Updated 2:50 p.m. | Posted 5 a.m.
Four men charged in connection with last week's shooting near a demonstration in north Minneapolis made their first appearances in court Tuesday afternoon.
A judge kept bail at $500,000 for alleged shooter Allen Lawrence Scarsella and ordered him to have no contact with the other defendants. He was also barred from keeping guns.
The lawyer for defendant Joseph Martin Backman told the court his client was "not a white supremacist" and had voted for President Barack Obama in 2008. Backman's bail remained at $250,000.
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office alleges Scarsella, 23, of Lakeville fired eight shots from a .45-caliber handgun late on Nov. 23 after an altercation with people protesting the police shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, an African-American man.
Five African-American men suffered non-life-threatening injuries. The criminal complaint says one victim was shot in his abdomen, another in his back.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman on Monday said Scarsella, who's white, and his friends were motivated by racial hatred.
"The defendants' own statements, their video, show that these are sick people," Freeman said. "The language they use and how they talk about fellow Americans, citizens, people, just not acceptable, period."
Freeman was referring to video the men allegedly made on their way to the 4th Precinct police station several days before the shooting, where demonstrators are in their third week of protests against the police shooting of Clark.
In the video, Scarsella and another man who hasn't been charged refer to African-Americans using racial slurs and joke around about guns.
Scarsella is charged with five counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of rioting — all felonies.
Also charged in the case are Backman, 27, of Eagan, 21-year-old Nathan Wayne Gustavsson of Hermantown, Minn., and 26-year-old Daniel Thomas Macey of Pine City, Minn.
The court Tuesday set a $100,000 conditional bail for Macey.
Backman and Gustavsson are identified as white, and Macey as Asian. They're each charged with one count of second-degree riot, armed with a dangerous weapon.
Investigators say all four admitted being at the protest, and three of them exchanged text messages about plans to go there.
Minnesota court records show none of the four has been convicted of a serious crime.
Theresa Gustavsson said her son Nathan is in his final year of a gunsmithing program at Pine Technical & Community College in Pine City.
"He's a good kid. He just wanted to finish this degree and he was looking into opening his own gun shop or going into be a gunsmith at some place like Gander Mountain."
The defendants' family and friends have said little else publicly. Attorney Alex DeMarco, who's representing Backman, says his client is not a white supremacist, and Backman's connection to the others charged with him is tenuous at best.
In the criminal complaints Hennepin County prosecutors say participants in a chat group on the website 4Chan discussed going to the protest site to "stir things up" and "cause commotion."
"More and more racists and extremists are gravitating toward the anonymity that online activity affords," says Ryan Lenz, who edits the Hatewatch blog for the Southern Poverty Law Center. "It's a place where they can talk, share ideas, demean groups of people with often vile terminology, and they can do so without any fear of repercussion."
While all of the men charged in the case are facing felonies, Freeman says he is not charging them with attempted murder or hate crimes.
"We charge the most serious offense we can that meets the evidence," he said. "If we just merely charge a hate crime, they'd be paying a much lesser penalty."
However, Freeman did leave open the possibility that the four defendants could face federal hate crime charges.
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