Original Publication Date: December 2, 2020
Two suspected militant far-left activists in Washington state have been federally charged for a terrorist attack following an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation into dozens of attempts to derail trains.
Ellen Brennan Reiche, 27, and Samantha Frances Brooks, 23, were arrested over the weekend by federal authorities in Bellingham, Wash. and charged with committing a terrorist attack on a railroad facility.
According to the criminal complaint, Reiche and Brooks were placing wired devices known as “shunts” over BNSF Railway tracks in the middle of the night on Nov. 28. The wires are capable of disrupting a train’s electrical signal and cause it to erroneously brake.
“Depending on the location, the shunt may also interfere with the proper operation of crossing gates at railroad/traffic intersections, causing the gates to allow vehicular traffic across the tracks even when a train is oncoming,” wrote the officer assigned in the Seattle Division of the FBI in the affidavit.
The two suspects were caught by a Whatcom County deputy. Reiche was carrying a bag that contained gloves, supplies and tools needed to make the wired devices. The insulated copper wire Reiche was carrying was similar to what was used in 41 other attacks on the railway this year, including an incident on Oct. 11 where a train carrying combustible material was decoupled from the engine after riding over a shunt.
Reiche was parked nearby at the time of the duo’s arrest and their vehicle has a sticker on the back with the text “INDIGENOUS LAND” over a map of the entire United States.
The affidavit names extreme Antifa website It’s Going Down for claiming responsibility for railway attacks in the Pacific Northwest earlier this year. The site said in a post that the direct actions were done to “fight against colonial invasion” in relation to the building of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project in British Columbia, Canada. It called for others to carry out more attacks.
Reiche and Brooks have mostly scrubbed their online presence but some remaining clues give insight into who Reiche is.
Reiche, who identifies as “non-binary” and uses “they/them” pronouns, was the deputy field organizer for Washington State Democrats, according to their now-deleted LinkedIn profile. (The official Democrat organization has been reached for comment.)
Reiche and Brooks made their first court appearance on Monday and have been released on pre-trial. Their next court date is scheduled for Dec. 14. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.