In October 2018, following national publicity generated from Propublica articles, four members of the Rise Above Movement (“RAM”) who had attended the Charlottesville demonstrations in August 2017 were arrested by federal authorities in California. These young men were charged with conspiracy to riot under 18 U.S.C. 371 and travel with intent to riot under 18 U.S.C. 2101, felonies that carry penalties of up to five years in prison and heavy fines. They were transported to Charlottesville jails, where two were put in solitary confinement. As of December 20, 2018 they remained in solitary, confined to small cells, allowed only an hour a day out to a common area to call friends and family, and denied recreation time, laundry services, and sometimes telephone access.
What did these young men do to deserve this draconian treatment? Videos examined by FEF show they did very little besides engage in some scuffles at the Charlottesville demonstration, scuffles that caused no serious injuries and seem to have been provoked by AntiFa and other hard left protestors. Consider, for example, a video of an encounter between the pro-monument protestors, who were protesting lawfully in accordance with a permit they had obtained, and the counter protestors at Charlottesville.
This particular video was selectively truncated by mainstream media in their endeavor to show that the RAM defendants, who were part of the lawful protestors, deliberately attacked the counterprotestors. Seen in its entirety, however, it shows that the RAM defendants and other lawful protestors were attempting to avoid a confrontation; that the counterprotestors moved aggressively toward them; that scuffles broke out; and that no one was really hurt. No legitimate grounds appear for charging the RAM defendants, or anyone else, with a federal felony potentially carrying a penalty of five years in prison, and yet this video seems a major part of the government’s evidence to justify its prosecution.
Contrast this video with the overwhelming evidence showing AntiFa’s violence and provocations to violence at Charlottesville and elsewhere, including the following photo of AntiFa leader Dwayne Dixon and other AntiFa with military assault weapons. Dixon has boasted that he brought this weapon to the Charlottesville demonstration and brandished it there.
Consider also this email from an AntiFa boasting that he and other AntiFa committed “strategic violence” at Charlottesville with the aim—successfully achieved—of shutting down the lawful pro-monument demonstration: article dated August 17, 2017 by “Crimethinc.Ex-Workers Collective” [an Antifa publication] entitled “Why We Fought in Charlottesville: A Letter on the Dangers Ahead” (linked here in its entirety), excerpted here: “The antifa strategically incited enough violence before noon to make the police declare it illegal to gather in Emancipation Park. Through this strategic violence they effectively made a previously legally permitted Nazi rally, illegal. We may not agree with each others tactics. We may have had different goals, but if you’re looking to praise people specifically for shutting down the ‘Unite the Right’ rally, praise/thank the antifa. Not the clergy and not the police.”
If anyone should be prosecuted under the Anti-Riot statutes, it should be Antifa. FEF’s view, however, is that these statutes are defective on many grounds and no one, hard right, hard left, or anywhere in between, should be subjected to prosecution under them. FEF has engaged sympathetic attorneys to examine these statutes and agrees with their assessment that the statutes are manifestly unconstitutional. For example, the definition of “riot” in Section 2101—a statute hastily drafted 50 years ago that has been used only once by the government in the last 45 years—is so vague that it gives prosecutors room to charge with criminal conspiracy to riot anyone who attends a demonstration where there is pushing and shoving, or even talks about attending such a demonstration. Unless challenged, this statute will have an enormous chilling effect on people who want to attend demonstrations on any topics that arouse strong opinions.
FEF and its sympathetic attorneys have sent their legal analysis of the Anti-Riot statutes to defense counsel for the Charlottesville 4 and are prepared to further assist in preparing a constitutional challenge to the statutes. Unless stricken, these statues will greatly abridge the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of assembly of all Americans.
Please help FEF in this important endeavor.