Burning Bridges: What Drove This Man To Set Fire Outside Bernie Sanders' Office?

By Maria Angelino | Sunday, 14 April 2024 01:00 AM
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The individual implicated in the recent arson attack on the Vermont office of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has a history of legal encounters involving firearms and a pattern of transient living, according to court documents.

Prosecutors are arguing for his continued detention, citing these factors.

The incident, which occurred a week ago, was captured on security footage. The video shows Shant Michael Soghomonian, 35, hurling a liquid at the base of the entrance to Sanders' third-floor office in Burlington and igniting it with a lighter. The affidavit, filed by a special agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, details these events.

At the time of the incident, seven staff members were present in the office. They were able to evacuate safely, and no injuries were reported. The fire and subsequent activation of water sprinklers caused some damage to the building's interior. Sanders, an independent senator, was not in the office when the fire broke out.

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Soghomonian, originally from Northridge, California, had been residing at a South Burlington hotel for nearly two months. The special agent's report indicates that he was seen in the vicinity of Sanders' office both the day before and the day of the fire.

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The charges against Soghomonian include maliciously damaging a building used in interstate commerce and as a place of activity affecting interstate commerce by means of fire. He is currently in custody. A detention hearing scheduled for Thursday has been postponed until next week. His public defender did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

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Prosecutors are arguing that Soghomonian poses a significant risk to the community and is likely to flee, and therefore should remain in custody. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Lasher, in his court petition, stated, "The risk to the structure and the lives of the building’s occupants was substantial, showing the defendant’s disregard for the safety of the building’s occupants and the community at large."

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In August, Illinois State Police seized an AK-47 rifle, two magazines, 11.5 grams of cannabis, and a book titled "How to Blow up a Pipeline" from Soghomonian's vehicle during a traffic stop. The book advocates for the escalation of tactics by the climate movement in response to ecological collapse. Soghomonian presented an invalid Oregon driver's license during the stop and informed police he was en route to the West Coast. His vehicle was spotted in New York, Illinois, California, and Pennsylvania in August alone.

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Soghomonian's history with law enforcement dates back to his mid-teens. In 2005, he was detained for an assault with a firearm in Glendale, California. The case appears to have been dismissed subsequently. Lasher wrote in his petition, "In other words, defendant has a history of itinerancy, firearms possession, and lack of candor with law enforcement, all exacerbating his risk of flight."

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