We have been discussing the previously announced use of terrorism laws to address violent protests around the country, a move that I have criticized as raising civil liberty concerns. There have been cases that arguably fit a terrorism model however and now the Justice Department has charged a new such case against two women associated with Antifa and anarchist groups. Samantha Frances Brooks, 27, and Ellen Brennan Reiche, 23, were charged with terrorism crimes in allegedly trying to place a “shunt” on railroad tracks to cause a train to derail.
A shunt disrupts the low level electrical current on the tracks. It can disable various safety features and cause a derailment or train wreck. Notably, the government has reported “41 incidents of shunts placed on the BNSF tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties—causing crossing guards to malfunction, interfering with automatic braking systems, and, in one case, causing the near-derailment of tanks of hazardous chemicals.”
The case was handled by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and reported that, on the night of October 11, 2020, multiple shunts were placed in three different locations in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. The shunts triggered an automatic braking system on a train that was transporting hazardous and combustible material. As a result, the emergency braking caused a portion of the train to decouple from the engine.
An anarchist website, It’s Going Down, reportedly claimed responsibility for the attacks to “fight against colonial invasion” of Wet’suwet’en Indian lands in British Columbia. The website describes itself as “a digital community center for anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements across so-called North America. Our mission is to provide a resilient platform to publicize and promote revolutionary theory and action.” It features postings from groups like the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM) to commemorate Michael Reinoehl who was accused of murdering a counterprotester before himself being shot by police.
This arrest occurred after police saw two people kneeling on the tracks near a crossing in Bellingham, Washington on surveillance videos. They found a shunt and the women had a paper bag containing wire, a drill with a brush head, and rubber gloves. Both claimed that they were just looking for their keys along the tracks when confronted.
According to Heavy.com, Reiche (above) works as a mentor for the nature program Wild Whatcom and has worked as a
She has a bachelor’s degree in German from Western Washington University and graduated from Gig Harbor High School. She says she’s certified as an alpine level II ski instructor and in adult and pediatric first aid.
Reiche and Brooks could be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
The case highlights again the shadowy network used by Antifa and anarchist members despite denials of such organized violence on the left. I testified in the Senate on Antifa and its history of violence on our campuses and streets. As I have written, Antifa is indeed more of a movement than a specific organization, but it has members and associated groups. Indeed, it has long been the “Keyser Söze” of the anti-free speech movement, a loosely aligned group that employs measures to avoid easy detection or association. FBI Director Wray told Congress “And we have quite a number — and I’ve said this quite consistently since my first time appearing before this committee — we have any number of properly predicated investigations into what we would describe as violent anarchist extremists and some of those individuals self-identify with Antifa.” While right-wing groups still account for more deaths and injuries, there is a national network of violent and organized groups on the left that are also fueling unrest.
Here is the complaint: United States v._Reiche_and_Brooks.pdf