Tiki Torch Roundup: Fighting the Case

Tiki Torch Roundup: Fighting the Case
Photo credit: Zach D. Roberts

Eight men have been charged so far for their participation in the August 11, 2017 torchlit march through the University of Virginia. With three cases cleared off the docket through plea agreements, the Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney's office must now turn its attention to preparing for trial in the first true test of this application of Virginia's burning objects statute. There are two cases currently scheduled to go to trial: William Henry Fears IV will have a three day jury trial just before Christmas and Augustus Sol Invictus is scheduled for trial in March 2024.

The Race Warrior

William Fears will be the first of the torch march cases to go to trial. His court appointed attorney, Bryan Jones, is already well-versed in the case. Not only is he fresh off representing Tyler Dykes on the same charge, Jones spent nearly six years representing the white nationalist neo-Confederate group the League of the South in a lawsuit against them as one of the organizers of the Unite the Right rally. Jones has already had the opportunity to depose and cross-examine several of the counter protesters who were trapped at the base of the statue by the torch marchers. Jones was in the courtroom when one of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit testified that as he stood there surrounded by the mob, all he could think was that at just 18 years old he had too much to live for, that he didn't want to die, that it looked like a lynch mob. Jones was in the courtroom when another plaintiff testified that as the chanting grew closer and she realized she was trapped, she closed her eyes and prayed because that's all she could do. Jones heard her testify that even years later, she still hears the thundering chants of "BLOOD AND SOIL" in her nightmares. He knows far more than most exactly what he's being asked to defend.

I wanted to escape, run away. There is literally no way. There's no way I could do that. I tried to keep my head down. I felt like a mouse, trapped, like a Salem witch trial type, like I'm about to be burned at the stake, especially because it was so -- Devin and I were the only people of color on that side. And it was very, very obvious and very apparent.
- Trial testimony from Natalie Romero

In addition to his attorney's deep background knowledge of the case, Fears has also been granted funds by the court to hire a defense investigator and Ryan Rakness (the attorney who represented co-defendant Billy Williams) has been court appointed as co-counsel.

William Fears smiling as he sieg heils from the steps of Emancipation Park during the Unite the Right rally on August 12, 2017. Photo: Daniel Hosterman

With two attorneys and an investigator, Fears should be ready for trial on December 18. A standard jury pool for an Albemarle County criminal trial is 30 eligible jurors, from which a dozen are selected to hear the case. If there's concern about being able to choose 12 jurors, they may call a pool of 50. In this case, the prosecutor requested that a pool of 100 potential jurors be summoned.

William Fears has been incarcerated since October 2017, when he was arrested in Gainesville on charges related to the shooting incident at Richard Spencer's speech at the University of Florida. The Florida charges against him were ultimately dropped, but he was transferred from Florida directly into custody in Texas for a domestic violence assault he committed just before leaving for Florida. There was little sympathy for Fears when he was locked up for choking a woman, but now that he's facing new charges related to his enthusiasm for a race war, he's making attempts to reconnect with others in the movement - seeking sympathy, penpals, and fundraising opportunities. Someone purporting to be speaking on his behalf started, then deleted, a twitter account that replied to news stories about the case and made several attempts to contact me both directly and via open letter. Bradley Griffin, a League of the South member who participated in the torch march alongside his wife Renee, published a separate letter he claims to have received from Fears in which Fears wrote that he is facing the possibility of the death penalty.  (If one of Brad's readers does write to Fears, they could ease his mind by letting him know that Virginia abolished capital punishment in 2021 and the maximum sentence for a Class 6 felony is 5 years.) The bravado with which he goaded counter protesters to shoot him, to "fire the first shot of the race war!", in 2017 is gone. From jail, he lamented in his letter to Griffin, "I guess I am meant to be crucified as an example to any white man who would speak out in favor of this [sic] own existence."

Fears is currently the only one of the torch march defendants incarcerated at ACRJ. He's being held without bond on the burning object charge, but unlike Smith, Dykes, or Williams, he won't be accumulating pre-sentence time. He's still serving a sentence on a Texas conviction for domestic violence by strangulation. If he is convicted for his participation in the August 11, 2017 torch march, his sentence wouldn't begin until he finished out the balance of his Texas sentence on August 10, 2024. He would officially begin serving time for his role in the march on the 7 year anniversary.

Criminal Lawyer

Augustus Sol Invictus is currently scheduled to be the second of the torch march defendants to go to trial. As a practicing attorney, Invictus has represented several prominent white supremacist organizers over the years, himself included, but wisely chose to retain counsel rather than act as his own attorney in this case. While his co-defendants in these cases have pretty evenly split between receiving court appointed counsel or retaining a local defense attorney, Invictus retained Terrell Roberts, a Maryland-based attorney who has represented the families of right-wing movement martyrs Ashli Babbitt and Duncan Lemp. The insurrectionist in the iconic Confederate flag photo inside the Capitol, David Alan Blair, retained Roberts for both his criminal case (which ended in a plea agreement) and his ongoing civil suit alleging the officer he was charged with assaulting during the riot used excessive force in response.

Invictus was held in the Orange County Jail in Orlando for a month before being extradited then released from custody on July 25. He returned home to Florida where he continues to practice law while awaiting his own trial. His legal troubles caused him to miss a court appearance in Brevard County for his client Jason Brown, a member of the antisemitic hate group the Goyim Defense League, on charges of domestic battery by strangulation and witness tampering.

