The Missouri man who brought an Amtrak train to a screeching stop in southwest Nebraska last year to “save the train from the black people” got 14 years in federal prison Friday.
“An attack on African-Americans is an attack on Americans, period,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods told the judge during Taylor Michael Wilson's sentencing hearing.
She said on Oct. 21, 2017, Wilson had gotten into an argument with a black passenger before breaking into a secured compartment of the train where an engine was located, disabling it and trying to pull a gun from his waistband as a black conductor wrestled him to the ground.
Wilson says he was high on acid and didn’t mean to hurt anyone.
But Woods said she asked herself why he would stop the train. The facts, to her, pointed to a dangerous intent.
She described the conductor and two others as unsung heroes for holding Wilson while they waited for law enforcement that night in rural Furnas County, as some of the 175 passengers panicked in the dark, trying to break out windows in fear after learning the train had been breached.
Wilson had previously taken violent actions based on his beliefs, committing physical assaults at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“He presents a very real and present danger to society,” Woods said.
Wilson, who had no criminal record before this, sighed deeply before he spoke, describing what he did as a “dangerous and stupid thing to do."
"Even though my true intentions were not to commit an act of terrorism, I am guilty of these charges that I pled to,” he said.
In a deal with the government, Wilson pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge for stopping a train with passengers on it and to possessing an unregistered 9mm CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 rifle. FBI agents later found a cache of guns in a hidden space in his St. Charles, Missouri, home.
His prison sentence "sends an important message. Racially motivated crimes will not be tolerated. Hate crimes such as this will be aggressively pursued to the full extent permitted by the law," U.S. Attorney Joe Kelly's office said in a news release.
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Wilson said for the last seven years he "has been angry with the country I live in and was looking for someone to blame.”
But, he said, his actions that day had nothing to do with the ideologies he’d bought into.
"I never had the intention of hurting anyone. I did not have any hate or ill-will toward anyone on the train," Wilson told the judge.
He said what he did wasn’t a terrorist act.
"My actions were stupid and immature and I'll pay for those actions with years of my life and with no one to blame but myself,” Wilson said.
In the end, U.S. District Judge John Gerrard said he has no idea if it was an impromptu act or if, as Wilson said at the time, he was saving the train from black people — "whatever the heck that means.”
Regardless, the train screeched to a stop and a number of passengers feared for their safety.
On that day, Oct. 21, 2017, Wilson was a "gun-toting, angry ... white supremacist,” Gerrard said.
Fortunately for Wilson and for others, Wilson was caught while committing "this particularly senseless and violent act,” and no one got hurt.
"You now have a choice to make,” Gerrard told Wilson. "You can either renounce the white supremacist nonsense that you've been fed and go back to the way you were raised as a young man. Or you can coddle up to plenty of other white nationalists that you will find incarcerated.”
Before sentencing him to 14 years and ordering him to pay $9,350 restitution to Amtrak, Gerrard told Wilson he hopes he will make the right choices.
"You're certainly going to have time to think about it,” he said.