Why you should care
Because an already heated election season in America just got hotter, and potentially deadly.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? A total of 13 suspicious packages containing pipe bombs were intercepted on their way to figures like President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, billionaire philanthropist and backer of liberal causes George Soros, actor Robert De Niro, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris, among others. One device, addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan, was delivered to CNN’s New York offices, prompting an evacuation. The packages followed a pattern: manila envelopes lined with Bubble Wrap, with six stamps and a bogus return address for Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Authorities on Friday arrested 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc in Florida, charging him with five federal crimes. If convicted Sayoc — who has a lengthy criminal record — could face nearly 60 years behind bars.
Why does it matter? None of the bombs were detonated, and nobody was injured, but the assassination attempts have ignited even more fiery rhetoric in an already contentious midterm election season. At a rally in Wisconsin on Wednesday night, President Donald Trump called the bombs “despicable acts” — but also attacked the media, saying it must “stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks.” CNN followed Trump’s remarks with the headline: “Trump Attacks Media Hours After Bomb Sent to CNN.”
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Blame games. Bipartisan condemnation of the mailings was quickly followed by pointing of fingers. Many commentators blamed Trump’s own rhetoric, which has specifically called out Clinton and Soros, for inspiring such violence. Others, meanwhile, pointed to theories about a potential electoral benefit for Democrats. “It’s happening in October. There’s a reason for this,” said radio personality Rush Limbaugh. Trump himself hinted at Democrats benefiting from “this ‘bomb’ stuff” in a Friday morning tweet.
Close call. Most of the packages were intercepted before they reached their intended destination. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has teams nationwide trained to inspect suspicious packages and are on alert for what they say are dead giveaways: unusual shapes, excessive postage and specified personal delivery. There are also sophisticated X-ray machines and bomb-sniffing dogs in wide use at sensitive locations.
A history of violence. America has seen mail attacks before. In 1919, for example, the U.S. Postal Service intercepted 36 mail bombs directed at prominent people across the country. President Harry Truman was the target of letter bombs in 1947. Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, terrorized his victims with bomb packages from 1978-1995, killing three. And, earlier this month, multiple letters containing castor seeds, from which the poison ricin is derived, were intercepted on their way to President Trump and Pentagon officials. A Utah man was charged for sending those letters this week. Facing a potential life sentence in prison, William Clyde Allen, the suspect, cried in the courtroom.
And the midterms? The pipe bombs raise the disconcerting possibility of more election-season violence in the U.S., and with elections less than two weeks away, there’s a chance for messaging to get even nastier on both sides. The once-fringe theory of “false flag” attacks is spreading on social media channels. Meanwhile, Trump applauded the arrest of the suspect today but expressed frustration over the media’s coverage of the crimes, suggesting that it diverted attention away from politics ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
WHAT TO READ
Having Divided Us, Trump Cannot Unite Us, by Michael D’Antonio at CNN
“We have no idea who sent the bombs and no idea what the motive was. But what we can say is that the conspiracy theories Trump promotes, like the violent rhetoric he uses, have degraded the political environment to the point at which the kind of terrorism that comes with mail bombs is not a surprise.”
The Pipe-Bombs Story: Another Example of Why No One Trusts the Media, by Andrew C. McCarthy at The National Review
“At this point, there is no evidence whatsoever that provocative words from the president had anything to do with the sending of bombs.”
WHAT TO WATCH
CNN Anchors Report On Their Own Office Being Evacuated Over Pipe Bomb
“There’s a fire alarm here … you might have heard it in the background.”
Watch on NBC News on YouTube:
Trump Calls for Calm Amid Bomb Scare
“Any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on our democracy itself. Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective.”
Watch on Guardian News on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Remember that? One of the most notable threats via mail in U.S. history was the spate of anthrax letters — sent in the wake of 9/11 — that killed five people and caused an extended and widespread panic. The letters were put on display at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2016 along with the mail collection box that the terrorist used to send the letters.