Rewriting the riots in Minneapolis?


In the months since riots erupted in Minneapolis this summer, state and federal court documents have told a story that largely contradicts the widely disseminated narratives from Republican and Democratic politicians of what happened in that chaotic week.

President Donald Trump blamed the violence in Minneapolis on radical leftists, saying “antifa” led the riots. Gov. Tim Walz warned that Minneapolis and St. Paul were “under assault” by an “organized attempt to destabilize civil society.” Other public officials said waves of out-of-state agitators descended on the Twin Cities and caused the bulk of the violence.

But documents in dozens of state and federal criminal charges, reviewed by the Star Tribune, present a much more complicated narrative of splintered and disorganized crowds with no single goal or affiliation, and in some cases contradictory motives, that vastly outnumbered police and took advantage of a lawless scene.

Despite outgoing-U.S. Attorney General William Barr echoing Trump’s blame for “antifa,” federal prosecutors in Minnesota do not cite the term “antifa” — short for anti-fascist — or any other leftist group in a single charging document, and investigators here say the evidence doesn’t support those claims.

“We haven’t seen any trend of antifa folks who were involved here in the criminal activity or violence,” said Michael Paul, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office.

Paul said a “smattering” of opportunistic crowds amassed spontaneously after Floyd’s death, in most cases following no plan and pledging no apparent affiliation. Paul said some participants may self-identify with antifa or other ideological groups, and “you can’t say those folks weren’t out there.”

“But I don’t know if we can say for sure that they were either,” he said.

Two guilty pleas over the past week illustrate the wide chasm of ideology behind the destruction. Both came from young men in their early 20s who traveled to Minneapolis to join the melee, but to vastly different ends.

Dylan Shakespeare Robinson, a 23-year-old from Brainerd, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit arson. Charges say he and others trampled over a fence outside Minneapolis’ Third Precinct while a raucous crowd chanted “burn it down” in refrain. Then Robinson and the others broke into the police headquarters and helped light it on fire — all while broadcasting to Snapchat.

Around the same time, 22-year-old Benjamin Ryan Teeter from North Carolina arrived in Minneapolis, responding to a call to arms from the Boogaloo Bois, a group intent on inciting an American civil war. Teeter pleaded guilty on Wednesday to attempting to sell weapons to Hamas after the riots to help fund a training ground for the Boogaloo Bois. Court documents show Teeter talked openly during the riots about wanting to run police out of town and replace their forces, to launch attacks on police, steal bombs from the National Guard Armory and to assassinate a white supremacist while his friends recorded.

The Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office, Minneapolis Police Department and other federal law enforcement agencies involved in riot investigations declined to comment for this story.

Attack on MinneapolisIn the days and weeks that followed Floyd’s death, public officials on all sides of the political spectrum warned of sophisticated forces infiltrating the Twin Cities.

In activating the National Guard, Walz suggested white supremacists and drug cartels may be involved in the attack on Minneapolis. Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington publicly questioned whether an “organized criminal organization” played a role in the riots. Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors Jacob Frey and Melvin Carter blamed much of the violence on people from out of state. And Barr said the violence “instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups” should be treated as domestic terrorism.

Asked last week if he stands by these comments, Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann said, “Arrest records tell an important story, but of course it’s only of those who were caught and charged. While investigators continue working to determine who was responsible, Gov. Walz remains focused on rebuilding Minneapolis and working with law enforcement to ensure this never happens again.”

Harrington said his comments at the time came from “preliminary investigative work.”

“It was clear that some of those who were rioting in May and June were intent on destruction and terrorizing Minneapolis and St. Paul,” he said. “What was not clear at that time was who they were and what they came to do.”

Investigations are ongoing, and the totality of instigators and bad actors may never be fully documented, but the dozens of criminal cases filed in the six months since the riots do not support claims of a grand-scale organized attack.

Most of the charges describe unplanned violence on seemingly random targets, such as the teenagers who burned down a small nutrition store in St. Paul on May 28. Four people broke into the shop after midnight and trashed it, smashing glass bottles as the others cheered, and joked about a tobacco shop they’d just looted, court documents show. “Isn’t Red Bull flammable?” one inquired to the group. They dumped the energy drink and organic hand sanitizer over the floor, lit magazines on fire and threw them into the mixture, according to charges. McKenzy Ann DeGidio Dunn of Rosemount and Samuel Frey of Brooklyn Park, both 19 years old, have been charged with multiple counts of arson for setting the store on fire.

In another case, police responded to reports of people with bats trying to break into a Boost Mobile store in Brooklyn Park on West Broadway shortly after 5 a.m. When the officers arrived, police followed two women who jumped into a tan Buick Century and found clothing still on hangers and unopened liquor bottles in the back seat. Queensarauniya Beard, 25, of Brooklyn Park, and Chylen Hadiya Evans, 22, from north Minneapolis, have been charged with third-degree burglary and third-degree rioting by Hennepin County prosecutors.

The only group mentioned in court documents by name is the Boogaloo Bois, and even that is a loosely connected network of people who trend far-right, espouse anti-police, anti-government ideology and can often be identified by their Hawaiian shirts and assault rifles.

Three Boogaloo Bois have been charged in acts in Minnesota stemming from the Floyd unrest, including Ivan Harrison Hunter, a 26-year-old from Boerne, Texas, who claims to be the leader of the Boogaloo Bois there. Hunter, wearing a skull mask and tactical gear, fired 13 shots into the flaming police precinct with people still inside after Robinson and the others started it on fire, according to charges. Hunter bragged on Facebook about his role in the riots, posting, “I helped the community burn down that police station,” and that “BLM protesters in Minneapolis loved me,” according to charges.

Teeter and Michael Robert Solomon, 30, of New Brighton, were both charged with providing material support to Hamas. According to charges, Solomon roamed the riots carrying an assault rifle.

In Ramsey County, prosecutors have filed at least 75 charges for burglary and property damage crimes stemming from the riots, and none mention “antifa,” said spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein.

Outside agitatorsThe court documents support, at least to an extent, claims of some people coming from outside Minneapolis to take part in the destruction.

Of 20 people charged in Minnesota’s federal court, most for arson, only one lives in Minneapolis. In Hennepin County, five people with Minneapolis addresses were charged with lower-level crimes for burglary and drug possession. Most of the people being prosecuted for taking part in the riots came from neighboring St. Paul, the suburbs and rural Minnesota — some traveling from the far reaches of the state, such as Staples and Brainerd, to take part in the melee.

Aside from Hunter, Teeter and one man with an Iowa address charged for illegal gun possession, the only other person from outside of Minnesota charged in relation to the riots is Matthew Rupert, of Galesburg, Ill. The court documents do not suggest he is part of any sophisticated radical organization. When the riots began, Rupert posted on Facebook his intentions to travel to Minneapolis to “start a riot,” inviting any “goons” who wanted to join.

He livestreamed his trip to Minneapolis on Facebook and narrated his activities, which included burning down a Sprint store on East Lake Street, according to charges.

Andy Mannix

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