In late October of last year, a Red Lake County sheriff’s deputy arrived at a stretch of hunting land in rural northern Minnesota. A member of the family who owned the land led him to particular spot. There, partially covered in a pile of concrete debris -- almost like an Easter egg hidden for a child to discover -- were several peculiar-looking totes, each about three-by-two feet.
After the deputy examined the galvanized steel pipes, the gunpowder, the batteries and switches and clock timer inside, he knew he had to call in bomb experts.
The Crow Wing County bomb squad and a heavy-duty robot verified that they were indeed looking at the makings of several pipe bombs, and there was one other item in the totes that served as a clue for how they got there: a receipt for a “fast-burning fuse” from CannonFuse.com, which included the name and address of one Eric James Reinbold of Oklee, Minnesota.
Reinbold, a farmer of 700 acres of soybeans and barley, wasn’t there when officers arrived with a warrant in hand to search his home. He did pass by in his truck, however, and called out the window that he had a few errands to run, and he’d be back later.
In the meantime, the officers came to know more about who Reinbold was and why he’d bought a set of fuses around 2008.
Along with the pieces of pipe and end caps and fuses stashed away in Reinbold’s barn loft, they found more of the miscellaneous items they’d seen in the totes a few days earlier: Christmas lights with their wires cut, Nerf pellets with fishhooks embedded inside, and more. But this time, they found a manual explaining why they were there: a 32-page notebook labeled “How one person Can make a difference: Instruction Booklet at the HCU (homemade commando university.)” Reinbold’s name was on it.
The notebook was a trove of handwritten diagrams and instructions about making bombs. Many of the diagrams matched the items found in the totes -- the Christmas tree lights to be used as fuses, the fishhook Nerf pellets to turn switches into booby traps. The book’s stated purpose, according to court documents, was “to start the second American Revolution and win.”
The Second American Revolution was apparently a war to be fought not against the British, but the police, the IRS, “Women’s Rights Headquarters,” “The Rich,” and teacher conventions.
“Media will label you a serial killer, but real folk will call you a hero,” the notebook read. “Make them disappear one by one.”
Reinbold never returned from his errands that day. He was gone the entire time law enforcement was searching his farm. The next time any authorities saw him, it was five days later, when he was arrested during a traffic stop in Reno County, Kansas. He had with him about $2,500 in cash, a road atlas, a passport, and multiple bags containing camping gear.
“I was just going on a little trip traveling, that’s all,” he told Judge Leo Brisbois in a Duluth courtroom in late January.
When the jury eventually found him guilty of possessing unregistered destructive devices, his attorney asked that he be sentenced to probation. Yes, those may have been his pipe bombs, and yes, that may have been his manual. But Reinbold was merely an “eccentric” man who lived a “sedate” life out in rural Minnesota. He liked Rambo and The Bucket List and writing “anti-government survivalist fantasy” novels. But those pipe bombs were “never meant to hurt anyone.”
If he wanted to blow someone up, by now, surely, he would have.
The prosecution called Reinbold’s explosive hobby “no mere passing interest.” His notes included “unnerving attention to detail and destructive capability.” Maybe he never would have made good on the promises outlined by the “HCU.” But how many men build pipe bombs just for fun?
Reinbold was sentenced to five years in prison. Whether his revolution was an idle fantasy or a meticulous plan, it has, for the moment, been cut short.