[UPDATED] A San Gabriel Valley man accused of driving a truck loaded with weapons into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters in Old Town Pasadena pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges.
Benjamin Jong Ren Hung, 28, of San Marino, is charged with one count each of conspiracy to transport firearms across state lines and making a false statement in acquisition of firearms. If convicted, Hung would face up to five years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Trial was set for Dec. 8 in Los Angeles federal court.
Prosecutors allege Hung deliberately drove his white Dodge Ram — adorned with flags associated with far-right extremist groups — at the crowd of about 150 peaceful protesters who had been chanting, “Black lives matter here” on May 31.
The demonstrators scattered as the truck accelerated toward them, and no injuries were reported.
According to bystander video and witness interviews, Hung’s truck bore an Oregon license plate that read, “WAR R1G.” It was also modified with an elevated suspension, large tires and an enhanced exhaust pipe, which expelled a large plume of black smoke as it accelerated into the crowd, according to the criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court.
At the time of the incident, the truck was also flying three large flags: a “Thin Blue Line” flag, a Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” yellow flag, and an original 13 states “Betsy Ross” American flag, prosecutors said.
During a search of the vehicle, police found a loaded semiautomatic handgun, multiple high-capacity magazines loaded with ammunition, an 18-inch machete, $3,200 in cash, a long metal pipe and a megaphone, the complaint states.
Prosecutors allege Hung used his family’s vineyard in Lodi as a tactical training camp and gun range “to prepare for civil disorders.”
Hung and his associates “communicated regularly about his plans to stockpile firearms to prepare for civil disorders,” the complaint alleges. The messages appeared to escalate in early March at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the far-right movement began to propagate the theory that the virus was a hoax, the document states.
One of Hung’s neighbors in San Marino described seeing the defendant on multiple occasions “wearing military-like camouflage, military fatigues, and carrying a gray tactical vest,” according to court papers.
Along with the vineyard — whose business name is 157 California Reserve Inc. — Hung’s parents own and operate an RV park in Bend, Oregon, according to the complaint.
Last month, Hung was ordered to remain in federal custody pending trial.