In the days after protesters set the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct station ablaze, Bryce Michael Williams trekked across the country with a documentary film crew to join other protests over George Floyd’s killing in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Denver.
Recounting the journey on an Instagram interview show this month, the 26-year-old self-described semiprofessional basketball player and “TikTok influencer” from Staples, Minn., explained that he was there when the Third Precinct caught fire.
“But at night, I participated in the riots at night of course, cause I’m with my people,” Williams told the interviewer. They’re “getting teargassed, of course I’m going to riot too.”
This week, Williams became the latest in a largely homegrown group of people charged in connection with rioting and destruction of buildings that erupted across the Twin Cities after Floyd’s killing by police on May 25.
Williams was charged Monday with conspiracy to commit arson in a sealed federal criminal complaint, which became public Wednesday after he made his first appearance in federal court. He is being held in Sherburne County jail ahead of a Friday detention hearing.
According to a criminal complaint affidavit sworn by a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent, Williams was recorded by surveillance cameras at the entrance of the precinct holding and helping light a Molotov cocktail.
Williams is at least the 10th person charged with either federal rioting or arson charges in connection with the unrest over Floyd’s death. All but one of the defendants are from Minnesota thus far and federal court documents have yet to detail any affiliation with organized groups.
As with previous cases, investigators described relying heavily on videos posted online on platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. In this case, authorities said Williams posted to his TikTok account a video of himself standing outside the burning Third Precinct building. According to charges, a New York Times photo depicted Williams holding a Molotov cocktail outside the precinct. A YouTube compilation video of the unrest also purportedly shows Williams holding a Molotov cocktail while another person tried to light it, the complaint says.
Investigators also relied on the June 14 interview Williams gave to an Instagram account called the “n830show,” during which Williams described participating in the demonstrations in Minneapolis.
At one point, the interviewer asked Williams whether he considered “burning down the buildings part of the rioting.”
“Yeah, definitely that’s part of rioting, it’s mass destruction — that’s what a riot is, it’s mass destruction,” Williams said.
At the end of the interview, a commenter asked what it was like watching the precinct burn.
“It’s just a surreal moment,” Williams said. “For once we feel like we’re in complete control. The police can’t do anything. We’re burning down their sanctuary, their home.”
Williams criticized the looting of area stores, however, “because it defeats the overall purpose of the entire protest.”
The interviewer asked, “At what point does violence become justified in the face of injustice?”
Said Williams: “To the point where you’re finally heard. I honestly believe in do whatever it takes.”
His court appearance came one day after a Brainerd-area man appeared in federal court in Colorado on arson charges related to the Third Precinct fire. Dylan Shakespeare Robinson, 22, was arrested in Breckenridge, Colo., on Sunday.
Federal authorities say Robinson is on probation for drug possession. He was recorded by security cameras tossing incendiary devices at the Third Precinct building the night it burned, according to a federal criminal complaint. A Facebook video also showed Robinson setting a fire just outside the first-floor stairwell on the building’s west side, the complaint said.