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Sanders torch suspect had AK-47, climate activist bomber book in Illinois cop stop

By Michael Donoghue, Vermont News First,

The man charged with setting fire to a historic building that includes the Vermont offices of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, was carrying an AK-47 rifle and a book entitled “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” when stopped by Illinois police last August, newly released court records show.

According to Wikipedia, How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire is a nonfiction book written by Andreas Malm and published in 2021 by Verso Books. In the book, Malm argues that sabotage is a logical form of climate activism, and criticizes both pacifism within the climate movement and “climate fatalism” outside it. The book inspired a film of the same name.

Shant M. Soghomonian, 35, formerly of Northridge, Calif. appeared for his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Burlington Tuesday afternoon for the arson charge.

Federal Magistrate Judge Kevin J. Doyle agreed to a government request that a detention motion be heard on Thursday afternoon. Doyle said the Pre-Trial Services Office had not had time to complete a report on Soghomonian.

After the court hearing, Soghomonian was returned to the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town where he has been held since shortly after his arrest on Sunday.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has filed a criminal complaint against Soghomonian for causing damage to 1 Church Street, which is also the home to the law firm of Paul Frank & Collins and a Chase Bank branch.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Lasher, in his detention motion, noted the Illinois State Police had stopped Soghomonian for a traffic violation in August 2023. Investigation showed besides the book and the AK-47 rifle, Soghomonian had two magazines to go with the weapon and about 12 grams of cannabis, Lasher wrote.

Soghomonian also told police he did not have a weapon in his vehicle, but that proved to be untruthful, Lasher noted. It is not the only time Soghomonian has tried to deceive police, Lasher reported.

He said the defendant has a history of itinerancy, gun possession and a lack of candor with law enforcement.

The veteran prosecutor also noted Soghomonian as “a juvenile in his mid-teens, he was arrested or detained for an assault involving a firearm on a person in Glendale, California.”

The case appears to have been dismissed in part in the “furtherance of justice” on some counts and also resulted in the imposition of a wardship on others, Lasher wrote in his motion.

The ATF obtained search warrants for the room at the Quality Inn in Shelburne, where Soghomonian was arrested as he prepared to leave on Sunday. The federal agents also obtained a warrant for the 2019 blue Subaru Impreza that was parked in front of the motel, just south of the South Burlington line. It was registered in New York.

The ATF seized a tote bag consistent with a bag shown in a security video outside the targeted building, Lasher said. The bag had a handheld long-neck lighter, matches and fire starter materials.

Sanders was not at the office, but staff members were there working.

Soghomonian had stayed at the Shelburne inn for only one night and was due to leave after sunrise, but he was arrested by the ATF with help from Williston and Shelburne Police about 5 a.m.

Soghomonian failed to immediately answer his door at the Quality Inn when police announced their presence, but said he was getting dressed, the ATF said.

Investigators heard what sounded like the dragging of heavy items near the door, but the man continued to refuse to open the door, ATF Special Agent Eric Brimo said.

Fearing a barricade, a pass key was used to unlock the door, but it was blocked, forcing officers to push their way in, Brimo reported.

Soghomonian was found inside, and he was wearing what appeared to be the same white Nike shoes that had been seen on security video during the arson on Friday morning, the ATF said.

The investigation has shown Soghomonian had lived for much of February and March at the former La Quinta Inn on Williston Road next to Al’s French Frys. The motel is now known as the Inn at Burlington.


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