Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, and Shant Soghomonian, right

Suspect Shant Soghomonian Arrested in Arson Attack on Bernie Sanders’ Vermont office

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By Edward Helmore

BURLINGTON, Vt. (Guardian) — Authorities say they have arrested an alleged arsonist accused of setting the US senator Bernie Sanders’ Burlington, Vermont, office on fire while staff worked inside – but investigators have yet to release details about a possible a motive.

A Justice Department notification published on Sunday, April 7, said Shant Soghomonian, 35, had been charged with using fire to damage the building but did not include any reason for his alleged actions.

Soghomonian, who has also gone by the first name Michael, was listed as being from Northridge, Calif. He allegedly entered the building on Friday, April 5, went to the third floor where Sanders’ offices are situated, and sprayed the entry door with an accelerant.

He then set fire to the door with a handheld lighter — all in view of a security camera that was recording video, the Justice Department said.

Soghomonian then left through a staircase as the fire spread, damaging the door and triggering the sprinkler system. Several employees were in the progressive senator’s office at the time, though no injuries were reported.

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The Burlington police department said the fire engulfing the door and part of the vestibule had impeded “staff members who were working in the office” from exiting, which endangered their lives.

In a statement to CNN, Sanders said: “I am deeply grateful to the swift, professional, coordinated efforts of local, state, and federal law enforcement in response to the fire at my Vermont office.” The independent senator who votes in line with Democrats added that he was grateful none of his staff had been injured while describing his office’s commitment to serve those in his home state of Vermont “during these challenging times”.

If convicted, Soghomonian could face between five and 20 years in prison as well as up to a $250,000 fine, according to the justice department.

While no motive has been advanced for Soghomonian’s alleged actions, the arson attack comes as implied threats of political violence are becoming a feature of the 2024 presidential and congressional elections.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have in recent months been subjected to anonymous calls to law enforcement that invite an armed, potentially forceful emergency response.

In early January, it was reported that at least three members of Congress had reported “swatting” incidents over the previous week, including Representative Brandon Williams of New York, Senator Rick Scott of Florida, and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, all Republicans.

Topics: Arson

Maine’s Democratic secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, who ruled that Donald Trump should be ineligible to appear on the state’s 2024 primary ballot after the former president’s supporters attacked Congress on 6 January 2021, was also the target of a swatting call.

The US supreme court later forced Bellows to reverse her decision.

 

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