October 26, 2018

IntelBrief: Pipe Bombs and Explosive Rhetoric

An officer keeps watch in front of the Time Warner Building, where NYPD personnel removed an explosive device Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen).
  • On October 24, packages containing pipe bombs were mailed to the addresses of former President Obama, former Secretary of State Clinton, former Attorney General Holder, as well as former CIA Director Brennan. The following day, more pipe bombs were sent to former Vice President Joe Biden and a restaurant owned by actor and outspoken Trump critic Robert De Niro.
  • All of the packages, plus one delivered on October 22 to George Soros, were intercepted without harming anyone; most of the targets have security screening procedures.
  • There is no public information yet as to the identity of the perpetrator, though the bombs appear to be a case of attempted domestic terrorism. One of the pipe bombs allegedly had a parody ISIS flag attached and a ‘Get Er Done’ inscription.
  • All of those targeted have been singled out by name personally by President Trump, who has verbally attacked his political rivals and incessantly questioned their loyalties.


The inevitable end of violent political rhetoric is political violence, or, known by another term, terrorism. On October 24, it appears rhetoric crossed the threshold into reality after three packages containing pipe bombs were intercepted after being mailed or otherwise delivered to the addresses of several high-profile figures. On the morning of October 24, the Secret Service announced that it had safely intercepted a package containing a pipe bomb sent to the address of former President Obama, and to former presidential candidate and Secretary of State Clinton. A few hours later, the Manhattan headquarters of CNN was evacuated after officials intercepted a package addressed to former CIA Director Brennan that was sent to the media company (Brennan is a commentator at MSNBC, not CNN). There were also reports that the U.S. Capitol Police had intercepted an explosive device mailed to Congresswoman Waters and that another intercepted package containing explosives had been addressed to former Attorney General Holder. On October 25, additional pipe bombs were discovered after being mailed to former Vice President Biden and the actor Robert De Niro.

The FBI will take the lead in the investigation of these crimes, and there is no public information yet as to the identity of the perpetrator, although the term #MAGAbomber was trending on Twitter. There is also a common thread that connects all of the targeted individuals. Along with an October 22 explosive device mailed to philanthropist George Soros, all of those targeted with the pipe bombs are frequent targets of various incendiary conspiracy theories that have migrated from the fringes of the extreme right wing and into mainstream political discourse. The conspiracies range from a global sex slavery ring involving Democratic Party leaders operating from a Washington D.C.-based pizzeria to an anti-Semitic ‘globalist’ conspiracy against the U.S., along with endless calls to ‘lock up’ political opponents for ‘treason.’ Predictably, right-wing commentators immediately labeled the pipe bombs a ‘false flag’ operation carried out by left-wing shadowy figures to discredit the right-wing.

In the midst of the ‘both sides do it’ argument that inevitably results after each instance of political and social debasing behavior, it is important to note that the U.S. has only one president, and he is among the most prominent voices of angry rhetoric. On October 18, at a campaign rally, President Trump praised a congressman for physically assaulting a reporter last May, saying ‘any guy who can do a body slam ... he's my guy.’ Also on October 18, the President even echoed the newest conspiracy theory that the over-hyped ‘caravan’ of migrants from Central America trying to get to the U.S. border is part of a Democratic Party electoral plot that is funded by Soros. President Trump has personally and ceaselessly called for the jailing of his political rivals, along with questioning the loyalties of government officials, both current and former and in some cases, either revoking or threatening to revoke the security clearances of former officials who criticize him.

As for President Trump, a day after calling for ‘unity’ in the wake of the bombs, he quickly transitioned back to blaming the media, specifically the ‘Mainstream Media’ and ‘Fake News’ for sowing division between Americans. Incendiary political rhetoric in U.S. politics has reached historic proportions and those at the highest level have a duty to stop it. President of CNN Worldwide, Jeff Zucker, released the following statement: ‘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.’ It is irresponsible to disregard the consequences of endless violent political rhetoric and demonization and debasement of political rivals or opponents. It is disingenuous for national leaders to continually insist that they are blameless for the rhetoric they spew and the passions they incite, especially when that rhetoric could be partially responsible for violence.


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