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California man pleads guilty to riot conspiracy after Charlottesville rally

FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2017 file photo, white nationalist demonstrators clash with counter demonstrators at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va. Faced with an angry backlash for defending white supremacists' right to march in Charlottesville, Va., the American Civil Liberties Union is confronting a suggestion in its ranks that was once considered heresy: Maybe some speech isn't worth defending. Cracks in ACLU's strict adherence to the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech - no matter how offensive - opened from the moment a counter protester was killed in Charlottesville. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — One of four California men accused of violently attacking counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Virginia last year pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to riot.

Cole Evan White, 24, of Clayton, California, entered the guilty plea in U.S. District Court and admitted to traveling across the country to commit acts of violence at the torch-lit march at the University of Virginia and the “Unite the Right” rally.

White is one of four California men prosecutors identified as members of the Rise Above Movement, a militant white supremacist group that they said espouses anti-Semitic and other racist views and meets regularly to train in boxing and other fighting techniques.

White, Benjamin Daley, Thomas Gillen and Michael Miselis were indicted in October and charged with traveling with the intent to incite riots and conspiracy to riot. Charges are still pending against Daley, Gillen and Miselis, and each faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the two counts.

When the charges were announced, U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said the four were considered “serial rioters” and made their way to the “Unite the Right” rally with their hands taped, “ready to do street battle.”

An affidavit alleged that they were “among the most violent individuals present in Charlottesville” and said photos and video footage showed that in some cases, their attacks on counterprotesters “resulted in serious injuries.”

“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,” Cullen said in a statement Friday. “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.”

In a statement of facts, White said he attended an April 2017 rally in Berkeley, California, where he met and befriended Daley, who was with members of RAM. There were violent clashes between rally attendees and protesters. White followed a group of protesters who were leaving, chasing one protester and attacking him, and punching another who was on the ground in the head, according to the statement. White admitted that these acts were not in self-defense.

Daley encouraged White to attend the Virginia rally in August 2017, according to the statement, even offering to pay for his flight and stay in Charlottesville. Daley told White: “It’s going to be like Berkeley again… It’s going to be the event of the year.”

White bought a ticket to Charlottesville and admitted that at the time of his travel that he expected to engage in violent confrontations with protesters or other individuals at the upcoming events, according to the statement.

At the torch-lit march on Aug. 11, 2017, violence erupted, and White admitted to striking several people with his torch, noting it was not in self-defense.

White admitted to committing multiple acts of violence the next morning at the “Unite the Right” rally, including grabbing a person who was blocking the sidewalk by holding on to a street sign and punching him until he let go and head-butting a male he thought was in his way and a female protester was on the sidewalk.

White faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine at sentencing, which has not been scheduled yet. A call to White’s attorney was not immediately returned.

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