The leader of a California-based white nationalist group and three others have been charged with attacking demonstrators and conspiring to incite riots at political rallies across the state, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Robert Rundo, 28-year-old founder of the Rise Above Movement (RAM), was taken into custody on Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport.
Two other members of the group, Robert Boman, 25, and Tyler Laube, 22, were arrested on Wednesday morning, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles. Aaron Eason, 38, remains at large.
“The allegations describe an orchestrated effort to squelch free speech as members of the conspiracy travelled to multiple locations to attack those who hold different views,” US Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.
Rundo, Boman, and Laube are accused of attacking counter-protesters and two journalists at a March 25, 2017 “Make America Great Again” rally in Rundo’s hometown of Huntington Beach, California.
Rundo, Boman and Eason are also charged with violence at a demonstration in Berkeley on April 15, 2017 and an “Anti-Islamic Law” protest in San Bernardino.
They are also charged with using the internet with the intent to “organise promote, encourage, participate or carry on riots”.
Rundo was ordered detained pending trial at a hearing in US District Court in Los Angeles earlier this week, Mrozek said. Boman, of Torrance, and Laube, of Redondo Beach, were still awaiting court appearances.
Earlier this month, four other California men described by prosecutors as RAM members – Benjamin Drake Daley, Michael Paul Miselis, Thomas Walter Gillen and Cole Evan White – were indicted on federal riot and conspiracy charges stemming from violence they were accused of instigating during last year’s deadly Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
At that rally, groups affiliated with the alt-right converged on Charlottesville to rally against the city’s plans to remove a Confederate monument. The alt-right is a loosely knit movement that includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists and white nationalists.
The rally participants sparked clashes throughout the city by attacking counterprotesters and community members.
By the end of the day, James Alex Fields Jr, a neo-Nazi march participant, rammed his car into a crowd of anti-racist activists, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring several others.
President Donald Trump was criticised at the time for appearing to equate the actions of the white nationalists, some of whom carried Nazi flags, with those of anti-fascist and anti-racist counter-protesters.
During Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and after his victory, far-right groups – among them white supremacists and neo-Nazi outfits – rallied in support of him, praising his nativist programme and anti-immigration agenda.
On Wednesday, Trump denounced a spate of suspected bombs mailed to former US President Barack Obama, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and other high-profile Democrats.
“And I just want to tell you that in these times, we have to unify, we have to come together, and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America,” he said at a White House event.
Earlier this year, Rundo and two of the men charged in the Charlottesville case travelled to Europe to celebrate World War Two-era German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s birthday and to meet with members of other white supremacist groups, according to prosecutors.
According to the Anti-Defamation League report published earlier this year, white supremacists were “directly responsible” for 18 of 34 “extremism-related” killings in the US last year.