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Press Release

California Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Riot

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Virginia
Cole White Admits to Traveling from California to Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 and Committing Acts of Violence at the University of Virginia and Unite the Right Rally

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA – An associate of a violent extremist group the “Rise Above Movement” [RAM] pleaded guilty today to federal conspiracy-to-riot charges after admitting to traveling across the country to commit acts of violence at the torch-lit march on the University of Virginia grounds on August 11, 2017 and the Unite the Right Rally on August 12, 2017.  United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen, Special Agent in Charges Adam S. Lee of the FBI’s Richmond Division, and Virginia State Police Colonel Gary T. Settle made the announcement.


Cole Evan White, 24, of Clayton, Calif., pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Virginia to one count of conspiracy to violate the federal riots statute. At sentencing, White faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. White, Benjamin Daley, Thomas Gillen, and Michael Miselis were indicted by a federal grand jury in October 2018 and charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the federal riots statute and one count of traveling in interstate commerce with the intent to incite a riot. Federal charges remain pending against Daley, Gillen, and Miselis.


“As Mr. White has acknowledged as part of his guilty plea, he and members of the Rise Above Movement (RAM) traveled to the ‘Unite the Right’ Rally in Charlottesville in order to engage in riotous conduct,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today.  “Although the First Amendment protects the rights of individuals and groups to assemble and protest peacefully, it does not give license to commit, attempt, or threaten acts of violence or otherwise engage in criminal activity.  We are grateful for the hard work and dedication of the FBI and the Virginia State Police in bringing these defendants to justice.”


“Mr. White's guilty plea today should signal to our Virginia communities that the FBI and our law enforcement partners are committed to keeping them safe and ensuring the events of 2017 in Charlottesville never happen again.  The FBI is committed to protecting every American's exercise of their First Amendment rights - irrespective of their message.  This case is not about the nature of Mr. White's speech or expression; this case is about traveling from out of state to riot here in the Commonwealth,” SAC Lee said today. “I want to thank U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen and his team in the Western District of Virginia for their professionalism and expertise and I want to thank the outstanding men and women of the Virginia State Police who worked with us to piece together this investigation.”


“The arrests, and subsequent plea by Cole White, demonstrate the continuing commitment of the Virginia State Police and our federal partners to investigate and pursue those who committed acts of violence in the City of Charlottesville during the weekend of August 11-13, 2017,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “These investigations are very time and resource intensive, but are necessary to make certain individuals like this are held accountable for their criminal actions.”


According to evidence presented during today’s guilty plea by United States Attorney Cullen and Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh, White was associated with the Rise Above Movement, [RAM], an openly extremist group whose members engaged in physical training and mixed martial arts street-fighting techniques. RAM frequently posted photographs and videos of themselves engaged in these activities, as well as of their attendance at various political rallies and events in California and Virginia.


White admitted today that, on or about April 15, 2017, he attended a political rally in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Park in Berkeley, Calif. At that event, White met and befriended Benjamin Daley, who was with a group of individuals identified as members of RAM. Throughout the day there were many violent clashes between some rally attendees and those protesting the rally. White, alongside RAM members, followed a group of protestors who were leaving the area. White chased one protestor and attacked him, punching him several times in the head. Immediately afterward, White stood over top of another individual who was on the ground and punched him in the head approximately four to five times.  White admitted that none of these acts was in self-defense.


After fighting together in Berkeley, White, Daley, and other members of RAM stayed in contact through phone calls. In one call in the summer of 2017, Daley asked White if he was going to attend the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. Daley offered to pay for White’s flight and his stay in Charlottesville and encouraged him to attend the event. Daley told White: “It’s going to be like Berkeley again…It’s going to be the event of the year.”


On or about August 9, 2017, White used his credit card to purchase a round-trip ticket from Delta Airlines for commercial flights from San Francisco International Airport to Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, departing on August 11, 2017 and returning on August 13, 2017. White admitted that at the time of his travel he expected to engage in violent confrontations with protestors or other individuals at the upcoming events in Charlottesville.


Upon arriving in Charlottesville on August 11, 2017, White took a cab from the airport and met RAM members and several hundred other white supremacists gathered on the grounds of the University of Virginia for a torch-lit march on the evening prior to the Unite the Right rally. Throughout the march, participants chanted, “Blood and Soil!” and “Jews will not Replace Us.” The march culminated at the statute of Thomas Jefferson, where the hundreds of white supremacists surrounded a small group of counter protesters. Violence erupted among the crowd, with some individuals punching, kicking, spraying chemical irritants, swinging torches, and otherwise assaulting others, all resulting in a riot.  Among that riot, White admitted today to swinging his torch and striking several individuals and that none of these acts of violence was taken in self-defense.


The following morning, White, and members of RAM, attended the Unite the Right rally in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va. White, Daley, and other RAM members were part of a larger group attempting to gain entry into the park following a declaration of “unlawful assembly” by law enforcement.


As they made their way through a group of protestors, White, Daley, and other RAM members, collectively punched, pushed, kicked, choked, head-butted, and otherwise assaulted several individuals resulting in a riot. White admitted to personally committing multiple acts of violence.  For example, after having already made his way through a group, White turned around and observed a protestor blocking the sidewalk by holding onto a street sign. White walked back, grabbed the individual by the shoulders, and punched him until he released the sign.  White then head-butted a male who he perceived was in his way. Finally, White head-butted a female protestor who was present on the sidewalk, resulting in a laceration to her face.


The investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Virginia State Police. United States Attorney Cullen and Assistant United States Attorney Kavanaugh are prosecuting the case for the United States.

Updated November 30, 2018

Violent Crime