California man pleads to charges in Charlottesville

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- One of the California men accused of coming to Charlottesville to commit acts of violence at a torch-lit march on the University of Virginia Grounds and the Unite the Right rally has pleaded guilty to federal charges.

An image released by the FBI showing members of the Rise Above Movement attending the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017, including Benjamin Daley, Michael Miselis, Thomas Gillen and Cole White.

Twenty-four-year-old Cole Evan White of Clayton pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy-to-riot charges.

He is an associate of an extremist group called the Rise Above Movement, or RAM.

In Charlottesville federal court on Friday, White admitted to traveling across the country to attend the torch-lit march and the Unite the Right rally on Aug. 11 and 12, 2017.

"As Mr. White has acknowledged as part of his guilty plea, he and members of the Rise Above Movement traveled to the 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville in order to engage in riotous conduct," said U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen. "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."

Evidence presented in court shows White associated with RAM, an openly extremist group whose members engage in physical training and mixed martial arts street-fighting techniques.

Members of the group often posts images and videos of themselves engaged in those activities as well as of their attendance at political rallies and events in California and Virginia.

White also admitted to attending a political rally on or around April 15, 2017 in Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Park in Berkeley, California.

At that event, White said he met Benjamin Daley, who was will a group of people identifying themselves as RAM.

During that rally, there were several violent clashes between rally attendees and protesters.

White said he chased one protester and attacked him, hitting him several times in the head.

He also said she stood over top of another person who was on the ground and hit him four or five times in the head, admitting that both of these acts were not in self-defense.

After that, White, Daley and other members of the group stayed in contact and began talking about coming to Charlottesville.

In a call during the summer of 2017, Daley asked White if he was going to attend the Unite the Right rally and offered to pay for White's flight and stay in the Virginia city.

According to evidence, Daley told White, "It's going to be like Berkeley again. It's going to be the event of the year."

On or about Aug. 9, 2017, White used a credit card to buy tickets from the San Francisco International Airport to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport.

White said that at the time of his travel, he expected to engage in violent confrontations with protesters or other people at the events in Charlottesville.

He arrived in Charlottesville on Aug. 11, took a cab from the airport, and met with members of RAM and other white supremacists on the UVA Grounds.

During the following match, participants chanted phrases like "Blood and soil" and "Jews will not replace us."

The march ended at the statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of the UVA Rotunda where the marchers met and surrounded a group of counter-protesters.

Violence erupted and resulted in a riot, during which White admitted to swinging his torch and hitting several people.

The next morning, White and others attended the Unite the Right rally, where they were part of a larger group that attempted to enter the what was then called Emancipation Park after the rally had been declared an unlawful assembly by law enforcement officials.

The group made its way through protesters, punching, pushing, kicking, choking, head-butting and otherwise assaulting people, again resulting in a riot.

White admitted to personally committing multiple acts of violence such as grabbing a person who was blocking the sidewalk by holding onto a street sign and punching him until he released the sign.

White also said he head-butted a man who he believed to be in his way, and a woman who was present on the sidewalk.

He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 when he is sentenced.

White is one of several people from RAM facing charges in connection with these events.

Others include Daley, Thomas Gillen and Michael Miselis who were all indicted in October on one count of conspiracy to violate the federal riots statutes and one count of traveling in interstate commerce with the intent to incite a riot.

Charges against Daley, Gillen and Miselis are still pending.

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