Shortly after retaining Roberts as his own attorney, Invictus also appeared as co-counsel alongside Roberts in the Capitol riot case against Anna Lichnowski. In his request to appear on the case, he signed a form declaring under penalty of perjury that he was a member in good standing of several state bar associations (which is true) but also affirmed that no "proceedings which could lead to any such disciplinary action" had been instituted against him, which is significantly less true. There is no active or pending disciplinary action against him at this time, but if he were to be convicted of the felony with which he is currently charged, that would change. He appears to have had second thoughts about this claim, filing a follow up letter a few days later clarifying for the judge that both his client and the bar association are aware of his pending felony charge.

Augustus Invictus is currently scheduled to go to trial on the burning object charge in March 2024. Later this month, the court will hold a hearing on a motion to dismiss filed by his attorney last week. In the motion, Roberts argues that a lit torch burns only its wick and thus does not constitute a 'burning object' as contemplated by the statute. In support of this line of reasoning, he points to a bill introduced by Delegate Dave Toscano during the 2019 session of Virginia's General Assembly. The bill, HB 2010, sought to amend the burning objects statute to specifically include the word torch. Roberts attempts to divine legislative intent from absence, suggesting that the bill did not become law because lawmakers felt the change went too far. One could just as easily imagine the bill was never taken up because legislators felt it was obvious that an object that is set alight is necessarily being burned, but neither argument has any weight at all because the bill died without even being discussed in committee. Assuming the judge rules that the question of 'what is an object?' is one for trial, perhaps the defense can put on expert witnesses in both physics and metaphysics - the jury can decide whether an object producing a flame is itself burning.

The Waiting List

Three of the men charged - Ryan Roy of Enosburg Falls, VT; Dallas Medina of Ravenna, OH; and Jacob Dix of Clarksville, OH - are at home on bond with no trial date on the docket. All three men are set for a term hearing in October, meaning their cases will either get a trial date or another continuance until the next term.

Dallas Medina, the subject of an earlier newsletter, was allowed to return home to Ohio on April 19 - his 31st birthday. He has retained local defense attorney Mike Hallahan and waived his right to a speedy trial.

Ryan Roy was among the first of the march's rank and file participants to make headlines for experiencing backlash in his personal life. Footage of the Friday night march spread quickly and Roy, with his distinctive stretched earlobes, was quickly identified by those who knew him back home. The following Tuesday, Roy posted in the discord chat for the Traditionalist Worker Party, a neo-Nazi group that helped organize the weekend rally, that he had lost his job at a pizzeria.

Roy, who brought his wife and infant son to a pre-rally meetup to introduce them to Christopher Cantwell and Augustus Invictus, later posted in a discord group that someone had reported him to Child Protective Services for bringing the child to the rally and that Invictus had offered to write an affidavit, likely to explain this photograph.

Instagram post from Ryan Roy showing Roy holding his infant son and standing next to Augustus Invictus in a parking lot

Roy was an active poster in Traditionalist Worker Party discord chats in the latter half of 2017 and may have traveled from Vermont to Tennessee for the group's White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville in October of 2017. By early 2018, with the Traditionalist Worker Party falling apart due to the pressure of a lawsuit and a sexual affair between the group's leader and his step-mother-in-law, Roy had found a new political home: Patriot Front. Information collected by an antifascist researcher in New England indicates Roy has been an active member of Patriot Front for the last five years.

Roy was indicted in April. His case was unsealed when he appeared in court on the charge on May 9, at which time he was released. Roy is represented by the public defender.

Jacob Dix (left) standing behind Daniel Borden (center) at the torch march. Photo: Mykal McEldowney

Jacob Joseph Dix, like Ryan Roy, was publicly identified almost immediately after photos of the march were posted online. On August 13, the Twitter account @YesYoureRacist posted photos of Dix and his housemate at the time, Ryan Martin, alongside screenshots of the men's Facebook profiles. While presented as a geographical coincidence in some contemporaneous reporting, a review of rally footage suggests that fellow Dayton-area resident Daniel Borden may have traveled to the rally with Dix and Martin. Video of the Unite the Right rally on the morning of August 12 shows Ryan Martin waiting in a crowd trying to enter Emancipation Park. Standing on the steps, he cannot find Dix. He turns to Daniel Borden, who would participate in the brutal beating of a young black man later that day, and asks, "Dan, where's Jacob?"
Daniel Borden served a little over three years for malicious wounding and is back home in Ohio where he is involved with the Asatru Folk Assembly. Ryan Martin died last month. Jacob Dix was indicted in April and turned himself in to Albemarle County authorities in July. He was released on bond and does not yet have a trial date.

On the Horizon

The next significant update in these cases is, of course, the scheduled trial in December. Until then, there will be some smaller updates. The court will hear Invictus' motion to dismiss at the end of this month. Roy, Medina, and Dix will likely get another continuance at the October term hearing - the outcome of the first trial will set the tone for the rest of the cases. And more indictments may yet materialize. No local case has appeared on the docket yet, but documents filed in Harris County, Texas show William Fears' brother Colton Fears is being held on an out of state warrant issued by the University of Virginia Police Department. He will likely be extradited later this month. The paperwork shows an indictment date of August 7 - the first sign that additional cases were presented to the grand jury convened last month. That may mean more cases will trickle in over the coming weeks.