supremacist group, named in the criminal complaint as the “Rise Above Movement (RAM)”.
According to ProPublica, RAM claims to have more than 50 members with the purpose of “physically attacking its ideological foes”.
Each man arrested on Tuesday faces 10 years in prison if found guilty, according to authorities.
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.
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.
Hate groups on rise
Hundreds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other members of the far right 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 US Civil War, in what was billed as a Unite the Right rally.
Counterdemonstrators met the far-right protesters, sometimes clashing. The rally turned deadly when a man, seen marching with a neo-Nazi group earlier in the day, drove his car into a group of counterdemonstrators, leaving 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead and dozens injured. James Alex Fields Jr was charged with a slew of crimes, including federal hate crimes. He 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 Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based watch group, the number of hate groups operating in the US grew by four percent in 2017.
The SPLC identified 954 hate groups in the US last year, an increase from the 917 it had documented in 2016, the group said in a report released in February.