A young man who went to Virginia to protest the tearing down of a monument now faces years in jail. Recently, AFP spoke with Thomas Gillen’s father about the case and what can be done to help him.
By John Friend
Last October, four young men associated with the Rise Above Movement (RAM)—a physical fitness and self-improvement club affiliated with the broader alt-right movement—were arrested in California and eventually flown to Virginia to face federal conspiracy to riot charges as a result of their participation in the Unite the Right rally in August 2017.
The four men—Benjamin Drake Daley, 25, Thomas Walter Gillen, 24, Michael Paul Miselis, 29, and Cole Evan White, 24—are all native Californians who had been active with the RAM organization and had participated in various political rallies both in California and Virginia.
Thomas T. Cullen, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, announced the charges in early October 2018, yet all four men are still awaiting adjudication. The men stand accused by federal prosecutors of traveling “to Charlottesville for the August 2017 United the Right rally with the intent to encourage, promote, incite, participate in, and commit violent acts in furtherance of a riot,” an incredibly dubious charge that is largely based on malicious “journalism” emanating from left-wing news outlets and activist organizations, including Pro-Publica and the Southern Poverty Law Center as well as radical antifa activist groups.
“This case should serve as another example of the Department of Justice’s commitment to protecting the life, liberty, and civil rights of all our citizens,” Cullen stated in a press release when announcing the highly questionable charges. “Any individual who has or plans to travel to this District with the intent to engage in acts of violence will be prosecuted and held accountable for those actions.”
All four men accused are facing at least five years in federal prison if found guilty. Other members of RAM, as well as countless conservative and alt-right activists who have engaged in public demonstrations and political rallies protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, have also been maliciously slandered by left-wing news outlets, and dubiously prosecuted by authorities.
Jim Gillen, the father of Thomas, recently spoke with this reporter to offer more insight into the truly outrageous federal criminal charges being pursued against his son and his fellow activists.
“My son has been held in solitary confinement, without bail, in a Charlottesville jail,” Gillen stated.
Thomas Gillen and the other RAM members facing federal charges have since been transferred to the general prison population, but all were held in solitary confinement for a significant portion of their time in federal custody. Gillen went on to describe the charges his son is facing as well as the treatment he has received by federal authorities as “unjust, unfair, un-American, and outrageous.”
“I am a fair and honorable man and I want you to know my son Tom is, too,” said Gillen, a Southern California resident who works as a fireman. “He does not mistreat anyone. I might not agree with all his opinions, but I know the narrative that has appeared in some mainstream media that Tom and the other Charlottesville defendants plotted to intentionally hurt people is simply not true. That is not Tom, and not what the evidence shows.”
Gillen believes the federal charges leveled against his son and others are politically motivated. “I strongly feel the charges against Tom and the others—which threaten them with felony convictions and five years in federal prison—are political in nature,” Gillen stated. “Any impartial person who looks at the evidence would think so. If these charges are not political, why have the antifa demonstrators who openly provoked and committed violence in Charlottesville not been charged with conspiracy to riot?”
Gillen went on to note that antifa activists “have a history of committing and provoking violence all around the country,” as demonstrated at countless conservative rallies and political events over the course of the past four years at least.
“They don’t deny it. They brag about it,” Gillen noted. “They have specifically admitted they did so at Charlottesville.”
“I have looked at numerous videos from Charlottesville and California, and I do not think Tom did anything wrong,” Gillen continued. “At most he was involved in some scuffles in which no one was seriously hurt or injured and which the antifa [activists] themselves provoked. And I am not the only one who thinks antifa provoked these violent encounters. Timothy Heaphy, a prominent Virginia attorney and the former U.S. federal attorney for Virginia, was hired by the City of Charlottesville to investigate the Unite the Right rally and the city’s response, and he and his team did a thorough job. Mr. Heaphy’s report describes how antifa and other counter-protesters blockaded the Unite the Right protesters, who had obtained legal permits to hold their rally, preventing them from carrying on their legal demonstration, while Charlottesville police stood idly by and allowed the inevitable confrontations to take place.”
Gillen was referring to the independent review of the Unite the Right rally published by Hutton & Williams LLP, the law firm where Heaphy formerly worked while conducting the independent review.
Heaphy’s report made clear that the Charlottesville police failed to keep the Unite the Right attendees and counter-protesters, which included radical, violent antifa activists, separated during the day’s events. Even worse, local authorities and law enforcement officials appeared to want the inevitable violent confrontation to take place in order to justify declaring an unlawful assembly, which is precisely what took place.
“We have evidence from the command center that the chief actually said, ‘Let them fight’,” Heaphy stated during a press conference in December 2017 when his report was initially released. “Let them fight for a little while and it’ll make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly.”
Since publishing his damning report, Heaphy has moved on to accept a position as the top lawyer for the University of Virginia.
“We have the facts from a respected source, and they show that antifa and their hard-left allies provoked confrontations, and the Charlottesville police did nothing to stop them,” Gillen concluded during his conversation with this reporter. “The hard left gets a free pass, but my son and the other defendants face years in prison, are falsely portrayed in the media, and have been miserably treated while in federal custody, held without bail. This should not be happening in America.”
Readers are encouraged to support the Gillens in their efforts to free their son, who is still in federal custody in the state of Virginia. Tax deductible donations may be sent to: Free Expression Foundation, P.O. Box 1479, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772.
John Friend is a freelance author based in California.