Circuit court blocks judge's decision to release white supremacist for being 'selectively prosecuted'

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued the emergency stay Thursday.

February 22, 2024, 11:14 PM

A federal appeals court panel on Thursday moved to stay a district judge's order that cleared the release of an alleged leader of a white supremacist organization who had previously fled the U.S. to evade prosecution.

Robert Rundo, the alleged leader of the white supremacist 'Rise Above Movement,' was released from prison in Orange County Wednesday, before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued their temporary stay. The U.S. Attorney's Office in the Central District of California confirmed Thursday night that Rundo had been taken into custody.

"Rundo was released from custody at some point yesterday evening. As you may have seen, we petitioned the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the release order, which was granted this morning. Rundo was taken into custody this evening by the FBI," read a statement from the office.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney had earlier dismissed charges against Rundo and a co-defendant, Robert Boman, both of whom were charged in 2018 with conspiracy to violate the Anti-Riot Act, and rioting, for their role in alleged attacks on counter-protesters at political rallies in 2017.

In an extraordinary ruling Wednesday, Carney argued that Rundo and Boman had shown they were "selectively prosecuted" in comparison with members of far-left groups like Antifa, who also physically assaulted supporters of former President Trump at some of the rallies but were not charged with the same crimes.

PHOTO: In this Aug. 12, 2017 file photo people clash at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va.
In this Aug. 12, 2017 file photo people clash at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va.
Steve Helber/AP, FILE

"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," Judge Carney wrote in his opinion. "That is constitutionally impermissible...prosecuting only members of the far right and ignoring members of the far left leads to the troubling conclusion that the government believes it is permissible to physically assault and injure Trump supporters to silence speech."

Carney noted in his opinion that others had argued that the far-left groups "engaged in worse conduct and instigated much of the violence."

"The government cannot prosecute R.A.M. 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," Carney wrote, referring to the Rise Above Movement, of which Rundo and Boman were members. Prosecutors have described the Rise Above Movement as a "combat-ready, militant group of a new nationalist white supremacy and identity movement" in a federal indictment.

Carney also rejected a request by prosecutors to stay his order releasing Rundo from custody, ignoring their pleas that he presented a "grave risk of flight" as well as a danger to the community.

Boman had already been released on bond when the charges were dropped, while Rundo remained in custody.

Prosecutors had rushed to reverse Carney's order and in the meantime filed an emergency request with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that Rundo was likely to flee the U.S. if released, as he had previously. That emergency order was granted, with the panel writing that "Robert Rundo's immediate release is temporarily stayed pending resolution of appellant's motion to stay release pending appeal."

In their emergency application with the 9th Circuit, prosecutors noted that Rundo fled the U.S. the last time Judge Carney ordered his case dismissed in 2019 on First Amendment grounds. The 9th Circuit later reversed that decision, and the FBI was able to locate Rundo in Romania and secure his extradition in August of 2023.