Minnesota man accused of assembling an arsenal to attack police is sentenced to nearly 7 years

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man who was accused of assembling an arsenal of illegal weapons to use against police has been sentenced to nearly seven years in federal prison.

River William Smith, 21, of the Minneapolis suburb of Savage, pleaded guilty last May to one count of possession of a machine gun — specifically devices to convert guns to fully automatic fire. He was also accused of attempting to possess unregistered hand grenades. He paid an FBI informant $690 for four “auto sear” devices and three dummy grenades, prosecutors alleged.

Federal prosecutors say Smith idolized mass shooters, while his defense attorney countered that the government’s accusations were wildly exaggerated.

“When a defendant tells us how dangerous he is, we should listen,” prosecutor Andrew Winter told U.S. District Judge David Doty on Tuesday. “When he tells us he is full of rage, full of hate, enjoys watching people get shot, we should take notice.”

But defense attorney Jordan Kushner argued this was a “run-of-the-mill firearms case” involving someone who had not ever harmed anyone.

“There isn’t any evidence the FBI caught a mass shooter,” Kushner told the court. “Frankly, it’s a fantasy on their part.”

Smith said in a court filing this week that his statements to government informants and in his recorded jail calls to his family were not serious.

“I was desperate for a friend, and wanted to impress him,” he said. “I regret and am embarrassed by many of my statements to the FBI informants, but they were mostly untrue.”

According to court documents and FBI Special Agent Mark’s previous testimony, Smith had expressed interest in joining neo-Nazi paramilitary groups; called himself “pro mass shooting in general,” called the person who killed five people at a gay nightclub in Colorado in November 2022 a “hero;” expressed sympathy for the shooter who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018; described Black people as “agents of Satan” and expressed hatred of Jews. The agent said Smith carried a note cursing police inside his body armor so they could find it after his death.

Authorities began investigating after getting a call from a retired police officer who was working at a gun range Smith frequented. He told them he was concerned because of how Smith practiced shooting from behind barriers while wearing heavy body armor and conducting rapid reloading drills.

“I do not deny having anger at the government, but my venting allows me to express my feelings and not end up feeling a need to carry out any acts of violence,” Smith countered in his filing.

Judge Doty rejected the government’s request for the maximum allowable sentence of 10 years, but called Smith’s behavior “egregious given the number of weapons and large amount of ammunition” the FBI seized. Doty added that Smith’s actions were aggravated by his lack of remorse and acceptance of responsibility and his “chilling promises to reoffend.”

Kushner said after the hearing that Smith plans to appeal the sentence.

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