A man described as an antigovernment "sovereign citizen" with anti-black and “very intense” pro-Constitution views, now accused of wounding five people at a Black Lives Matter rally last month, will be arraigned today in Minneapolis.
Allen “Lance” Scarsella, 23, of Lakeville, Minn., has been charged with second-degree riot while armed with a dangerous weapon and five counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon causing substantial bodily harm.
Three of his associates –– Joseph Martin Backman, 27, of Eagan, Minn., Nathan Wayne Gustavsson, 22, of Hermantown, Minn., and Daniel Thomas Macey, 26, of Pine City, Minn. –– are also scheduled to be arraigned, each charged with one count of second-degree riot while armed with a dangerous weapon.
There is now mounting evidence that the four suspects honed their white supremacist views on far-right extremist websites and in chat rooms.
In announcing the charges Monday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said “there is no doubt” the Nov. 23 attack was “racially motivated,” but that he wasn’t filing hate crimes charges, which are misdemeanors in Minnesota.
“The four men were not charged with [hate crimes] because the sentences for them, especially the suspected shooter, Scarsella, would be significantly longer for the riot and second-degree assault charges,” Freeman said in a statement.
Freeman, however, said he “has been consulting with U.S. Attorney Andy Luger about this case and if federal hate crime sentences would draw a longer sentence, he would be willing to turn the case over to them.”
The prosecutor said the suspects’ own statements and videos “show that these are sick people. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but the language they use, and what they say about fellow Americans, citizens, are just not acceptable.”
The county prosecutor also said the nature of injuries sustained by the victims and evidence so far gathered doesn’t meet the legal threshold for attempted murder charges, but the investigation is ongoing.
“Trust me, this is the most serious charge we could bring under the circumstances,” Freeman said. “It would be improper if we did more. These individuals were taken into custody within 24 hours. We have the principal players. We believe there may be another.”
Court documents say that on Nov. 24, Minneapolis police learned that an officer “from a police agency outside the Twin Cities was personally acquainted with Scarsella.” The Minneapolis Star-Tribune said that officer was “an old high school friend” of Scarsella’s who now works for the Mankato Police Department.
“This officer received a phone call from Scarsella on Nov. 24, around 1:00 a.m. [and] Scarsella told him he had just shot 5 people," the court documents say.
“The officer encouraged Scarsella to turn himself in and to also turn his guns over to police,” according to the documents.
“The officer was aware that Scarsella owned and carried guns and that he had very intense opinions, which the officer described as being a sovereign citizen and pro-Constitution. He knew that Scarsella had negative experiences with and opinions about African Americans.”
Scarsella was arrested at a residence in Bloomington, Minn., later that day.
Court documents show that surveillance video outside the 4th Police Precinct, where the Black Lives Matter demonstration was occurring, helped investigators identify Scarsella and one of his acquaintances.
The BLM protesters have been outside police precinct headquarters since Nov. 15, shortly after a 24-year-old black man, Jamar Clark, was fatally shot by a white police officer a few blocks away. The activists contend that Clark was handcuffed when he was shot. The police union chief has said the victim was not handcuffed and attempted to grab an officer’s gun.
The protest by black activists quickly caught the attention of Scarsella and his fellow racists, who decided to confront the demonstrators wearing face masks and camouflage clothing on Nov. 19.
Scarsella and his associates, court documents allege, “made inappropriate [racial] comments to protesters,” leading to “angry Internet posts on Reddit and 4Chan,” the court documents say.
“Investigators have viewed a 4Chan website e-mail string where participants discussed going to the BLM protests to ‘stir things up’ and ‘cause commotion,’” the court documents say.
Through further examination of social media, Minneapolis police spotted a video made by Scarsella and an associate on their way to the BLM protest on Nov. 19, referring to African Americans “in derogatory terms, saying they are going to do some ‘reverse cultural enriching’ and ‘make the fire rise,’” the documents say.
They returned four days later with firearms, leading to the wounding of five demonstrators.
Scarsella claims on the video that he and a fellow racist who displays a handgun are on a “search and recovery mission.” The video ends with the words “stay white.”