PASADENA, Calif. (CNS) — A Pasadena federal appeals panel Thursday overturned a lower court's dismissal of charges against four reputed members of a Southern California white supremacy extremist group suspected of inciting brawls at political rallies across the state.
Robert Rundo, Robert Boman, Tyler Laube, and Aaron Eason — alleged members of the so-called Rise Above Movement — were indicted in 2018 by a Los Angeles federal grand jury for allegedly inciting violence against counter-protesters, journalists, and others at political rallies, including events in Huntington Beach, Berkeley, and San Bernardino.
Laube pleaded guilty in 2018 to a single count of conspiracy to violate the federal Anti-Riot Act. Attorneys for the remaining three defendants moved to dismiss the indictment.
In June 2019, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney dismissed the indictment against the men and withdrew Laube's guilty plea, finding that the prosecution brought under the act was "unconstitutionally overbroad in violation of the First Amendment."
Carney wrote in his ruling that the Anti-Riot Act goes well beyond criminalizing the behavior of those acting in the midst of a riot. "It also criminalizes acts taken long before any crowd gathers," or acts that have only a slight connection to violence, according to Carney.
"No violence even need to occur," the judge wrote. "A defendant could be convicted for renting a car with a credit card, posting about a political rally on Facebook, or texting friends about when to meet up."
In its opinion, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Carney's dismissal, finding that provisions of the Anti-Riot Act are, in fact, constitutional.
The panel wrote that "the freedoms to speak and assemble which are enshrined in the First Amendment are of the utmost importance in maintaining a truly free society. Nevertheless, it would be cavalier to assert that the government and its citizens cannot act, but must sit quietly and wait until they are actually physically injured or have had their property destroyed by those who are trying to perpetrate, or cause the perpetration of, those violent outrages against them."
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles had no immediate response.
The four suspected RAM members — Eason, of Anza in Riverside County; Laube, of Redondo Beach; Rundo, of Huntington Beach; and Boman, of Torrance — were initially charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit rioting and travel with intent to riot. Each of the two counts carry sentences of up to five years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
In October 2018, federal authorities arrested four other suspected RAM members, including alleged RAM founder Ben Daley, of Redondo Beach. He and three others pleaded guilty in federal court in Virginia to the conspiracy count in connection with their suspected roles in the deadly 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.