October 2018 United States mail bombing attempts

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October 2018 United States mail bombing attempts
Suspicious-package-exterior-oct-2018.jpg
One of the envelopes that contained explosives[1]
LocationUnited States
DateOctober 22, 2018 (2018-10-22) – November 1, 2018 (2018-11-01)
TargetCNN and thirteen Democratic Party members and prominent critics of U.S. President Donald Trump[2][3]
Attack type
Attempted mail bombings
WeaponsPipe bombs
Deaths0
Non-fatal injuries
0
Suspected perpetrators
Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr.[4]
ChargesInterstate transportation of an explosive
Illegal mailing of explosives
Threats against former presidents and certain other persons
Threatening interstate communications
Assaulting federal officers

In late October 2018, sixteen packages containing pipe bombs were mailed via the U.S. Postal Service to several prominent critics of U.S. President Donald Trump, including various Democratic Party politicians, most notably former U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While the packages were initially treated as live bombs, analysis indicated some of them could not explode, though it is unclear if they were "intentional" duds.[5]

Other people who were sent packages include U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, two former intelligence chiefs (ex-CIA Director John O. Brennan and ex-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper), billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer, and actor Robert De Niro.[2][6][7][8] One package was addressed only to CNN and sent to its world headquarters.[9][10][11]

The attempted bombings prompted investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.[2] All sixteen confirmed bombs sent were actual improvised explosive devices,[12] but none of the devices exploded outside of a controlled setting.[13] A suspect, Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr., was arrested in Florida on October 26 and charged with five federal crimes the next week.[14][15] The FBI is investigating the case as domestic terrorism.[16]

Mailings[edit]

Monday, October 22[edit]

A device was found in the mailbox at the home of George Soros in Katonah, New York.[17] Soros, a common target of conspiracy theorists, was absent. The employee who found the device carried it away to a wooded area where bomb squad officers safely detonated it.[18]

Tuesday, October 23[edit]

A device addressed to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (misspelled as "Hilary") was intercepted by the United States Secret Service in Chappaqua, New York.[19][20] Hillary Clinton is also the wife of former President Bill Clinton and was Donald Trump's opponent in the 2016 presidential election.

Wednesday, October 24[edit]

A device addressed to former President Barack Obama was intercepted by the Secret Service during a mail screening in Washington, D.C.[19] Additionally, a package containing an explosive and suspicious powder was found in CNN's mail room in the Time Warner Center in New York City, addressed to former CIA Director John O. Brennan (misspelled as "Brenan").[21] CNN reported that law enforcement said the package was delivered by courier.[22] Brennan has served as a senior national security and intelligence analyst for MSNBC and NBC News since February 2018, but has appeared on CNN in the past.[23] The bomb alarm went off during CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto.[24] They left the building together with their colleagues Kate Bolduan and Athena Jones and kept reporting via Skype over a cellphone line.[25][26][27] A suspicious package addressed to U.S. Representative Maxine Waters was intercepted by United States Capitol Police.[22][28] A second package addressed to Waters led to the evacuation of a U.S. Postal Service facility in Los Angeles.[29] A package addressed to former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, with a bad address, was returned to the purported sender, the office of U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Sunrise, Florida.[22][30]

Thursday, October 25[edit]

In the early morning hours, a package was found in Tribeca, New York City, addressed to actor Robert De Niro via his company TriBeCa Productions.[31] Authorities also found a package in New Castle, Delaware, addressed to former Vice President Joe Biden with his full name, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. It was returned to the post office due to insufficient postage.[32] A second package meant for Biden, this one with a wrong address, was found at a facility in Wilmington, Delaware.[32] The Miami-Dade Police Department and federal authorities believe several of the packages went through a mail processing and distribution center in Opa-locka, Florida, and searched the facility with a bomb squad and K-9 unit.[33]

Friday, October 26[edit]

Authorities found four packages similar to previous packages. One addressed to former National Intelligence Director James Clapper (which, like the one sent to John Brennan, had CNN's Time Warner Center address) was found in a New York City postal facility, while another addressed to U.S. Senator Cory Booker was found in a Florida postal facility.[34] Authorities later found a bomb addressed to U.S. Senator Kamala Harris in Sacramento, California, and one addressed to billionaire Tom Steyer in Burlingame, California.[35]

Monday, October 29[edit]

CNN President Jeff Zucker issued an alert to employees that a suspicious package sent to the CNN Center was found at a post office in Atlanta, Georgia.[10] Jim Sciutto posted a picture of the package on Twitter and it was similar to the others.[11] Unlike the other two sent to CNN, it was not addressed to a specific person.[9]

Thursday, November 1[edit]

A second package addressed to Tom Steyer was found in Burligame, California.[36]

