United States District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney foiled the federal government’s case against three members of the white supremacist Rise Above Movement. He dismissed the federal rioting charges on Monday in a Los Angeles courtroom on the grounds that the statute used to prosecute the men infringed upon their First Amendment rights to free speech.
“It’s easy to champion free speech when it advocates a viewpoint with which we agree,” Carney wrote. “It is much harder when the speech promotes ideas that we find abhorrent. But an essential function of free speech is to invite dispute.”
With that, Carney, a conservative Republican appointed by President George W. Bush, ordered the immediate release of RAM leader Robert Rundo and Robert Boman. “I don’t care what idiots Antifa are,” Carney told Boman and Rundo, as reported in Courthouse News Service. “You’re both young men. You don’t want to be in custody for years.” The third man, Aaron Eason, already had posted bond by the time of this week’s decision.
Back in October, the FBI did what the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) office and state park police refused to do following a #MAGA rally-turned-melee in Huntington Beach on Mar. 25, 2017; they arrested RAM members for plotting and carrying out assaults on political opponents and journalists. When the so-called “Battle of Bolsa Chica” turned violent towards the end, RAM member Tyler Laube sucker-punched Weekly reporter Frank John Tristan who protected photojournalist Brian Feinzimer from another altercation. In the midst of the melee, Rundo took the opportunity to punch an antifa protester in the back of the head before pummeling him on the ground.
The FBI alleged that RAM held mixed-martial arts training sessions at Marblehead Park in San Clemente before exporting their mayhem to political rallies in Berkeley and San Bernardino. Other RAM members, including group leader Ben Daley, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to riot for their participation in the infamous “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia later that year. They admitted in court documents that their actions weren’t carried out in self-defense.
But Carney unraveled the California case.
“Make no mistake that it is reprehensible to throw punches in the name of teaching Antifa some lesson,” he wrote. “Nor does the court condone RAM’s hateful and toxic ideology. But the government has sufficient means at its disposal to prevent and punish such behavior without sacrificing the First Amendment.”
RAM celebrated the news on Gab, a social media site populated by white supremacists. “Never take a plea deal, always fight for truth,” reads a post about Rundo’s release. The group also claimed on their Gab page that the FBI seized Right Brand Clothing inventory they sold to raise money to fight the legal cases and promised to restart the apparel company registered to Rundo in Huntington Beach.
In a series of investigations, ProPublica journalists exposed the identities and extreme neo-Nazi ideologies of RAM members. A.C. Thompson reported on the nonprofit news site that the U.S Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles expressed disappointment with Carney’s decision and mulled over next steps including appealing it.
While a trio of RAM members are free at the moment, the criminal case against a counter-protester at the pro-Trump rally in Huntington Beach continues. The OCDA is prosecuting Jessica Aguilar, a Sacramento woman, on a single battery count for slapping Laube twice after he called her “bitch.”
Tristan, a former contributor to the Weekly, started an online petition calling on the OCDA to drop the charge against Aguilar.