Making the click-through worthwhile: What we know about the Mail Bomber at this hour, the New York Times offers readers a presidential-assassination fantasy, and selected highlights from the NRPlus elections briefing that you probably missed.
What We Know about the Mail Bomber
Suspicious packages featuring “potentially explosive devices,” in the words of the FBI, have now been sent to addresses associated with George Soros; Bill and Hillary Clinton; Congresswoman Maxine Waters (two packages, to two offices); former President Barack Obama; former CIA Director John Brennan, care of CNN; former Attorney General Eric Holder; and this morning, Robert De Niro’s film and production company. Authorities believe a similar package was sent to former Vice President Joe Biden, but the address was incorrect and returned to sender; authorities are attempting to track it.
The package to Holder was addressed to the former attorney general but sent to the Florida office of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose return address was on the package.
The package sent to Brennan (with his name misspelled) at CNN had U.S. postage stamps on it but appeared to be sent by courier. The Time Warner building in Manhattan has considerable security; guests’ bags are screened before they can proceed through the lobby. It is almost certain that the courier who delivered the package was caught on video; the NYPD is already reviewing the video.
The good news is, authorities will have a lot to work with, and their forensics abilities are remarkable. They’ll dust the package for fingerprints and test the envelope to see if he licked the seal and left DNA. Many of the components used in the device can usually be traced back to the source. The suspects usually have some sort of formal engineering experience in the military, law enforcement, or from other sources. Bomb-makers often have a “signature” that indicates how and where they were taught.
It’s easy to forget, but the city of Austin, Texas, suffered from a serial bomber’s attacks earlier this year. One of the bombs went off inside a FedEx facility in San Antonio, addressed to a location in Austin. Mail bombs are difficult to build; they need to be stable enough to not go off during all the movements involved in the shipping process but to work once the package is opened.
A loud contingent of conservatives on Twitter really want to believe that the perpetrator is someone on the left, who is trying to make Trump supporters look bad. Based upon how little we know, that cannot be ruled out. But it’s rather bizarre to hear the absolute, adamant insistence that this could not possibly be a bomber who identifies himself as being on the right or as a supporter of the president. There are idiots and nut jobs all across the political spectrum, and quite a few who don’t fit neatly on it. The Tucson shooter was a paranoid schizophrenic, and he only became competent to stand trial after being forcibly medicated with psychotropic drugs for more than a year.
Some folks thought that a series of marks on the device resembled the ISIS flag. Closer examination suggests it’s not quite what it seems:
An image on the explosive device sent to former CIA Director John Brennan on Tuesday appears to be a parody of an ISIS flag taken from a meme that has been circulating on right-wing corners of the internet since 2014.
The print-out appears to show a parody flag that replaces Arabic characters with the silhouette of three women in high heels, and a middle inscription reading “Get ‘Er Done” — which is the catchphrase of standup comedian Larry the Cable Guy.
It’s like we’re living in some sort of absurdist parody of 24.
Once again, very little can be ruled out at this point. One would think that an ISIS follower would be able to distinguish the actual ISIS flag from a parody, but you may recall that a protest in support of al Qaeda in October 2001 featured a poster that included many pictures of Osama bin Laden, and the protest organizers included an image that Photoshopped OBL next to Bert from Sesame Street. (One can only imagine U.S. intelligence attempting to make sense of that image and trying to figure out if it was some sort of bizarre al-Qaeda coded signal.)
But in all likelihood, this is not ISIS. From what we know and what we’ve seen of ISIS, are they or their inspired followers the type of guys who mail nonfunctional bombs to high-profile figures? And high-profile Democrats in particular? Isn’t their M.O. more to put bombs in places where they’ll kill at random? And don’t ISIS bombs . . . generally work?
The bomber’s choice of target is always a statement in one way or another. You may recall that in the immediate hours of the Boston Marathon bombing, some speculated that the attack must have been tied to militias in some way. The bombing occurred on April 15, 2013; it was close to tax day, the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Waco siege. But that explanation didn’t really fit the choice of target — if you’re a militia-type, mad at the government, convinced they’re coming for your guns, on the watch for black helicopters, etcetera . . . would you choose to blow up the Boston Marathon?
There are some who grumble that we shouldn’t speculate about who’s behind something like this, that we shouldn’t look at the photos of the packages and devices and try to figure out what we can determine. Amateurs playing detective may not make much difference, and their guesses and theories may not turn out to be accurate, but I think that this is a very human act. We live in a world that is unpredictable, scary, and often doesn’t make much sense.
History suggests that serial bombers have certain traits:
Male, detail-oriented, motivated by spectacle through destruction as opposed to merely destructiveness. He takes pride in abilities and planning, is socially isolated and quiet, and feels himself as unsuccessful in intimacy. He has a keen awareness of media and its tendencies in reporting.
This Is a Really Bad Week to Showcase Assassination Fantasies
If we really do want to calm passions and anger in society instead of stirring them up, perhaps the New York Times could refrain from offering assassination fantasies in its pages. This coming Sunday, the book-review section will feature “some of today’s most talented spy and crime novelists — Joseph Finder, Laura Lippman, Jason Matthews, Zoë Sharp and Scott Turow — to conjure possible outcomes” to Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Zoë Sharp chose to imagine the Secret Service, so embarrassed by Trump’s presidency, that they choose to assist a Russian assassin:
The Makarov misfired.
The Secret Service agent at the president’s shoulder heard the click, spun into a crouch.
He registered the scene instantly, drawing his own weapon with razor-edge reflexes.
The Russian tasted failure. He closed his eyes and waited to pay the cost.
It did not come.
He opened his eyes. The Secret Service agent stood before him, presenting his Glock, butt first.
“Here,” the agent said politely. “Use mine. . . . ”
Good timing, guys.
The Election Update You (Probably) Missed
If you missed today’s NRPlus conference call with Rich and myself . . . well, shame on you! You’ll only get the short version of my conversations with various GOP campaign staffers, strategists, and fundraisers. (So if you haven’t already, join NRPlus!)
I laid out what I had been hearing from a variety of Republicans working on campaigns this cycle. In the Senate races, Blackburn looks good in Tennessee. Among Missourians who approved of the president, incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill had the support of 13 percent before the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight; now she’s down to 5 percent. We can separately check and see that Trump’s approval in Missouri is 51 percent. That gives her about 2.5 percent, and throw in the 45 percent of respondents who disapprove . . . and that leaves her at 47.5 percent. Tough spot for an incumbent.
Texas is locked up; as one guy who’s worked on campaigns for a long time put it, he never wants to hear about the evils of “money in politics” from Democrats again, speculating that if Beto O’Rourke didn’t have a huge fundraising advantage over Ted Cruz, the Democrat would be consistently trailing by double digits.
I like this metaphor from one veteran strategist about the House races, urging people to picture that we’re on a bicycle, and the midterms are a giant chasm with a ramp in front of it. The GOP is like Evel Knievel, trying to jump over the chasm. He said we’re pedaling in the right direction, and we’re building momentum. It’s not easy, and if we make it, we’re just going to barely make it: “But if we don’t keep pedaling as hard as we can, we’re going to fall short and lose and fall into the chasm.” There was quite a bit of frustration that so many House Republicans were taking on enormously well-funded challengers.
ADDENDUM: As Tevi Troy observes, if you haven’t listened to the Three Martini Lunch this week, you’ve missed some awful attack ads against the Bears and Jets. This weekend brings the matchup between the city that wrongly prosecuted Dr. Richard Kimble against the city that doesn’t actually host the team that plays in East Rutherford, New Jersey.