LOS ANGELES (CN) – A man arrested for his alleged ties to a California white nationalist group that incited riots across the state last year was denied bail by a federal judge on Friday.
Aaron Eason, 38, reached out to a Florida-based lawyer and alt-right figure who was a speaker at last year’s Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia for legal help.
August Sol Invictus, an Orlando, Florida-based lawyer was present at the hearing, but did not speak on Eason’s behalf.
Instead, Eason’s court-appointed attorney made the argument that the members of the group attended multiple rallies last year to protect supporters of Donald Trump and conservatives from communists and anti-fascists.
Eason is one of four men indicted this week for inciting and participating in riots at political rallies across the state last year, including one in Berkeley where Eason is said to have rented a van for the group, Rise Above Movement (RAM) to travel to the event.
Prosecutors said Eason and the three other men named in the indictment attacked protesters at the rally last April. RAM left behind a trail of violence and members of the group discussed inciting riots and trained in hand-to-hand combat in preparation, the indictment stated.
RAM represented itself as a “combat-ready, militant group of a new nationalist white supremacy and identity movement,” according to the indictment.
Three other members of the group are being held without bail on the charge of conspiracy along with Eason. Alleged founder of the group Robert Rundo, 28, of Huntington Beach, Robert Boman, 25, of Torrance and Tyler Laube, 22, of Redondo Beach are all members of RAM. Rundo, Boman and Eason are also charged with one count of rioting.
Eason surrendered to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Sunday, but not before he contacted Florida-based attorney Augustus Sol Invictus, born Austin Gillespie, who was a speaker at the Unite the Right rally last year.
A practicing pagan, Invictus admitted in a 2015 interview with Vice that he was kicked out of a religious order for sacrificing a goat and drinking its blood. In 2016, Invictus ran on the Libertarian ticket for the Florida Senate and lost by a wide margin. According to the Florida Bar, Invictus was admitted in 2012 but has not practiced law in California.
Instead, Eason’s court-appointed attorney John McNicholas said at Friday’s hearing the government did not have enough proof to tie his client to RAM or the violence at the rallies.
Images and video of the other three defendants showed them at the melees, but prosecutors only had a DMV photo of Eason.
“RAM is a figment of the government’s imagination as far as Eason is concerned,” said McNicholas.
Eason wore a white jumpsuit and his family watched from the galley during the hearing.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Rozella Oliver said text messages quoted in the indictment that were exchanged between Eason and the other members after the April 2017 melee in Berkeley showed he did not disavow his connection to the group.
“He did not say, ‘This has gone beyond the First Amendment viewpoint,’” Oliver said.
According to prosecutors, Eason sent a text message to another RAM member after the Berkeley melee that said he was “back in a position to go hard with activism.”
During the hearing McNicholas said, “It has to do with planting trees.” Eason is a landscaper and he was distancing himself from the group.
Oliver asked, “Go hard with activism?”
McNicholas said Eason and the other RAM members were at the rallies to protect supporters of Donald Trump from anti-fascists or antifa.
McNicholas said, “Again, it’s about protecting speakers.”
Oliver did not agree with that interpretation. Instead, Oliver said McNicholas should have withdrawn from the conspiracy that is charged in the indictment.
“Within the four corners of the affidavit, I don’t find how that is not a concern of the court,” Oliver said.
Outside the courthouse, McNicholas said he hopes Eason gets a fair trial.
“This has become a matter of going after those that have a different point of view,” McNicholas said. “It’s all about speech and protection of speech.”
McNicholas said he’s aware of Invictus’ history, but said he welcomes the help.
Eason was remanded to the U.S. Marshall’s custody. He and the other three defendants are scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 9 for a post-indictment hearing.