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Minnesota man accused of building arsenal to fight police pleads guilty to possessing machine gun

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man who told an FBI informant that he was building an arsenal of automatic weapons to use against police and admired mass shooters pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegally possessing a machine gun.

River Smith, 21, of the Minneapolis suburb of Savage, entered his plea on the single count before U.S. District Judge David Doty. His sentencing will be scheduled later. The maximum sentence is 10 years.

Smith was initially charged in December with possession of a machine gun — specifically devices to convert guns to fully automatic fire — and attempting to possess unregistered hand grenades. He paid an FBI informant $690 for four “auto sear” devices and three dummy grenades, prosecutors alleged at the time.

“Law enforcement took him down before he could execute his plan,” federal prosecutor Manda Sertich said at a hearing in December, when a magistrate judge denied bail.

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FBI Special Agent Mark Etheridge testified at that hearing that when Smith was arrested he had a loaded Glock 17 semiautomatic handgun, with three full magazines for a total of 52 rounds of ammunition, including the bullet in the chamber. He was wearing soft body armor designed to stop handgun rounds. A search of his car turned up an “AR-style” rifle and two other handguns, as well as a “drum magazine” for the rifle that held 100 rounds.

A federal grand jury formally indicted Smith on two counts in January involving the auto sears and grenades.

Defense attorney Jordan Kushner said in a court filing two weeks ago that Smith wanted “to take responsibility for his actions and not further prolong the proceedings.” Kushner said there was no plea agreement and that Smith didn't want to contest the charges, but the attorney questioned whether the count involving the grenades was legally valid, given that they were dummies.

According to the original complaint and the agent's testimony, Smith had expressed interest in joining neo-Nazi paramilitary groups; called the person who killed five people at a gay nightclub in Colorado last November 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.

Smith also said in online messages that he learned about his “enemy” by watching police bodycam video of shootings online, prosecutors alleged.

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