Thomas Gillen, a white supremacist Rise Above Movement member, pleaded guilty on Monday to a conspiracy to riot charge following his actions at the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia two summers ago. Trained for street combat at political protests, Gillen, 25, also attended the so-called “Battle of Bolsa Chica” in Huntington Beach where a pro-Trump #MAGA rally on Mar. 25, 2017 turned into a melee when fellow RAM members became violent, including assaulting Weekly reporters.
The FBI first arrested four RAM members and associates in early October, Gillen among them. Like the others, he faced charges of violating the federal riot statute, crimes that carried a 10-year maximum prison sentence. With Gillen’s guilty plea, authorities rejected the notion that RAM engaged in actions protected by free speech.
“The First Amendment protects an individual’s or organization’s right to speak. assemble, and espouse political views, but it does not license insensate acts of violence committed under the guise of the First Amendment,” says U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen in a press release. “As Mr. Gillen has admitted as part of his guilty plea, he and other members of RAM attended the Unite the Right rally and other purported political demonstrations in California to incite and commit acts of violence, not to exercise their rights to free speech.”
With the guilty plea, Gillen admitted to being part of the Southern California-based “combat-ready, militant group that represented itself as part of the new nationalist and white supremacist movement.”
That’s a far cry from how Jim Gillen, Tom’s father, appraised his son and RAM last month when he appeared on The Realest Report podcast hosted by John Friend, a noted anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. “He’s definitely not somebody who hates people based on whatever race, creed, opinion,” Jim said of his son. “As far as the group itself, I didn’t know much about it at the time. I’m kind of forced to sympathize with Tom’s views. In other words, there’s certain things you can’t say in this country, even just floating an idea out there, without being attacked.”
But authorities pegged Gillen and RAM as the attackers.
After attending the Huntington Beach rally, where RAM made its public debut, Gillen traveled north for the so-called “Battle of Berkeley” on Apr. 15, 2017. Before that, RAM members held mixed-martial arts training at Marblehead Park in San Clemente. The Berkeley protest predictably turned into a melee and Gillen is shown in video to have punched a left-wing protester several times before stomping him once. He texted his friend a link to a YouTube video of the mayhem writing, “20 seconds in I’m the grey shirt turning up a commie.”
With Charlottesville being the largest gathering of white supremacists in recent times, it also drew the most scrutiny to the group. In the lead up, Gillen bought a one-way flight on American Airlines to Charlottesville in Aug. 2017. Once there, he bought athletic tape at a nearby Wal-Mart in preparation for street brawls. Gillen joined with fellow RAM members Michael Miselis, Cole White and longtime friend Ben Daley in Charlotesville. Together, they participated in the infamous torch march the day before the Aug. 12 rally.
When white supremacists encircled a small group of counter-protesters at a Thomas Jefferson statue on the campus of the University of Virginia, violence broke out. Gillen struck people with his torch. The Department of Justice is unequivocal about the incident, stating that such actions “were not in self-defense.”
The following morning, Gillen and other RAM members ignored law enforcement in heading towards the Robert E. Lee statue at Emancipation Park through Second Street. RAM assaulted several anti-racist protesters in making their way through the crowd. Again, the DOJ was unequivocal about the violence not being committed in self-defense.
A few weeks after the initial arrest of three RAM members and an associate in early October, the FBI returned later that month and apprehended four more members of the group, including Robert Rundo, a Huntington Beach resident and RAM leader. Rundo did a telephone interview in February from federal prison for the neo-Nazi podcast, The Right Stuff Radio, where he claimed RAM was merely an “athletic club” that “promoted a healthy lifestyle” with rightist values.
Gillen’s guilty plea to a single conspiracy to riot count follows White’s own in November. That same month, Tyler Laube, a RAM member who punched Weekly reporter Frank John Tristan, also signed a plea deal for conspiracy to riot.
With Monday’s plea, Gillen now faces five years in prison for the crime.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!