A Baltimore City Klansman, charged with firing a gun in the direction of counter-protesters during the Aug. 12 white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been previously charged with assault three separate times, and also faced rape charges, court records show.
Richard W. Preston, 52 years old, of the 5800 block of Cedonia Avenue, was picked up on a warrant by federal law enforcement on Saturday and deposited in the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson. He is charged with firing a gun within 1,000 feet of a school. He was jailed in Towson, and not Baltimore City, because the FBI collared him in the county and not the city, according to Corporal George Erhardt, a spokesman for Baltimore County Police.
Video of the event was taken by an ACLU observer. It depicts a white man, wearing what looks like a bulletproof vest, yelling "Hey, nigger!" and pulling a semi-automatic pistol, firing a single shot, turning and pocketing the gun as he walks away. The video shows that Virginia State Police were steps away but did not act. Media reports say the ACLU observer sent the video to the FBI on Aug. 17, and to state police a few days later. An arrest warrant issued shortly after that.
The so-called "Unite the Right" rally made national news when a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of other people. James Alex Fields Jr. was charged with second-degree murder and other offenses. Two other men, Daniel Patrick Borden, 18, and Alex Michael Ramos, 33, were charged with malicious wounding, apparently in connection with the beating of an African-American man with sticks in a parking garage.
Preston first came to City Paper's attention in 2013, when he was campaigning a monster truck in regional mud bog pulls under the name "Team Hell" and staging marches at Antietam National Battlefield and Gettysburg.
Preston's "Confederate White Knights" was not, at the time, on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups. Klan groups tend to be small, and Preston's apparently was no exception. He resurfaced in 2015 in a two-part video interview with "Pure Patriot Press," which had only a few thousand views at press time. On the videos, Preston prefigured President Donald Trump's description of the Charlottesville action two years before it happened, saying, about the Klan in the 1960s, "the violence came from all different sides."
He spouted the usual "Birther" nonsense (i.e. that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.), claimed the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook was a hoax, and "guaranteed" that then-President Obama was "gonna use the U.N. to come after your weapons here."
The Klansman endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump and Gov. Larry Hogan and advised heating with wood and stockpiling canned goods and guns so that when ISIS attacks, you'll be ready.
Two telephone numbers associated with a vehicle detailing business Preston apparently owned were not taking calls; neither he nor anyone associated with him could be reached for comment at press time.
Aside from his monster truck hobby, Preston has worked as a janitor in a public school, and an unlicensed construction contractor (he was fined about $1,800 in 2005 for this). He was also arrested several times, spending nearly a month in the county in 2003 on a first-degree assault and deadly-weapon charge. The charges were dropped. He was charged at least two other times with second degree assault, but the charges never stuck.
In 1999, Preston bought a house on the 9100 block of Lennings Lane, in Baltimore County, and took out a rehab loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration. By 2004, however, he had lost the property to foreclosure. Throughout this time, according to court records, his home address was usually listed on Cedonia Avenue just inside the Baltimore City line. He had lived there since at least 1991, when he was charged with first-degree rape.
He spent a day in the city jail back then.
The charges were dropped.