ST. PAUL — An Austin man with suspected ties to white supremacist groups has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for possessing an assault rifle.

U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle on Wednesday sentenced 31-year-old Samuel James Johnson on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Johnson pleaded guilty in June. In his plea agreement, Johnson admitted he possessed a semi-automatic assault rifle on Nov. 4, 2010.

Because he is a felon, federal law bars Johnson from possessing firearms or ammunition at any time.

Prosecutors say because of his record, Johnson faced a minimum of 15 years in federal prison.

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Johnson’s criminal history includes a number of convictions in Mower County, including attempted simple robbery in 2000, simple robbery in 2007, possession of a short-barreled shotgun in 2007, and sale of a simulated controlled substance in 2007. He also has a Hennepin County conviction for felony theft in 1999.

In 2009, Johnson led rallies in downtown Austin, which attracted just a few supporters and often more opponents and law enforcement. He opposes the country's immigration policies and blamed many of the country's woes on illegal immigration. Austin City Council members rebuffed a request in 2009 by Johnson to sign a petition calling upon the sheriff to work with federal authorities on enforcing immigration laws.

An affidavit unsealed earlier this year alleged that Johnson had amassed guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition as part of a plan to attack the government, minorities and others.

He also tried to recruit others to his cause and actively scouted for a training compound in Illinois and Minnesota, the affidavit said.

Because at least three of Johnson’s prior felony convictions were for crimes of violence or serious drug crimes, sentencing was subject to the Armed Career Criminal Act, which mandates a minimum of 15 years in federal prison.

The affidavit alleges that Johnson and and another man arrested in April, 42-year-old Joseph Benjamin Thomas, were trying to form a supremacist group with a militant wing. Thomas told an undercover agent he expected a race war within two years and that his group would be able to control Interstate highways and airports to prevent the military from coming into Minnesota, the affidavit said.

Thomas planned to attack the Mexican consulate in St. Paul, believing it would stir debate on immigration amnesty issues ahead of the 2012 presidential election, according to the affidavit. Thomas also told an undercover FBI agent he considered himself a "domestic terrorist" instead of an American and would risk his life for the white supremacist movement in the event of a "race war," the FBI affidavit said.

In the plot against the consulate, Thomas allegedly told an undercover agent he wanted to steal a pickup truck, load it with barrels of oil and gas, drive it into the consulate and allow the mixture to spill, then set it ablaze with a road flare. Thomas also said he'd found recipes for the mixture and instructions for making napalm, the affidavit said.