Nearly 7 years in prison for Twin Cities man accused of stockpiling for armed police conflict

A young Twin Cities man will spend nearly 7 years in federal prison after being caught trying to buy machine gun conversion devices from an FBI informant in a probe that also recorded him celebrating mass shootings and considering armed conflicts with police.

Senior U.S. District Judge David Doty on Tuesday sentenced River William Smith, 21, of Savage, to 80 months after intense scrutiny of Smith's recorded statements to informants throughout the investigation and suggestions of helping Russians kill Americans in Ukraine once he's released from prison. But Doty declined the government's request for a maximum 10-year sentence and did not side with prosecutors' arguments that Smith's actions amounted to terroristic conduct.

Smith, who was arrested in December 2022, pled guilty last year to buying the gun parts from an undercover FBI informant in an investigation that started when two people reported concerns about Smith's behavior at a south metro firing range that year. Smith was arrested peacefully while wearing soft armor and possessing a loaded Glock handgun. Agents recovered from his vehicle an assault-style rifle and nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Prosecutors and federal agents have raised alarms about statements from Smith supporting Nazi paramilitary groups and mass killings of law enforcement, the LGBTQ community and Muslims. He often spoke of waging a deadly gun battle with law enforcement and dubbed as a "hero" the perpetrator of a deadly attack on a Colorado LGBTQ night club, according to court records.

"When a defendant tells us how dangerous he is we should listen," Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter told Doty on Tuesday. "When he tells us he is full of rage, full of hate, enjoys watching people get shot, we should take notice."

Winter had argued that Smith presented "a unique danger to the public" and asked for far more prison time than the 18 months sought by Smith's attorney, Jordan Kushner. Smith's attempt to buy machine gun conversion devices and what he thought were three live hand grenades were part of "extraordinary measures to train and equip himself for a violent confrontation with police," he said.

Kushner instead argued that this was a "run-of-the-mill firearms case" involving a firearm and videogames enthusiast who hadn't harmed anyone in his life.

"There isn't any evidence the FBI caught a mass shooter," Kushner said. "Frankly, it's a fantasy on their part."

Smith was previously arrested at 17 in 2019 after discharging an assault-style rifle inside the Savage home he shared with his grandparents. His grandmother injured her hand on a damaged doorknob afterward. Kushner has said that Smith fired the weapon while intoxicated and paranoid that people who had robbed him previously were returning to the home.

Prosecutors also cited recorded jail calls between August 2023 and October 2023 as evidence that Smith still poses a danger. During one call, he told his mother that if he had to serve 10 years in prison, "they have my word that I won't leave this country. It'll be settled right here."

FBI Special Agent Erinn Tobin, the lead case agent investigating Smith, testified last week that she reviewed 300 of some 4,900 calls made from jail since his Dec. 2022 arrest. During one call back home to family, Tobin testified, Smith "said he just wanted sentencing to be over so he could 'focus on the warpath.'"

On Tuesday, Winter again returned to recorded jail calls between Smith and his family that included vows to "never accept guilt" and lie when he entered his guilty plea. He told his grandmother last year that he planned to leave the country, join the Russian army and kill Americans in Ukraine.

"Does that sound like somebody who has sincere remorse?" Winter asked Tuesday.

Winter said that Smith posed an "imminent risk" of using the machine gun conversion devices purchased from the informant against law enforcement or members of the public.

Smith has been held at Sherburne County Jail since his arrest and appeared in court Tuesday wearing an orange sweatsuit. His mother, sister, aunt and uncle attended to support him.

In a subsequent court filing this week, Smith countered several points made during testimony last week from Tobin, who led the investigation. He argued that the informant expressed racist and extremist views, and that his own extremist remarks were made to curry favor.

"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."

He said said many of his statements cited during the case were not rational but also not serious.

"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."

Doty added three years of supervised release to Smith's sentence, the maximum. Smith will be barred from possessing firearms, ammunition, destructive devices or other weapons. The judge also imposed a series of post-release conditions that included prohibitions – without authorization from probation officials – against viewing extremist materials, using texting applications and being in touch with anyone affiliated with neo-Nazi paramilitary groups.

Kushner said after Tuesday's hearing that he planned to appeal Smith's sentence.

Speaking to Doty on Tuesday before being sentenced, Smith apologized for what he called a "mistake a I made when I wasn't even old enough to buy alcohol."

Smith said he wasn't a criminal before being caught buying the conversion devices and "I don't intend to be one when it's over."