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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Train Crash Claims Are Off The Rails

Q: Was a Muslim man arrested for causing a passenger train to crash in Washington state?

A: No. Officials are still investigating the cause of the crash and have made no arrests.


An Amtrak train that crashed on its way from Seattle to Portland on Dec. 18 was going 80 miles per hour in a 30-mile-per-hour zone, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB, which investigates major air, rail, and highway crashes, is just beginning to examine what caused the crash that left three dead and more than 100 injured about 50 miles south of Seattle. It has reached no conclusions, as of Dec. 21.

However, two stories gaining popularity on Facebook claim that a Muslim man has been arrested for causing the crash. Users of the social media site have flagged them as potentially false. They are.

One story, with the headline, “BREAKING: FBI Identifies Muslim Terrorist Who Derailed Amtrak Train,” appears on Reagan Was Right, a self-described fictional website. It claims that the FBI raided the man’s Delaware home and found “Bomb making materials as well as a ‘cache of weapons’ and instructions on making improvised explosive devices.”

But, the FBI conducted no such raid and has made no arrests related to the crash, said David Fitz, spokesman for the FBI’s Baltimore field office, which covers the state of Delaware.

The story claims that the man put a Sacajawea coin on the tracks to derail the train and refers to a fictional professor to lend authority to the idea that that could work. It refers to “Harvard physics professor, Dr. James Wright,” but there is nobody by that name on the physics faculty at Harvard University. Also, it is extremely unlikely that a coin could derail a train.

The story also says the name of the man arrested is “Muhammad Christopher Blair.” Christopher Blair is the name of the person who runs a network of so-called satirical websites, including Reagan Was Right. The photo that ran with the story also appears to show Blair, himself.

The other story, which originated from another of Blair’s sites called No Fake News Online, has a headline that says: “UPDATE: Derailed Amtrak Train Was No Accident After All, Muslim Man Arrested.”

That story has an unrelated picture of Shaker Aamer, who spent more than 13 years in the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay without being charged, next to a picture of the Washington train crash. It also repeats the false claim that a Sacajawea coin on the track caused the crash.

It also makes up quotes that it attributes to the conservative new site, Breitbart.

Both stories were picked up and posted by other websites that don’t have a satire disclaimer.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label viral fake news stories flagged by readers on the social media network.


National Transportation Safety Board. Press briefing from Bella Dinh Zarr. YouTube. 19 Dec 2017.

Tollefson, Rodika et al. “Amtrak train hurtles off Washington state overpass, killing 3 people and injuring about 100.” Washington Post. 18 Dec 2017.

Park, Madison and Molly Yan. “Amtrak train derailment leaves ‘a thousand unanswered questions’.” CNN. 21 Dec 2017.

BREAKING: FBI Identifies Muslim Terrorist Who Derailed Amtrak Train.” Reagan Was Right. 19 Dec 2017.

Fitz, David. Spokesman, FBI field office in Baltimore. Interview with FactCheck.org. 20 Dec 2017.

Blair, Christopher. Facebook page. Accessed 20 Dec 2017.

UPDATE: Derailed Amtrak Train Was No Accident After All, Muslim Man Arrested.” NoFakeNews.Online. 18 Dec 2017.

Rose, David. “EXCLUSIVE: Guantanamo Briton Shaker Aamer relives his 14-yearnightmare of savage abuse – including agony of being ‘hog-tied’ for 45 minutes at a time – and the joy of finally seeing his family again.” Daily Mail. 17 Dec 2015.


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2017-12-21 19:09:10 UTC

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The FBI arrested a “Muslim man” for causing the passenger train crash in Washington.
Various websites

Tuesday, December 19, 2017