HOUSTON (FOX 26) - High ranking Democrats and critics of President Trump came under attack this week when envelopes packed with explosives were delivered around the country.
This week's panel: Jessica Colon - Republican strategist, Nyanza Moore - progressive commentator and Houston attorney, Vlad Davidiuk – Communication Chief, Harris Co. Republican Party, Tony Diaz- Chicano educator and activist, Tomaro Bell – Super Neighborhood leader, Bill King - businessman, columnist and former Kemah Mayor; discuss toxic politics.
WASHINGTON (AP) - In the hours before his arrest, as federal authorities zeroed in and secretly accumulated evidence, Cesar Sayoc was in his element: spinning classic and Top 40 hits in a nightclub where he'd found work as a DJ.
As he entertained patrons from a dimly lit booth overlooking a stage at the Ultra Gentlemen's Club, where Halloween decorations hung in anticipation of a costume party, he could not have known that investigators that very evening were capitalizing on his own mistakes to build a case against him.
He almost certainly had no idea that lab technicians had linked DNA on two pipe bomb packages he was accused of sending to prominent Democrats to a sample previously collected by Florida state authorities. Or that a fingerprint match had turned up on a separate mailing the authorities say he sent.
And he was probably unaware that investigators scouring his social media accounts had found the same spelling mistakes on his online posts - "Hilary" Clinton, Debbie Wasserman "Shultz" - as on the mailings he'd soon be charged with sending.
In the end, prosecutors who charged Sayoc with five federal crimes Friday say the fervent supporter of President Donald Trump unwittingly left behind a wealth of clues, affording them a critical break in a coast-to-coast investigation into pipe bomb mailings that spread fear of election-season violence. The bubble-wrapped manila envelopes, addressed to Democrats such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and intercepted from Delaware to California, held vital forensic evidence that investigators say they leveraged to arrest Sayoc four days after the investigation started.
"Criminals make mistakes so the more opportunities that law enforcement has to detect them, the greater chance they're going to be able to act on that, and that appears to be what happened here," said former Justice Department prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty, who prosecuted the Boston Marathon bombing case.
But It wasn't always clear that such a break would come, at least not on Monday when the first package arrived: a pipe bomb delivered via mail to an estate in Bedford, New York, belonging to billionaire liberal activist George Soros. That same day, Sayoc, still under the radar of law enforcement, retweeted a post saying, "The world is waking up to the horrors of George Soros."
Additional packages followed, delivered the next day for Clinton and Obama and after that to the cable network CNN, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democratic targets of conservative ire.
Each additional delivery created more unease. But together they also provided more leads for the FBI, which mined each pipe bomb for clues at a laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.
As the packages rolled in, technicians hit a breakthrough: a fingerprint and DNA left on a package sent to Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat and one of the intended pipe bomb recipients, and DNA on a piece of pipe bomb intended for Obama. The FBI said it had identified no other possible matches on the evidence it had examined.
Besides that, the FBI said, his social media posts that traffic in online conspiracy theories, parody accounts and name-calling include some of the same misspellings as were noticed on the 13 packages he was charged with sending.
The clues, authorities say, led them to a 56-year-old man with a long criminal history who'd previously filed for bankruptcy and appeared to be living in his van, showering on the beach or at a local fitness center.
As the FBI worked around the clock, and as Americans were busy debating the hard-edged political climate and whether Trump had fanned the flames with his rhetoric, it was business as usual for Sayoc as he took to Twitter to denigrate targets like Soros. That was not uncommon for the amateur body builder and former stripper whose social media accounts are peppered with memes supporting Trump and posts vilifying Democrats.
On Thursday from noon to 9 p.m. as law enforcement grew ever closer, descending on a postal sorting facility in Opa-locka, Florida, Sayoc was working as a disc jockey at a West Palm Beach nightclub where he'd found work in the last two months. There, he spun his music from inside a small dimly lit booth overlooking a stage with performers dancing below. Autographed photos of scantily clad and nude adult entertainers were plastered across the walls like wallpaper.
"I didn't know this guy was mad crazy like this," said Stacy Saccal, the club's manager. "Never once did he speak politics. This is a bar. We don't talk politics or religion in a bar, you know?"
But Scott Meigs, another DJ at the club, had a different experience.
He said Sayoc had been talking about politics to everybody at the club for the last two weeks, preaching the need to elect Republicans during the November elections. "I just figured he was passionate about the upcoming elections."
The next morning, he was taken into custody near an auto parts store in Plantation, Florida, north of Miami. Across the street, Thomas Fiori, a former federal law enforcement officer, said he saw about 50 armed officers swarm a man standing outside a white van with windows plastered with stickers supporting Trump and criticizing media outlets including CNN.
They ordered him to the ground, Fiori said, and he did not resist.
"He had that look of, 'I'm done, I surrender,'" Fiori said.
WASHINGTON (AP) - For the blink of a tweet, President Donald Trump gave subtle credence to the notion that bombs mailed to Democrats were actually a ploy to hurt Republicans in the election. That flew in the face of known facts in the episode, just one example of reality being twisted in the house of mirrors otherwise known as the final stretch of the election campaign.
A look at some of the rhetoric of the past week:
TRUMP: "Republicans are 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. Republicans, go out and vote!" - tweet Friday.
THE FACTS: His use of "bomb" in quotation marks lent weight to conspiracy theories that Democrats and CNN were targeted as part of a liberal plot to drum up voter anger at Trump and fellow Republicans. There's no evidence of that. Trump's tweet bemoaned the diversion of attention away from the campaign by news organizations that shifted priority to the attack. Given Trump's vow that no effort would be spared to bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice, it's questionable whether the president actually believed the theory he seemed to be subscribing to in the tweet.
Later Friday, police arrested a Florida man who is a fervent Trump supporter and accused him of sending more than a dozen mail bombs. Trump hailed law enforcement for acting so swiftly against "terrorizing acts" he called "despicable."
TRUMP, on the discovery of pipe bombs targeting prominent Democratic politicians and CNN: "Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective." - Wisconsin rally Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump specifically calls out opponents as being morally defective. He called Democrats and other opponents of Justice Brett Kavanaugh "very evil people." He has routinely described Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters as "low IQ." She was among those targeted by pipe bombs in the mail, as was CNN, prime among the news organizations he calls "fake" and an "enemy of the people" in his stump speech.
For much of his political career, Trump has often embraced deeply personal attacks against his opponents. During the 2016 campaign, for instance, he repeatedly encouraged supporters to physically attack liberal protesters, offering to pay for their legal bills.
His recent rhetoric has sometimes turned darker.
"The Democrats are willing to do anything, to hurt anyone, to get the power they so desperately crave," Trump declared at a Minnesota rally this month. "They want to destroy."
He also praised a Republican congressman from Montana for body slamming a reporter.