Situation Report: 2 Suspected Anarchists Arrested for Terror Attempt on Washington Railway

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The U.S. Justice Department has filed terrorism charges against two suspected anarchists for attempting to sabotage passenger and transport trains in Northwest Washington state.

According to the federal complaint, the two suspects, Ellen Brennan Reiche and Samantha Frances Brooks, were arrested along the tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (“BNSF”) Railroad while in possession of materials to be used as a “shunt” which “disrupts the low level electrical current on the tracks and can disable various safety features,” according to the DOJ press release.

Andy Ngo, editor for the Post-Millennial and long-time researcher of radical anarchist activities in the Pacific Northwest, noted Reiche had served as an organizer and campaigner for Washington State Democrats and was “a radical queer and environmental activist.” Upon arrest Reiche and Brooks were tied to a vehicle displaying a map of the United States overlaid with the phrase “Indigenous Land.”

Federal law enforcement had been investigating a series of over 41 separate incidents of shunts being placed on the BNSF tracks over the past year, including one which led to the decoupling of a train carrying placarded hazardous materials.

According to the federal complaint, a posting on the anarchist website Itsgoingdown.com (IGD) described the shunting campaign as being carried out in solidarity with Canadian indigenous tribes seeking to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline in British Columbia.

The post also provided instructions for how to carry out sabotage efforts, noting,

“With high resolution maps, Google Street view, good scouting, and a little flexibility, this tactic is fast and discreet. On a single rail track with a Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) system, this simple action can generate enough confusion in the system to cause big slow down and bureaucratic delays.”

As the federal complaint indicates, it can also lead to train derailment, loss of life, and the dispersing of hazardous chemicals into residential areas.

It is worth noting the role played by IGD, which included both publicizing terror attacks, as well as providing clear instructions for those inspired to carry out future attacks. As the Center for Security Policy testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution, websites like IGD play a crucial role in anarchist and Antifa organizing:

Antifa websites describe in detail how to organize affinity groups and chapters, how to vet potential members, prevent infiltration, and securely communicate. Such websites play a key role in spreading propaganda, distributing new tactics, techniques, and procedures, and raising calls to action.

Reiche and Brooks were charged under 18 U.S. Code § 1992, “Terrorist attacks and other violence against railroad carriers and against mass transportation systems on land, on water, or through the air,” and carries a possible penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

18 U.S. Code § 1992 is one of several terrorism statutes which would allow individuals who assisted in the shunting campaign to be charged with material support for terrorism (18 U.S. Code § 2339A), including those providing “training, expert advice or assistance.”

It could reasonably be argued that IGD played a role in providing “expert advice or assistance” in this case. “Expert advice or assistance” are strictly defined terms in the law however, so that a prosecutor would need to show the website provided more than simply “general knowledge” to potential terrorists.

The targeting of rail infrastructure by anarchists has been increasing in recent years, as anarchist networks and publications have repeatedly emphasized the deleterious economic effect of targeting railways and shared methods and tactics for targeting rail infrastructure.

Federal Law enforcement should be congratulated for its successful investigation into anarchist sabotaging of rail infrastructure, but one arrest is unlikely to result in disrupting the campaign. Law enforcement must take aggressive action to build more extensive cases. They should be encouraged to make substantial efforts to target potential conspirators and those providing material support. Otherwise the impact against anarchist networks in the region will be minimal.

Kyle Shideler
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