Within hours of the train derailment and bridge collapse that killed a truck driver on I-25 north of Pueblo on Oct. 15, a far-right activist and failed Republican candidate had come up with a theory about what caused the deadly accident: terrorists may have sabotaged the line.
But facts and experts quickly poured cold water on the “SCOOP” that Laura Loomer trumpeted in all caps on X, which, when it was Twitter, banned her.
“Source tells me police are being tight lipped about a bridge collapse in Pueblo, Colorado today that caused a train to derail, because there is a possibility that the bridge was intentionally sabotaged in an act of infrastructure terrorism,” she X’ed.
Terrorists had “threatened to attack US infrastructure” in the week leading up to the deadly derailment, and police were probing the sabotage angle “since the bridge is inspected regularly and it’s not common for bridges to collapse,” claimed Loomer, who describes herself as an investigative journalist and narrowly lost a GOP congressional primary race last year in Florida.
She did not mention the driver of the semi-truck that pictures showed had been trapped and crushed under the collapsed bridge. The Pueblo County coroner identified the victim as 60-year-old Lafollette Henderson, of Compton, Calif.
In making her claims, Loomer ignores a key journalism rule: journalists should corroborate information with a second source unless they witnessed an incident themselves or are writing something like a restaurant review. They’re also supposed to identify sources unless they are asked not to, in which case they should explain why they are affording them anonymity.
Attempts to verify Loomer’s claims turned up no recent news stories of threats against U.S. infrastructure; nothing has been listed in the past two weeks on the Department of Homeland Security’s National Terrorism Alert System’s web page either.
A federal official who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the investigation, called Loomer’s sabotage allegations “hearsay and innuendo.”
An FBI assessment of the current threat picture in the U.S. focused on the Israel-Hamas conflict, and made no mention of terrorist threats against infrastructure. The Bureau has seen an increase in reports of threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities and institutions, the report said.
No reason to believe it was sabotage
A spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board, which had investigators at the scene of Sunday’s accident within hours of it happening, said officials had no reason to believe sabotage caused the derailment, the Associated Press reported.
Early findings by the NTSB indicate that a cracked rail “preceded the derailment, and the bridge collapse occurred after the derailment” – not the other way around, as Loomer had said.
Broken rails are usually caused by internal defects and are the result of repeated stresses and heavy loads. The damage can worsen to the point of breakage with little advance indication, even on well-maintained tracks.
The train that derailed was made up of 124 cars loaded with coal and several locomotives. Fully laden coal cars weigh between 131.5 tons and 143 tons, BNSF says on its website. That’s 263,000 – 286,000 pounds, or roughly the equivalent of 1,000 NFL tight ends. Thirty of the coal cars derailed.
One bridge inspection per year
It was unclear where Loomer got the information that bridge collapses are uncommon. Utah State University researchers said in a study published in 2014 that information on bridge collapses is “scarcely recorded.” They were, however, able to find an isolated region in New York state where data on bridge failures was collected over 25 years, and used that data to estimate how many bridge collapses there are across the United States each year. They came up with a figure of 128 – not an avalanche, but also not a trifling number.
Also unclear is what Loomer’s definition of regular inspections is.
Railroad companies are required by law to inspect bridges just once a year. Lena Kent, the director of public affairs for BNSF, which owns the tracks and operates the trains involved in the Oct. 15 accident, told the Colorado Times Recorder that the rail company “conducts annual inspections of the bridge and performs required maintenance,” as required by the Federal Railroad Administration.
She did not say when the bridge was last inspected.
Immediately after the derailment, BNSF and the Colorado Department of Transportation said the other party was responsible for inspecting and maintaining the bridge.
But three days later, Kent acknowledged in an email that there was confusion surrounding ownership of the 65-year-old bridge, and that “BNSF does have responsibility for inspections and maintenance of the structure and will be replacing the bridge.”
The tracks, on the other hand, were regularly inspected by BNSF, including on the day of the deadly accident, she said.
Loomer did not respond to a request for comment. She launched a new podcast the day after the accident, on which Roger Stone – Donald Trump’s longtime political ally who in 2020 was sentenced to prison for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a House investigation – was the main guest. Stone’s prison sentence was commuted by Trump before it started.
On X today, Loomer railed against Colorado lawyer Jenna Ellis, who pleaded guilty in Trump’s Georgia case.
“Jenna Ellis scammed all of you who donated to her,” Loomer wrote. “I TOLD YOU NOT TO DONATE TO THIS DISLOYAL WENCH.
Loomer was banned from Twitter in 2018 after she called Minnesota Democrat, Rep Ilhan Omar, “anti-Jewish” and said Omar’s Muslim faith abused women and oppressed homosexuals. She rejoined the platform when it became X.
Trump faced resistance when he sought a position on his current campaign for Loomer, including from Georgia Rep. Marjory Taylor-Greene.
Neither woman is a stranger to conspiracy theories and disinformation.
After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, for example, Loomer said students who spoke out against gun violence at the school in Parkland, Florida, “are reading a screen or notes someone else wrote for them.” Taylor-Greene said the shooting, in which 17 people, most of them teenagers, were killed, was a false flag event that aimed to take away people’s guns.
When Trump suggested his 2024 campaign should hire Loomer, Taylor-Greene railed about her being “mentally unstable and a documented liar,” and urged Trump to “never hire or do business with a liar.”