US Supreme Court rejects white supremacists’ challenge to anti-riot law

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The US Supreme Court on Monday turned away a free speech challenge to a federal anti-riot law brought by two members of a militant white supremacist group who pleaded guilty to crimes related to a deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The justices declined to hear appeals by the two California men, Michael Miselis and Benjamin Daley, of a lower court ruling that upheld their convictions under the 1968 Anti-Riot Act but also deemed some parts of the law a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.

The law, enacted against a backdrop of the 1960s U.S. civil rights demonstrations and anti-war protests, makes it a crime to travel “in interstate or foreign commerce” with the intention to incite, encourage, organize, promote or participate in a riot.

Miselis and Daley were members of the Southern California-based Rise Above Movement, a white supremacist group that billed itself as “combat-ready” and whose purpose was to engage in violent attacks on counter-protesters at various political rallies. Daley was a founder of the group, whose members spent weekends training in martial arts and other combat techniques.

Rally participants gathered in part to protest the planned removal of a statue in the college town of Robert E. Lee, the general who led military forces of the pro-slavery Confederacy during the American Civil War of the 1860s.

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2020 that certain portions of the law, including those criminalizing speech that tends to encourage a riot, violate the First Amendment, but upheld the convictions because those charges fell under other parts of the law that were constitutional.

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