A Missouri man with connections to white supremacists has been charged with terrorism after authorities said he brought a cross-country Amtrak train to a halt last fall in rural Nebraska.
Taylor M. Wilson of suburban St. Louis intended to hurt passengers, authorities said.
The 26-year-old has been charged in federal court in Lincoln with terrorism attacks and other violence against mass transportation systems, according to federal court records unsealed Wednesday.
The incident occurred overnight as the train traveled through Nebraska during the third weekend of October, according to law enforcement officials.
A St. Charles, Missouri, resident, Wilson was a ticketed passenger on the California Zephyr, en route from California to Chicago via Omaha. Authorities believe he was headed home to Missouri.
Wilson entered a restricted area of the train as it neared Oxford, Nebraska, and triggered the emergency brake in what authorities say was an attempt to derail the train. Oxford is about 40 miles southwest of Kearney.
Passenger Bobbie Garris provided this account of the incident to NTV News of Axtell, Nebraska.
“We lunged forward in our seats and all the power went out, it went completely black,” Garris said. “We could smell something burning and I’m going to guess that was the brakes.”
Passengers sat in darkness for more than an hour, she said.
In an affidavit, FBI Special Agent Monte Czaplewski provided this account of what unfolded:
When the train came to a stop, Amtrak staff searched it and found Wilson sitting in the engineer’s seat of the “follow engine,” playing with the controls.
He was behaving erratically, goaded staff with profanities and wrestled with them, sometimes reaching for his waistband.
“I’m the conductor, (expletive),” he said.
Amtrak workers held Wilson on the ground outside the train until a deputy from Furnas County arrived. The deputy handcuffed Wilson and while patting him down found a fully loaded .38 caliber handgun in Wilson’s front waistband along with a fully loaded “speedloader” in his front-left pocket. A speedloader enables rapid reloading of bullets.
Passengers on the train also pointed investigators to a backpack belonging to Wilson. The backpack contained three more loaded speedloaders, a box of .38 ammunition, a hammer, a fixed-blade knife, tin snips, scissors, a tape measure and a face mask similar to those used in construction.
During booking at the Furnas County Jail, Wilson was found in possession of a business card of the National Socialist Movement in Detroit, considered one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the U.S.
A search of Wilson’s phone found a depiction of a white supremacist banner over a highway and PDF files of “The Anarchist Cookbook,” and “The Poor Man’s James Bond” and other works about violence.
Czaplewski, of the FBI, drew significance from the material.
“The described documents are often (used) by individuals and groups attempting or planning to commit criminal acts or acts of terrorism or violence,” Monte wrote in the affidavit in support of arresting Wilson.
In the affidavit, Czaplewski recounted statements from an acquaintance of Wilson’s who said Wilson had traveled with neo-Nazis to protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, which authorities believe was the Unite the Right rally in which a woman was killed in August.
The acquaintance also said Wilson “has expressed an interest in ‘killing black people’ … especially during the protests in St. Louis.” The affidavit notes that Wilson is the chief suspect in a road rage incident on Interstate 70 in which a white man pointed a gun at a black female in another vehicle. The license plate of the man’s car tracked back to Wilson.
St. Louis-based FBI agents searched Wilson’s home on Dec. 21 and found a hidden compartment behind the refrigerator. In that compartment, they found a tactical vest, 11 AR-15 ammunition magazines with about 190 rounds, one drum-style ammunition magazine, 100 rounds of 9 mm ammo, “white supremacy documents and paperwork,” and other items.
Wilson’s father subsequently provided agents with 15 firearms, including handguns and rifles and tactical body armor. One of those 15 firearms was a fully automatic rifle and a converted short rifle, both possible violations of federal firearms laws.
Wilson has also been charged with use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony and criminal mischief in Furnas County.
Shortly after his arrest, his attorney requested a competency hearing, saying that Wilson “cannot appreciate … the charges against him … due to the fact that his mental health issues are currently untreated.”
Wilson was deemed competent.