Outspoken Trump Supporter in Florida Charged in Attempted Bombing Spree


An outspoken supporter of President Trump from South Florida was charged on Friday with sending explosive packages to at least a dozen of the president’s critics, apparently bringing to a close an attempted bombing spree that has gripped the country just ahead of the midterm elections.

The suspect, Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr., 56, was arrested outside a car-repair shop in the Miami area after a fast-moving investigation in which the authorities said they were able to pull a fingerprint from one of the bomb packages and collect Mr. Sayoc’s DNA from two others.

Mr. Sayoc, who seemed to be living out of a van in Aventura, Fla., was taken into custody on a day when four more explosive packages were found, including two intended for United States senators, both Democrats.

A federal criminal complaint spells out his contempt for this week’s many bomb targets, noting that Mr. Sayoc’s van was slathered with images and slogans often found on fringe right-wing social media accounts.

The complaint identifies a Twitter account that authorities said he used to rail against Democratic figures, and it notes that both his social media messages and the bomb packages used the same misspelling — “Hilary Clinton” — for Mr. Trump’s 2016 opponent.

Mr. Sayoc also posted frequently on right-wing social media groups, the authorities said. On Facebook, Mr. Sayoc published photos of a Trump rally he attended during the 2016 presidential campaign. He was wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat.

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Cesar Sayoc Jr.CreditBroward County Sheriff’s Office

Of the four bombs discovered on Friday, one was addressed to Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat; another was sent to James R. Clapper Jr., a former director of national intelligence; and a third was intercepted before it reached Senator Kamala Harris, a California Democrat.

A fourth, found in a mail facility in California, was addressed to Tom Steyer, a prominent Democratic donor, Mr. Steyer said.

In all, Mr. Sayoc is believed to have sent at least 14 bombs to 12 targets, all of whom are regularly disparaged by the right.

At a news conference in Washington, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Mr. Sayoc had been charged with five federal crimes, including the interstate transportation of an explosive, the illegal mailing of explosives and making a threat against a former president and others.

The packages sent by Mr. Sayoc included photographs of his intended targets, each one marked with a red X, according to the criminal complaint.

When asked why Mr. Sayoc had sent the bombs to Democrats, Mr. Sessions said that he was not sure, but added that the suspect “appears to be a partisan.”

The F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, said that the bureau was still trying to determine if Mr. Sayoc’s bombs were “functional” but noted that they contained “energetic material” that could be dangerous. Mr. Wray said that the investigation was “active” and cautioned that there could be more bombs still undiscovered.

“These terrorizing acts are despicable and have no place in our country,” he said.

But in a Friday night rally in Charlotte, N.C., the president accused the news media of trying to use Mr. Sayoc’s political leanings to “score political points against me and the Republican Party.”

“The media has tried to attack the incredible Americans who support our movement to give power back to the people,” he said.

Mr. Sayoc is a registered Republican whose arrest record in Florida dates back to 1991 and includes felony theft, drug and fraud charges, as well as allegations that he threatened to use a bomb, public records show.

His criminal history from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement indicates that he listed his occupation some years ago as “manager.”

According to a 2012 bankruptcy petition filed in Miami, Mr. Sayoc resided at the time at his mother’s home. “Lives w/mom,” a handwritten note on the petition said. “Has no furniture.”

[Read more on what we know about the suspect, Cesar Sayoc Jr.]

Mr. Sayoc was arrested around 11 a.m. Friday outside an AutoZone car repair shop in Plantation, Fla., about 20 miles from Aventura, officials said. Patrol cars shut down the surrounding streets, leaving rows of businesses inaccessible for part of the morning. The authorities also seized and towed away Mr. Sayoc’s white van, where he was apparently living.

Some residents of Aventura reported seeing a similar white van, the windows of which were plastered with a thick collage of pro-Trump stickers, often parked in the lot of a strip mall, the Shoppes at the Waterways.

Photos of the van showed that one of the stickers depicted a heroic Mr. Trump standing in front of flames and the American flag. Another was of Mrs. Clinton’s face in the cross hairs of a rifle scope. A third said: “CNN Sucks.”

“It struck me because of the crazy, conspiratorial stickers covering the windows,” said David Cypkin, a documentary film producer who until recently lived in Aventura and often noticed the van. “It was unsettling, and also it seemed to be occupied. Sometimes the door would be ajar or a window would be open, which indicated to me that maybe somebody was living in the van.”

The criminal complaint against Mr. Sayoc was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, where he will be prosecuted. Five of the bombs sent this week fall under the jurisdiction of federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

Mr. Sayoc is expected to appear before a judge in Florida on Monday.

A lawyer from the Federal Defenders office in Manhattan, Sarah Baumgartel, was assigned to represent him. “We hope that he will be presented in court and brought to New York expeditiously so that the case can proceed,” Ms. Baumgartel said.

For months now, Mr. Trump has been attacking the F.B.I., ridiculing its officials and damaging morale at the bureau.

The swift arrest on Friday was a public win for Mr. Wray, the F.B.I. director, and a reminder of his agency’s effectiveness.

Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the New York Police Department also praised the F.B.I., sending a message that the two agencies, along with some half a dozen others that took part in the investigation, were in lock step.

One law enforcement official said the investigation came together less than 24 hours before the announcement, with a preliminary DNA match first and the fingerprint match coming sometime Friday morning.

Later on Friday, federal authorities executed a search warrant at a residence associated with Mr. Sayoc, but he had been living in his van. Agents conducted a preliminary sweep of the vehicle before towing it to the F.B.I. office, where they were expected to search it later on Friday.

The official said that during an interview with agents, Mr. Sayoc denied playing any role in the bombing campaign.

“He denied all knowledge of making the bombs,” the official said. “Any time they brought up the devices, he wouldn’t say anything about them.”

Mr. Sayoc was first interviewed under a national security exception that allows defendants to be questioned without being advised of their rights to a lawyer.

After he was given his Miranda warnings and told he could have a lawyer, “he invoked his right to counsel pretty quickly,” the official said. Mr. Sayoc declined to answer further questions.

Of the packages discovered on Friday, the one addressed to Mr. Clapper, the former senior intelligence official, was meant for the New York offices of CNN, where he works as an analyst, but was intercepted at a mail facility in Midtown Manhattan, police officials in New York City said.

The package addressed to Mr. Booker was found in Florida.

The device sent to Ms. Harris’s district office in Sacramento, Calif., was discovered at a mail facility there, she said in a statement on Friday. Mr. Steyer said the device addressed to him had been intercepted at a mail facility in Burlingame, Calif.

Speaking on CNN on Friday, Mr. Clapper said he was not surprised that a device had been sent to him.

[A look at the contentious words between the president and some of his most outspoken critics]

“This is definitely domestic terrorism,” Mr. Clapper said. “Anyone who has in any way been a critic, publicly been a critic of President Trump, needs to be on an extra alert.”

Other packages have been addressed to former President Barack Obama; former Secretary of State Clinton; former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat; former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.; John O. Brennan, a former C.I.A. director, the actor Robert De Niro; and George Soros, the billionaire Democratic donor.

All of the packages had return address labels bearing the misspelled name of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat whose district is in southern Florida. They each were affixed with six first-class stamps, and the explosive devices were contained in plain manila envelopes.

While investigators initially thought that some of the devices were hand delivered, federal officials now believe that all were sent through the mail.

Using information collected by the United States Postal Service, investigators had focused their attention on certain Florida postal centers, including one in Opa-locka near Miami.



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