California judge dismisses charges against right-wing activists, cites selective prosecution

Judicial ruling points to unequal treatment of political agitators at 2017 Berkeley rally.

California judge dismisses charges against right-wing activists, cites selective prosecution
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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A federal judge in California has dismissed charges against two individuals associated with the so-called "far-right," citing concerns over selective prosecution by the federal government. The judge highlighted that charges were brought against right-wing participants of a 2017 pro-Donald Trump rally in Berkeley but not against far-left counterprotesters who engaged in similar, if not more severe, violent actions.

Robert Rundo and Robert Boman, identified as members of the Rise Against Movement (RAM), a group labeled as "far-right, white nationalist," were initially charged for their involvement in violent clashes with left-wing groups, including Antifa, at the rally. However, Judge Cormac J. Carney of the US District Court for the Central District of California noted the government's failure to prosecute left-wing agitators engaging in comparable violent behavior, the Daily Wire reported.

In his ruling on February 21, Judge Carney criticized the federal prosecutors' approach, stating, "No individuals associated with the left, who engaged in anti-far-right speech and violently suppressed the protected speech of Trump supporters, were charged with a federal crime for their part in starting riots at political events."

He described this as "textbook viewpoint discrimination," underlining the government's silence on not pursuing cases against any member of Antifa or related groups.

"Most telling in this case is the government’s silence as to why it never pursued a case against a single member of Antifa or related far-left groups with respect to their violent conduct at pro-Trump events," the judge wrote. 

“Of the 20 people arrested at the April 2017 Berkeley rally, the government charged only Defendants and other members of RAM under the Anti-Riot Act. The government charged no members of Antifa, BAMN, or other far-left groups under the Anti-Riot Act for their use of violence to shut down the rally,” the judge added.

Highlighting the evidence of organized violence by left-wing groups at the same events, the judge argued that both RAM and Antifa used violence to suppress opposing political speech, making them "identical in material respects—the only difference is their speech and beliefs." This, according to Judge Carney, constitutes constitutionally impermissible behavior by the government, which cannot selectively prosecute individuals based on the content of their speech.

“By many accounts, members of Antifa and related far-left groups engaged in worse conduct and in fact instigated much of the violence that broke out at these otherwise constitutionally protected rallies to silence the protected speech of the supporters of President Trump. That is constitutionally impermissible. The government cannot prosecute RAM members such as Defendants while ignoring the violence of members of Antifa and related far-left groups because RAM engaged in what the government and many believe is more offensive speech,” he wrote.

The dismissal follows a history of legal challenges against the defendants under the Anti-Riot Act, a law criticized for its broad implications on free speech. The 2019 dismissal of charges under this act was overturned on appeal in 2021, leading to Rundo's extradition from Romania in August 2023. Yet, the recent decision to dismiss based on selective prosecution reflects ongoing debates around the enforcement of this law and the protection of First Amendment rights.

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