Galesburg man pleads guilty to arson during Minneapolis unrest following George Floyd’s death

Matthew Lee Rupert, 28, faces 5 to 20 years in prison.

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Matthew Rupert 2018 booking mug for possession of stolen firearms.

Matthew Rupert 2018 booking mug for possession of stolen firearms.

Galesburg police

A Galesburg man pleaded guilty to a federal arson charge Wednesday for setting fire to a Sprint store in Minneapolis during the unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd.

Matthew Rupert agreed to plead guilty in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges of civil disorder and rioting.

“I plead guilty,” Rupert, 28, said during the brief hearing before U.S. District Judge Nancy E. Brasel in Minneapolis.

After entering the Sprint store on May 29, Rupert and others knocked over a pile of boxes before Rupert doused them in lighter fluid, prosecutors said.

Rupert then encouraged a 17-year-old who had accompanied him to the protests to set the boxes on fire.

“I lit it on fire,” Rupert posted on Facebook, prosecutors said. The fire caused damage to the building, at 3009 Nicollet Ave.

Authorities were able to track Rupert through his social media posts during the unrest. In a more than two-hour long Facebook Live video Rupert filmed showed him handing out explosive devices and encouraging others to use them against police officers, prosecutors said.

“I’ve got bombs if you all want to throw them back,” Rupert could be heard saying in the video, according to the criminal complaint filed against him last year. When an explosion took place after a rioter lit and threw one such device, Rupert said, “good shot my boy.”

Family members had told the Chicago Sun-Times that the explosives were fireworks — albeit large ones — and said Rupert had an affinity for setting them off in Galesburg, which had led to run-ins with local police officials.

Rupert was arrested in Chicago two days after the Minneapolis fire for violating Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s citywide curfew order. Officers found “several destructive devices,” a hammer and a flashlight inside the car he had traveled in to participate in the George Floyd demonstrations downtown.

Rupert faces between 5 to 20 years in prison.

A sentencing date has not been set.

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