Man accused of setting fire to Bernie Sanders’s Vermont office is indicted

Shant Soghomonian faces between five to 20 years in prison if he is convicted

Graig Graziosi
Thursday 18 April 2024 22:45 BST
Related video: Bernie Sanders’s office cordoned off after suspected arson attack

The man who set fire to Senator Bernie Sanders’s office in Vermont has been indicted by a federal grand jury.

Shant Soghomonian, 35, was arrested on Sunday 7 April on one charge of using fire to damage a building used in interstate commerce, which carries a sentence of between five to 20 years in prison if he is convicted.

Prosecutors have not stated a possible motive for the fire, the New York Times reports. They described him in court filings as "somewhat homeless" and said he had a history of mental illness which includes a recent hospitalisation, Vermont Public reports.

His arraignment has not been scheduled as of Thursday afternoon.

Security footage from the building shows Mr Soghomonian allegedly throwing a liquid at the bottom of a door opening leading to the US Senator’s third-floor office in Burlington on 5 April. The man in the video then sets the liquid on fire.

Seven employees were working in the office at the time of the incident and were able to evacuate unharmed, according to police. Mr Sanders was not at the office at the time.

Shant Soghomonian, 35, spotted on surveillance video near Senator Bernie Sanders’ office in Burlington, Vermont. Mr Soghomonian is accused of setting a fire at the senator’s office and has been indicted by a grand jury (Burlington Police Department)

Prosecutors have argued that Mr Soghomonian is a danger to the public and poses a flight risk.

“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,” Assistant US Attorney Matthew Lasher wrote in a court filing. “The defendant then fled the area to avoid detection and apprehension.”

Judge Kevin Doyle agreed that Mr Soghomonian should remain jailed until, noting his "significant" mental health history.

He said during a pretrial interview with Mr Soghomonian's family, they shared that he at one point was afraid that “drones are reading his mind and torturing him".

Mr Soghomonian had previous interactions with law enforcement; in August, he was stopped by Illinois State Police for a possible traffic violation. Officers found an AK-47 rifle and two magazines in his vehicle, along with 11.5 grams of cannabis and a book titled How to Blow up a Pipeline, prosecutors said in court documents.

Security footage shows a man who federal investigators believe to be Shant Soghomonian lighting a fire outside Senator Bernie Sanders’ Vermont office on 5 April, 2024 (U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Vermont)

The book gives an impassioned argument for accelerating direct action — like sabotage — against man-made forces driving the climate crisis.

He gave officers an expired Oregon driver's license and police later learned he had travelled to New York, Illinois, California, and Pennsylvania before heading to Illinois and later Vermont.

Mr Soghomonian was also detained as a teenager for assault with a firearm while he was in Glendale California in 2005. That case was reportedly later dismissed, the Associated Press reports.

“In other words, defendant has a history of itinerancy, firearms possession, and lack of candor with law enforcement, all exacerbating his risk of flight,” Mr Lasher wrote.

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