Summary of incidents[7]
Date Intended target Title / description Location discovered
October 22 George Soros - Festival Economia 2018 1.jpg George Soros Billionaire investor Katonah, New York (Soros residence)
October 23 Hillary Clinton official Secretary of State portrait crop.jpg Hillary Clinton Former U.S. Secretary of State Chappaqua, New York (intercepted by Secret Service)
October 24 President Barack Obama (cropped).jpg Barack Obama Former U.S. President Washington, D.C. (intercepted by Secret Service)
Eric Holder official portrait.jpg Eric Holder Former U.S. Attorney General Sunrise, Florida (office of Debbie Wasserman Schultz)
Congresswoman Waters official photo.jpg Maxine Waters U.S. Representative Washington, D.C. (Capitol Hill post office)
Los Angeles (postal facility)
John Brennan CIA official portrait.jpg John O. Brennan (via CNN) Former CIA Director New York City (Time Warner Center)
October 25 Official portrait of Vice President Joe Biden.jpg Joe Biden Former U.S. Vice President New Castle, Delaware (post office)
Wilmington, Delaware (post office)
Robert De Niro KVIFF portrait.jpg Robert De Niro Actor New York City (office of TriBeCa Productions)
October 26 James R. Clapper official portrait.jpg James Clapper (via CNN) Former Director of National Intelligence New York City (post office)
Cory Booker, official portrait, 114th Congress.jpg Cory Booker U.S. Senator Opa-locka, Florida (postal facility)
Senator Harris official senate portrait.jpg Kamala Harris U.S. Senator Sacramento, California (postal facility)
October 26 and November 1 Tom Steyer (cropped).jpg Tom Steyer Billionaire investor Burlingame, California (postal facility)
October 29 Atlanta-cnn-center-aerial.jpg CNN Center CNN's world headquarters Atlanta, Georgia (post office)

Devices and envelopes[edit]

U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz's name and Florida office address was on the return label of all of the packages.

The devices are believed to be pipe bombs. New York City Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill has stated that law enforcement also found an envelope containing white powder in the first package sent to CNN.[37] A law enforcement official told reporters that the devices sent to Clinton and Obama were similar in design to the one that was sent to Soros.[38] John Miller, the New York City Police Department's (NYPD) Head of Intelligence and Counter-terrorism, stated that all the confirmed bombs appeared to come from the same person or persons.[39]

According to The New York Times, the device sent to Soros's house was constructed from a length of PVC pipe about six inches (150 mm) long filled with explosive powder, and was proactively detonated by bomb squad technicians.[40] Authorities reported that the devices recovered on October 24 were packed with shards of glass.[13] According to the Associated Press, a law enforcement official says tests have determined that the powder found inside an envelope delivered to CNN along with a pipe bomb was harmless.[41] The bombs also contained pyrotechnic powder but lacked a triggering mechanism; the FBI described them as "potentially destructive devices."[42] Law enforcement officials told the Associated Press the devices contained batteries and timers but were not rigged to explode when they opened.The officials said they're still trying to determine if the devices were shoddily constructed or simply meant to sow fear.[43] At a press conference following the arrest of the suspect, FBI Director Christopher Wray described the bombs as improvised explosive devices, stating that they were "not hoax devices".[44]

All of the devices were sent in yellow manila envelopes lined with bubble wrap. They each had a printed address label and six Forever stamps[40] as well as the return address of U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz's office in Sunrise, Florida. (All of the return addresses contained the same spelling errors: Schultz was misspelled "Shultz" and Florida was misspelled "Florids").[30] Each set of labels was typed in all capital letters. The packages were also furnished with a meme parody of the ISIL flag with the inscription "Git 'Er[sic] Done"[45][46], a catchphrase of standup comedian Larry the Cable Guy.[47] Photographs of the packages meant for CNN were posted to Twitter by Jim Sciutto and Jim Acosta.[21][48][11]

Investigation[edit]

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is leading the investigation, with assistance from United States Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the United States Postal Inspection Service, New York City Police Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Miami-Dade Police Department, Atlanta Police Department, and other law enforcement agencies.[30][33][49] Images of envelopes taken by the U.S. Postal Service's Mail Isolation Control and Tracking system have been examined as part of the investigation.[2]

Several of the mail bomb packages were sent to the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, for inspection.[2] A fingerprint found on one of the packages and DNA on two other packages pointed to Sayoc as the suspect.[50] He was identified through video surveillance near a South Florida post office, and located by tracking his cell phone.[51] He was arrested in the parking lot of an AutoZone store in Plantation, Florida.[52][53]

Suspect[edit]

