A Washington state woman has been sentenced to a year in prison for sabotaging railroad tracks near the US-Canada border in Washington state in an attempt to derail a train carrying crude oil.
Ellen Brennan Reiche of Bellingham was sentenced Dec. 17 in US District Court in Seattle to 12 months and one day in prison for committing an act of violence against a railroad carrier. Reiche is also required to complete 100 hours of community service while on federal supervision.
On Nov. 28, 2020, two women from Bellingham, Samantha Frances Brooks, 27, and Ellen Brennan Reiche, 23, were arrested and charged with terrorism after an attack on BNSF railroad by allegedly placing a "shunt" on the tracks which disrupts the low-level electrical current on the tracks and can disable the train’s safety features.
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.
BNSF police received a motion alert from a game camera placed along track just north of Bellingham, and saw a person trespassing along the tracks north of the railroad intersection with Cliffside Drive and contacted the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office to investigate. Deputies found Brooks and Reiche in the area. The pair attempted to flee, but were detained for trespassing on railroad property, according to federal court records.
Deputies located a wire shunt between the tracks in the area where Brooks and Reiche were seen and a bag Reiche was carrying contained rubber gloves, a piece of black insulated copper wire and a Makita drill with a wheel-shaped brush attachment, according to court records.
The wire found in the bag was similar to the wire used in shunting incidents, according to the Department of Justice.
Reiche was convicted in September for placing the shunt to protest construction of a pipeline across British Columbia through Indigenous land and to keep supplies from reaching Canada..
Chief US District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez called Reiche's offense "extremely serious."
US Attorney Nick Brown said, "Placing a shunt on active railroad tracks puts lives in danger, to drivers preparing to cross the tracks who may not get any warning lights of an approaching train, and to the homeowners in the area who could be endangered by a train derailment.”
"In this case the shunt was placed just prior to the arrival of a train with 97 tanker cars loaded with crude oil. Thankfully, the device was discovered and removed before it could cause a tragedy."
In the criminal complaint, the Justice Department noted a potential connection between the alleged terrorists and anarchist groups. Claims of responsibility for the attacks as well as mentions of train sabotage were posted by the Puget Sound Anarchists on It's Going Down, a popular anarchist website which regularly engages in "doxxing" and harassment of Trump supporters and right-wing groups. The site lauded praise on the 'autonomous zones' in the Pacific Northwest and other anarchist actions and events.
"Following the initial shunting incidents on January 19, 2020, a claim of responsibility was published on the anarchist website itsgoingdown.org on January 22, 2020. This claim of responsibility stated that the shunting activity was carried out in solidarity with Native American tribes in Canada seeking to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline across British Columbia, and with the express goal of disrupting BNSF operations and supplies for the pipeline."
In July, Reiche's co-defendant, Samantha Brooks, pleaded guilty to a terrorist attack and violence against a railroad carrier.
The Post Millennial previously reported that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been investigating the placement of "shunts" on the BNSF tracks since January 2020. Former US Attorney Brian Moran said at the time, "…since January there have been 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."
An investigation is still ongoing into the derailment on December 22, 2020 of 10 BNSF train cars carrying crude oil which caught fire in Custer, WA. At the time, the disaster resembled what Reiche, Brooks and other eco- terrorists have been attempting. A rail union official reportedly told investigators that the derailment was caused by sabotage.
Officials have not yet ruled on the accident's cause, but did rule out drug or alcohol use among the crew, damage to the tracks, crew fatigue and weather-related factors.
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