A Missouri neo-Nazi armed with a gun who disabled an Amtrak train traveling through southwest Nebraska last year pleaded guilty Thursday to a terrorism charge and could spend the rest of his life in prison.
“I’m the conductor now, bitch!” Taylor M. Wilson told three train conductors as they wrestled with him in the engine compartment to take back control of the train, according to court documents that detail a harrowing experience for the 175 passengers on board.
Some passengers were so panicked they tried to jump off the train through the windows.
According to the Lincoln Journal Star, when the federal magistrate judge on Thursday asked Wilson, 26, of St. Charles why he took over the train, he told her, “I was high.”
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According to court documents:
Wilson got on the train on or about Oct. 19. He had a respiratory mask, a hammer and knife, .380 caliber ammunition, a sleeping bag and IDs related to the National Socialist Movement.
Against Amtrak passenger policy, he also had a handgun.
On Oct. 23, with the gun tucked into the waistband of his pants, he made his way into a secured engine compartment on the train, off-limits to unauthorized personnel, according to posted signs.
He later told a cellmate that he “dropped acid” before he loaded the gun and entered the compartment.
Once inside, he disabled the train and “cut the lights to the passenger compartments.”
“Train passengers were suddenly in the dark. Train personnel were running up and down the aisles of the train attempting to determine the cause of the emergency stop in rural Furnas County, Nebraska,” says the plea agreement.
“Some passengers, in fear, attempted to escape through the train’s windows. Passengers became aware that another passenger had entered into the train’s engine and that caused the sudden stop and the lights to fail, increasing the panic on board the train.”
A conductor saw Wilson inside the engine compartment. He was sitting in the engineer’s seat of the train’s follow engine, playing with the controls, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods said in court Thursday, according to the Journal Star.
As three conductors tried to subdue him, Wilson reached for his waistband, “where first responders would later recover the handgun,” documents say.
All this happened in an area of Nebraska so remote it took two sheriff’s departments more than 30 minutes to get to the train; the conductors, who apparently didn’t know Wilson was armed, held him until help arrived. The first deputy who arrived found the gun.
Bodycam video from one of the deputies at the scene shows Wilson making a shooting sound at him. He also made shooting sounds at one of the conductors who had been holding on to him.
Wilson also hurled racial slurs and insults at the conductor, the plea agreement describes.
Someone asked him: “So if you weren’t in the military, what are you? Some crazy fanatical type?”
“No comment,” Wilson said.
Later, he allegedly told a deputy that “human beings are a plague on the planet.”
Asked again why he disabled the train, he said, “I got a reason for doing what I’m doing. I stopped the f***ing train.”
He then quoted German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and told a deputy, “I was going to save the train from the black people.”
None of the passengers on the eastbound California Zephyr were injured, the Journal Star reported.
In late December, federal agents searched Wilson’s home in St. Charles. They found that he had hollowed out parts of the walls where he hid neo-Nazi documents and paperwork, materials related to the National Socialist movement, body armor, more ammunition and pressure plates “that can be used to make an explosive device,” documents say.
Investigators also found a copy of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and a shield with a swastika on it, prosecutors said.
He had guns, too, including a fully automatic machine gun and a short-barrel rifle, the plea agreement says.
There were journals containing derogatory and threatening comments about Jewish people and black people, and comments suggesting frustration with the American government and the media.
Agents also found a play he had written called “ISIS patrols on American Street,” documents say. Emails revealed he had bought a plane ticket to Syria in 2016.
He had considered going to the Middle East to fight with ISIS, authorities have said.
“I’d like to dispute some things ... about the plan about wanting to join ISIS,” Wilson told judge Cheryl Zwart on Thursday, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
His attorney, Jerry Sena, told reporters later that though Wilson had written things about ISIS several years ago, he didn’t plan to join the group, the Omaha newspaper reported.
Wilson pleaded guilty to a charge of threatening to “wreck, derail, and disable railroad on-track equipment and a mass transportation vehicle” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
He was indicted in January in federal court in Lincoln, Nebraska, on that charge, and for trying “to interfere with, disable, or incapacitate any locomotive engineer or railroad conductor,” according to the St. Louis newspaper.
The Post-Dispatch reported in January that Wilson had no prior non-traffic offenses and had sought mental health counseling while he was out of jail on bond after he was charged for the train incident.
His parents were reportedly trying to get him drug counseling and expressed hope he could go back to work, the Post-Dispatch reported.
According to the Journal Star, Wilson’s parents were in the courtroom Thursday when he entered his guilty plea and his mother told him “you did well” as a guard led him out of the courtroom after the 40-minute hearing.
His parents would not talk to reporters after the hearing, the Omaha newspaper reported.
Wilson is in the Saline County jail. Sentencing is set for October.