March 30, 2020

Southern California alt-right group involved in Charlottesville rally

Among the alt-right groups participating in events that led to violence recently in Charlottesville, Va., was one based in Southern California, whose web presence celebrates white nationalism.

The Rise Above Movement, which organized this year, is based on a goal “to revive the spirit of the Western man through athletics, brotherhood, and identity,” according to a Tweet from the group.

RAM, as it is known, is a loose collective of neo-Nazis who “train to fight at political events,” according to an Aug. 13 report in The New York Times.

In an explanation of “Who we are,” included on its Twitter feed, it says, “In a time when you can be handed for your political beliefs or shamed for your heritage, we are here to defend our identity and shard goals.”

An effort to learn more about the group from any of its members was unsuccessful. Someone responding to a battery of questions sent to RAM through its Twitter account declined to answer.

Even so, the group is not unknown to organizations that track hate groups across the country.

Joanna Mendelson, investigative researcher and director of special projects for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said RAM is a reincarnation of a disbanded, alt-right-affiliated group called the DIY Division.

“Apparently, the organization aims to counter what they describe as ‘consumer propaganda and values’ favoring instead ‘a pioneering spirit, the spirit of a fighter, our warrior spirit’ ” she said. “However, RAM operates more like an alt-right fight club, championing the movement’s values of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and anti-antifa activity, while pursuing physical fitness goals to prepare them for altercations at protests.”

Antifa is a shortened name for groups that identify as anti-fascists.

Mendelson said the group is based primarily in Southern California but has traveled throughout the state and beyond.

A RAM promotional video online depicts thug-like behavior, including footage of members spraying graffiti with their group name and a tag line of “defend America,” as well as shots of members engaging in intense physical training.

The video also shows the group’s opposition to Muslims, with one person in the video holding a sign that says, “Defend America. Islamists Out.”

Much of their social media have been shut down in the past week for unknown reasons, Mendelson said. An effort to reach the group through Instagram leads to a page that says, “Sorry, this page isn’t available.”

RAM is part of the ever-growing number of hate groups around the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks such groups on the left and right, puts the current number at 917, with 79 of them in California, although RAM is not listed among them. In the SPLC’s accounting, every state has at least one group identified as a hate group.

In the 10 days after President Donald Trump’s victory last November, the SPLC recorded an average of 87 hate incidents a day, or some five times the daily average recorded by the FBI in 2015.

As mostly an online movement, the alt-right does not have an official membership or group count, making efforts to quantify its numbers almost impossible. But experts say the election of Trump and his various remarks have provided the faction legitimacy and political prominence it never had.

Large-scale media attention, such as the coverage generated by the violence in Charlottesville, have also elevated the faction’s presence.

The SPLC says the most active groups in the country are affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, which has an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 members. It also finds that neo-Nazi groups have chapters in more than 30 states.

The hate groups operating in California, according to the SPLC, stretch across the political spectrum, including the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, Nation of Islam, the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission and the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.