Federal prosecutors leveled a rarely filed criminal charge Tuesday against a Chicago man who now stands accused of using Facebook to encourage people to loot and riot downtown and on the Near North Side last August.
James Massey, 22, is charged with using a facility of interstate commerce to incite a riot, according to a 19-page criminal complaint. It alleges he sent online messages late on Aug. 9 such as “WE LIE TOGETHER WE DIE TOGETHER” and “Lets get ready to steal b----.”
Two people were shot and 13 police officers were injured amid the rioting last August that led to standoffs with police and left heaps of shattered glass and empty storefronts from the South Loop to Lincoln Park.
When someone on Facebook later told Massey that a screenshot of his Facebook Live video was circulating on social media, he allegedly replied in part, “F--- dem … Freedom of speech.” Meanwhile, Tuesday’s complaint revealed that federal authorities had obtained a search warrant for Massey’s Facebook account back in September.
Authorities arrested Massey around 6:10 a.m. Tuesday. U.S. Magistrate Judge Sunil Harjani later agreed to release Massey on conditions that included electronic monitoring and a curfew. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheri Wong told the judge that Massey had been “instrumental in instigating what was very destructive activity.”
But Michael Schmiege, Massey’s defense attorney, later told the Chicago Sun-Times that Massey “looks forward to the opportunity to clear his name.”
“On August 10, 2020 hundreds, if not thousands of individuals were involved in extensive looting across the city,” Schmiege said in an emailed statement. “These individuals did so on their own free will and not at the direction of or instigation by Mr. Massey.”
Massey also used the name “Steve Nash” online, according to the complaint. And on Aug. 10, someone sent a screenshot of a “Steve Nash” Facebook Live video to the Chicago Police Department, it said. The screenshot included text that read, “ATTENTION ATTENTION LOTTING [sic] START AT 12am tonight … WE WILL NOT BE F---ING UP THE SOUTH SIDE EAST SIDE OR WEST SIDE DOWNTOWN AREA AND UP NORTH AREA ONLY BRING YA TOOLS SKI MASK AND GLOVES #LETSGOOOOO.”
When the screenshot was taken, the video had been live for 31 minutes and 766 Facebook users were watching it, according to the complaint.
Massey allegedly sent private Facebook messages to 40 people on Aug. 9 telling them to meet at 6300 South Racine Avenue to go downtown together. Around 9:13 p.m., Massey also allegedly messaged another group, “WE LIE TOGETHER WE DIE TOGETHER.” Then, at 11:27 p.m., he allegedly posted a picture on Facebook with the caption, “Lets get ready to steal b----.”
Facebook removed the post for violating community standards, according to the feds.
Sixteen minutes later, Massey allegedly posted another Facebook Live video of himself driving a Nissan sedan. In the video, Massey allegedly said, “Fitting to go f--- them up. I ain’t missing out. I am ready to steal.”
Prosecutors said Massey could be seen in the images he posted and in surveillance footage from looted stores wearing blue pants. Records also show a black Nissan is registered in his name, according to the complaint.
Among the targets of the group Massey led was a marijuana dispensary in the 900 block of West Weed Street, according to the complaint. There, prosecutors allege that Massey and 12 others left three vehicles and took tools from Massey’s trunk. Then, members of the group broke into the store by smashing through a window around 1 a.m. on Aug. 10.
A second store in the 800 block of North Michigan Avenue was looted at 1:25 a.m., according to the complaint. Massey allegedly approached that store with a tire iron in his hand while someone else broke a window. Massey and others allegedly entered, stole several coats and returned to Massey’s vehicle.
Later, around 5:06 a.m., Massey and others allegedly looted a store in the 700 block of South Clark Street. Massey can be seen in camera footage taking three bottles of clear liquor out of the store, according to the complaint.