A mugshot of Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr. in 2015

On October 26, Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr. (born March 17, 1962)[54] was arrested in connection with the series of explosive devices.[4][55][56] Sayoc was born in Brooklyn and moved to Florida as a child.[57] His father is a Filipino immigrant and his mother was born in the Bronx, having Italian heritage.[58][59] His father abandoned him as a child.[60] Sayoc's last known address was in Aventura, Florida, at his mother's house, but he was living in his van at the time of his arrest.[56][61]

Sayoc graduated from North Miami Beach High School in 1980.[57] He attended Brevard College for three semesters starting that year and transferred to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 1983 where he played on the school's soccer team but did not declare a major.[62]

Sayoc has a long criminal history.[63] In 2002, he pleaded guilty to calling in a bomb threat to Florida Power & Light.[64][65] He was also arrested on multiple occasions for charges that included theft, battery, and drug possession, with convictions in 1991, 2013, and 2014.[66]

State records list Sayoc as connected to two, now-inactive Hallandale Beach businesses: Proud Native American One Low Price Drycleaning in 2001 and, more recently, at Native American Catering & Vending LLC in 2016.[57] Sayoc's home was foreclosed in 2009 and he filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2012 after accumulating over $21,000 in debt.[62]

Sayoc is a body builder and has abused steroids. He has made numerous false claims about himself and his background. He claimed during a 2014 deposition that he played soccer for A.C. Milan and arena football for the Arizona Rattlers, which both teams have denied. He claimed to have been a popular stripper, an owner of a strip club, and partner in Chippendales; the company says he never worked there and "has never been affiliated in any way with Chippendales".[67][68] At the time of his 2012 bankruptcy he said he was employed as a store manager of Hassanco Investments in Hollywood, Florida.[57] From January 2017 to January 2018 he worked part time making deliveries for a pizzeria in Fort Lauderdale.[69] At the time of his arrest he was working as a DJ and doorman at a West Palm Beach strip club.[70]

Sayoc is a registered Republican.[4][55][56] He registered with the Republican Party on March 4, 2016.[71] Sayoc filmed himself wearing a MAGA hat at one of the president's rallies.[72] The Miami New Times reports he was active in social media, where he was known for his extreme views and frequently posted pro-Trump and anti-liberal messages and memes.[73]

Sayoc's van was seized when he was apprehended. It was covered with images of Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, along with a sticker that read "CNN Sucks".[74][66][75][76][77] Some posters also supported the "unconquered Seminoles", a Native American tribe. Sayoc has been described as proudly claiming Native American heritage,[66] although the Seminole Tribe of Florida said there was no record of his being a member or employee of the tribe.[78][74][52] Other stickers on the van showed Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Michael Moore, Van Jones, and Jill Stein with gunsight crosshair designs on their faces.[79] Reports indicate that "soldering equipment, stamps, envelopes, paper, a printer and powder" were found in the van, suggesting that bombs could have been built in it.[61] Law enforcement officials told reporters that Sayoc had a "hit list" of more than 100 people in his van and notified those on it but have not released the names publicly.[80] Sayoc reportedly told officials the bombs were harmless and that he did not want to hurt anyone.[15]

Legal proceedings[edit]

Sayoc is charged with five federal crimes:[63] "interstate transportation of an explosive"; "illegal mailing of explosives"; "threats against former presidents and certain other persons"; "threatening interstate communications"; and "assaulting federal officers".[81] The charges were filed by federal prosecutors of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.[82] Prosecutors from the Southern District of New York said information on electronic devices owned by Sayoc show he began planning the attacks in July 2018.[83]

Sayoc was arraigned for the charges in Miami on October 29 and his court assigned lawyer entered a plea of not guilty.[15] On November 2, he was ordered to be transferred to New York for trial.[84] On November 6, a New York judge ordered Sayoc to be held without bail in the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn.[85]

Reports of previous threats[edit]

Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University and a scholar at the Cato Institute, reported that he was the subject of death threats from Sayoc made on Facebook in April 2018. Sayoc threatened to kill Somin and his family and "feed the bodies to Florida alligators". At the time, Somin's Facebook friends reported the comments to Facebook, which did not do anything except send back automated messages. Somin also reported the incident to George Mason University police and Arlington law enforcement.[86]

Democratic strategist Rochelle Ritchie had also received a threatening tweet from Sayoc on October 11 that said, "Hug your loved ones real close every time you leave you home", which Twitter initially failed to act upon. Sayoc's accounts were permanently suspended after his arrest and Twitter has since apologized to Ritchie.[87]

Reactions[edit]

Political[edit]

"President Trump Condemns Mailing of Explosive Devices to Democrats", from a speech made at the White House on October 24 (video from Voice of America)

Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton both thanked the Secret Service for intercepting the package; Hillary Clinton said "Every day we are grateful for their commitment, and obviously never more than today, but it is a troubling time isn't it? And it's a time of deep divisions, and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together."[88] John Brennan pointed directly to Trump's rhetoric, saying that Trump "fuels these feelings and sentiments that now are bleeding over into potential acts of violence ... Unfortunately, I think Donald Trump, too often, has helped to incite some of these feelings of anger, if not violence, when he points to acts of violence or also talks about, you know, swinging at somebody from the press or the media."[88]

Several sources pointed out that some of the targets of the mailings, such as Clinton and Waters, are people that Trump routinely attacks at his campaign rallies – his "favorite punching bags."[89][90] New York Mayor Bill de Blasio described the packages as "an act of terror" and stated that all politicians must stop encouraging attacks on media.[91] Biden said of the attempts, "we've got to turn off this hate machine."[92] Wasserman Schultz responded saying, "We will not be intimidated by this attempted act of violence. This appalling attack on our democracy must be vigorously prosecuted, and I am deeply disturbed by the way my name was used."[93] Waters said, "I don't know whether the bombs are real or not, but we should not crawl under the bed, close the doors, not go out, be afraid to go to rallies. We have to keep to doing what we're doing in order to make this country right; that's what I intend to do, and as the young people say, I ain't scared."[94]

Donald Trump[edit]

Trump held a midterm campaign rally in Mosinee, Wisconsin, on October 24, during the height of the incident. He said of the bombings:

My highest duty, as you know, as President, is to keep America safe. That's what we talk about. That's what we do. The federal government is conducting an aggressive investigation and we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice. Hopefully very quickly. Any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on our democracy, itself. No nation can succeed that tolerates violence or the threat of violence as a method of political intimidation, coercion, or control. We all know that. Such conduct must be fiercely opposed and firmly prosecuted. We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony. We can do it. We can do it. We can do it. It will happen.[95]

The next day, Trump claimed on Twitter that the mainstream media were largely responsible for anger present in American society.[96] His comments were echoed by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said that Trump had urged the public to come together and had sent a very clear, strong unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence had no standing in the United States. Sanders then attacked statements by CNN President Jeff Zucker, claiming that he "chose to attack and divide."[97] Trump also tweeted against the media, on October 24, stating, "Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blame me for the current state of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, 'it's just not Presidential!'"[98]

Appearing before a group of young black conservatives an hour after the arrest, Trump praised the swift action by law enforcement and promised "swift and certain justice." He added, "We must never allow political violence to take root in America. We cannot let it happen. I am committed to do everything in my power as president to stop it and stop it now." A few minutes later he attacked Democrats and the media, to cheers from the crowd.[99] Later in the day he told reporters that he was in no way to blame for the attacks and had no plans to do anything differently. Asked if he might tone down his rhetoric in response to the mail bombs, he replied, "Tone down, no. Could tone up. I think I've been toned down, if you want to know the truth."[100]

On October 26, Trump claimed that news coverage of the pipe bombs targeting Democratic politicians and critics of his policies had drowned out other news stories and slowed Republican voting in the mid-term election. He tweeted, "Republicans were doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this 'Bomb' stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows – news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on."[101]

Media[edit]

CNN President Jeff Zucker said about the mailings, "There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media. The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that."[102] Zucker later stated that all mail sent to any CNN building will now be screened offsite.[9] CNN also reported that the bombings were one of three hate-motivated incidents that took place in the United States the same week, along with a shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue and the Jeffersontown Kroger shooting.[103]

Following the news of the events, the hashtag "#MAGABomber" began trending on Twitter, referring to Trump's 2016 campaign slogan, "MAGA" (Make America Great Again).[104][105][106]

Conspiracy theories[edit]

The incident has been the subject of conspiracy theories claiming the events are part of a false flag operation, that the attacks were staged by those who hoped to cast the blame on Trump supporters.[107] When the incidents were first reported, columnist Kurt Schlichter and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones issued social media posts and articles through Infowars to assert their belief that the incidents were false flags, a "super convenient turn of events", and a potential "political stunt". Many of the comments were deleted as more information was received about the case.[108]

After having been started by overtly conspiracist outlets, the false flag narrative was later picked up by some mainstream conservatives.[109][110] Commentator Rush Limbaugh insisted that Republicans could not be responsible for the packages, claiming that "Republicans just don't do this kind of thing. Even though every event, like mass shootings, remember, every mass shooting there is, the Democrats in the media try to make everybody think right off the bat that some tea partier did it, or some talk radio fan did it, or some Fox News viewer did it. Turns out, it's never, ever the case." Limbaugh instead raised unsubstantiated claims that the perpetrator might have been a "Democrat operative ... attempting to create the appearance that there are mobs everywhere."[111][112][113] Other right-wing commentators who tried to spread the "false flag" conspiracy theories included Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, Michael Savage, James Woods, Frank Gaffney, Candace Owens and Laura Loomer.[114][115]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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