Judge clears charges against alleged white supremacists, says there's a bias against the far right

Protesters for and against President Donald Trump brawl, April 15, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. For the second time in five years, federal charges against alleged members of a violent white supremacist group accused of inciting violence at California political rallies were dismissed by a judge Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, who found they were selectively prosecuted. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Robert Boman, background center left, punches a counterprotester alongside fellow members of the white supremacist group Rise Above Movement in Berkeley in April. 2017. (Noah Berger / Associated Press)
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An Orange County federal judge has dismissed criminal charges for the second time in five years against accused members of a Southern California white supremacist group suspected of inciting brawls at political rallies throughout the state.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney on Wednesday dismissed charges against Robert Rundo — who was extradited from Romania last year — and Robert Boman of Torrance. The two were charged with conspiracy to violate the Anti-Riot Act and rioting.

Rundo is alleged to be a founding member of Rise Above Movement, or RAM, a white supremacist group that, according to a federal indictment, touted itself as a “combat-ready, militant group of a new nationalist white supremacy and identity movement.” Boman was also an alleged member of the group.

In his decision, Carney granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, agreeing that Rundo and Boman were being selectively prosecuted, while “far-left extremist groups, such as Antifa" were not.

"Prosecuting only members of the far right and ignoring members of the far left leads to the troubling conclusion that the government believes it is permissible to physically assault and injure Trump supporters to silence speech,” Carney wrote in his order.

"There seems to be little doubt that Defendants, or at least some members of RAM, engaged in criminal violence. But they cannot be selected for prosecution because of their repugnant speech and beliefs over those who committed the same violence with the goal of disrupting political events.”

Boman was already free on bond, while Rundo was still being detained. Prosecutors on Wednesday requested that Rundo remain in custody pending the government's appeal, which Carney denied.

"I don't believe it's warranted that Mr. Rundo spend one minute more in custody, so I'm going to release him forthwith," Carney said. "I feel very comfortable in the decision I've made."

The government later filed an emergency motion to stay Rundo’s release and keep him in custody. The motion said Rundo “presents a grave risk of flight, as well as a danger to the community.” And it asked that the release order be reversed.

“The government requests relief by February 22, 2024, so as to safeguard against Rundo's potential flight from the United States,” the motion said.

On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a stay on Rundo's release pending the resolution of the government's appeal. But, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons' inmate locator, Rundo had been released the day before.

As of Thursday evening, Rundo was back in custody, according to a spokesperson with the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.

Read more: Chief federal judge in L.A. steps down over racially insensitive comments about Black court official

Outside the courtroom on Wednesday, Boman broke into tears.

A federal indictment had alleged that Boman was involved at least two separate acts of violence at rallies. It also alleged that Boman posted a photograph on Facebook showing himself and other RAM members, along with the comment, "Hail victory and the alt-reich."

"I’m really ashamed from my old antics," Boman said.

The federal indictment against Rundo alleged he and other defendants recruited new members to the organization, coordinated training in hand-to-hand combat, and traveled to political rallies to attack protesters at events across the state.

The indictment alleged that various members participated in attacks at political rallies in Huntington Beach on March 25, 2017; in Berkeley on April 15, 2017; and in San Bernardino on June 10, 2017. Afterward, they allegedly trained for future events and celebrated by posting photos online of RAM members assaulting people.

Rundo was accused not just of organizing the violent confrontations, but also of attacking protesters and police officers. After Rundo was ordered by police to stop attacking a "defenseless person" during the Berkeley protest, he allegedly punched an officer twice in the head, according to an arrest warrant.

Rundo was originally charged and arrested in October 2018 with two other alleged members, Boman and Tyler Laube of Redondo Beach.

Laube pleaded guilty in 2018 to a single count of conspiracy and admitted in a plea agreement to associating with Rise Above Movement members from January 2017 to April 2017. He also admitted to attending a combat training event in San Clemente on March 15, 2017, and to assaulting people at a Huntington Beach rally later that month.

Carney dismissed charges in the case in 2019, after Rundo’s attorneys argued that the Anti-Riot Act was “unconstitutionally over-broad."

Afterward, Laube requested that the judge allow him to withdraw his guilty plea and dismiss the charges against him. According to the U.S. attorney's office, the judge allowed Laube to withdraw his plea.

Read more: Judge dismisses charges against members of California white nationalist group

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reinstated the charges in March 2021, finding that parts of the law were constitutional, thus landing it back before Carney.

After charges were reinstated in a superseding indictment filed in January 2023, Rundo eluded authorities, traveling through Europe but continuing to post images on social media, Bellingcat reported.

FBI agents caught up with him after he was located by Romanian authorities in a Bucharest neighborhood, according to an arrest warrant.

Laube was also present in court Wednesday. Last year, Laube pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of interference with a federally protected right without bodily injury.

His sentencing hearing is scheduled for March.

Carney came under fire in 2020 for comments he made that were deemed racially insensitive toward a Black court official. The furor prompted him to step down as chief judge, and he later apologized for his remarks.

Times staff writer Salvador Hernandez contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.