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‘Let’s start a riot’: Galesburg man hit with federal charge related to rioting in Chicago

The charges come as U.S. officials seek to determine if extremist groups infiltrated protests nationwide and tipped peaceful demonstrations toward violence.

Matthew Rupert in February 2018.
Knox County Jail

A man from downstate Galesburg who allegedly appears on video rioting, looting and urging attacks against the police has been hit with what appears to be the first federal criminal charge related to the violence this weekend in Chicago.

Matthew Lee Rupert, 28, has been charged in an eight-page criminal complaint in federal court in Minnesota with civil disorder, carrying on a riot and possession of unregistered destructive devices. The complaint alleges Rupert participated in looting and rioting in Minneapolis in response to the police killing of George Floyd before moving on to Chicago.

In a removal hearing held by telephone Monday before U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer in Chicago, Rupert maintained his innocence through his attorney but didn’t challenge being taken in custody back to Minnesota.

Meanwhile, the FBI began to publicly solicit tips and digital media Monday that depict “violent encounters surrounding the civil unrest that is happening throughout the country.”

The charges against Rupert hit as U.S. officials seek to determine if extremist groups had infiltrated protests nationwide and deliberately tipped largely peaceful demonstrations toward violence — and if foreign adversaries were behind a burgeoning disinformation campaign on social media.

Federal law enforcement officials have been insisting far-left groups were stoking violence. Meanwhile, experts who track extremist groups also reported seeing evidence of the far-right at work.

The complaint against Rupert does not connect him with any organization.

Still, a Chicago police officer told the Chicago Sun-Times that a sizable number of people looting in the Loop on Saturday night had Southern accents, indicating they were from out of town.

The officer was only involved in one arrest, of a person from Tennessee. “A lot are not from Chicago,” the officer said.

Nationwide, officials have seen a surge of social media accounts with fewer than 200 followers created in the last month, a textbook sign of a disinformation effort.

The accounts have posted graphic images of the protests, material on police brutality and on the coronavirus pandemic that appear designed to inflame tensions across the political divide, according to three federal officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss investigations.

The investigations are an attempt to identify the network of forces behind some of the most widespread outbreaks of civil unrest in the U.S. in decades. Protests erupted in dozens of cities in recent days, triggered by the death of Floyd, who died after he was pinned at the neck by a white Minneapolis police officer’s knee.

Allegations in the criminal complaint against Rupert largely revolve around a Facebook account for “El Ricco Rupert.” Rupert allegedly used that page to announce Thursday night that, “I’m going to Minneapolis tomorrow who coming only goons I’m renting hotel rooms.”

The next day, Rupert allegedly posted video to his Facebook account suggesting he was in Minneapolis. The video appeared to be filmed by Rupert while he was holding his cell phone, according to an FBI special agent’s affidavit. The video was marked “live” and lasted roughly two hours, records show. Authorities allege he passed out explosives, encouraged others to throw explosives at police and appeared to light a building on fire.

At one point, Rupert allegedly said, “There are SWAT trucks up there. They got SWAT trucks up there . . . I’ve got some bombs if some of you all want to throw them back . . . bomb them back . . . here I got some more . . . light it and throw it.” As he made the comments, Rupert allegedly handed out an item with brown casing and a green wick to others.

Rupert allegedly went on to break into a boarded-up liquor store, claimed to set a fire to a Sprint store and then took videos of himself taking items from an Office Depot.

The next day, Rupert allegedly suggested on Facebook he might head next to Chicago and he allegedly posted multiple videos early Sunday indicating he had arrived. He is allegedly seen with others near Van Buren and Dearborn wearing an American flag bandana and a white baseball cap. In one video, Rupert allegedly said he was at “South Plymouth and Ida B. Wells” waiting for his brother.

Rupert is allegedly heard on the video saying something to the effect of “let’s start a riot” and “I’m going to start doing some damage.” The feds say Rupert went into a merchant store but found the cash register empty, so he moved on to a convenience store. He allegedly is seen on video putting items in his backpack, and he references having boxes of tobacco products in his backpack.

Chicago police arrested Rupert and others at 2:21 a.m. Sunday for violating Chicago’s emergency curfew, according to the complaint. When police searched his vehicle, they found “several destructive devices” similar to what he had been using in Minneapolis, it states. He also had a hammer, a flashlight and cash.

Contributing: Associated Press