The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Whatever Happened to the January 6 Pipe-Bomb Maker?

Photos released by the FBI showing a hooded figure placing pipe bombs at the RNC and DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C., on January 5, 2021. (fbi.gov)

On the menu today: We take a deep dive into one of the lingering and life-threatening mysteries of the January 6 Capitol Hill riot and discuss who placed pipe bombs outside the RNC and DNC headquarters. Also, why has the FBI been unable to generate any solid leads in the case in the past year? Elsewhere, San Francisco teachers pledge to shut down the public schools again, and the U.S. Postal Service shrugs its shoulders and concludes that enforcing the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate is just impossible.

A Still-Unsolved Mystery

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Capitol Hill riot, and you’re going to read and hear a lot about that day. This morning, the editors declare that:

What happened at the Capitol that day is best understood as a riot that was particularly dangerous because of its setting and context. It was not a purely peaceful protest, or a cartoonish costume party with a little bit of trespassing. The Secret Service had to rush [Vice President Mike] Pence to safety. Members of Congress emptied the chamber and fled for cover. The vote-counting process was interrupted for five-and-a-half hours. The Capitol itself was wreathed in smoke. This is the stuff of a banana republic.

There’s one angle of that day that’s gotten less attention and that has been largely forgotten — and yet, it may well represent a significant lingering threat to the public. Remember those pipe bombs that were found outside the RNC and DNC headquarters? Not only did the FBI never catch the perpetrator, but the bureau also reportedly has no serious leads and doesn’t even know for certain if the perpetrator is a man or a woman — and this is despite having considerable video and photo footage. In September, the FBI released a slew of new information:

The new information includes a virtual map that highlights the route the suspect walked while placing the two bombs on Tuesday, January 5, between approximately 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.—the night before the riots at the U.S. Capitol. One device was placed in an alley behind the Republican National Committee (RNC) Headquarters, located at 310 First Street SE, and the other was placed next to a park bench near the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Headquarters, located at 430 South Capitol Street SE, #3.

Based upon the suspect’s route of travel to the DNC and from the DNC to the RNC, and the manner in which the suspect carries the backpack after placing the pipe bomb at the DNC, the FBI believes the suspect had a location in the vicinity of Folger Park from which the person was operating. Reviews of the suspect’s behavior in video footage and interviews with residents in the Capitol Hill neighborhood have led the FBI to believe the suspect is not from the area.

Back then, Steven D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, announced that, “Since January, the FBI has conducted more than 800 interviews, collected more than 23,000 video files, and assessed more than 300 tips related to this investigation.” Since then, agents have conducted another 100 or so interviews. The FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the person who placed these devices on the night of January 5, 2021.

And yet . . . still nothing.

Elaine Godfrey of The Atlantic writes an update on the case and points to one avenue of investigation that hasn’t yet borne fruit:

In many cases involving homemade bombs, investigators can identify an attacker by tracing where the bomb’s pieces were purchased or acquired. But sometimes there aren’t many clues. “When I look at the news reports of this pipe bomber, [authorities] are focused on the gait of the individual. That tells me that they don’t have a lot of info on the bomb itself and how it was constructed,” says Lis Wiehl, a former prosecutor and the author of Hunting the Unabomber: The FBI, Ted Kaczynski, and the Capture of America’s Most Notorious Domestic Terrorist. A year might sound like a long time for a manhunt. But when “the bomb itself doesn’t give them the clues they need, a year is not that much,” Wiehl told me.

Back in March, while asking the public for help, D’Antuono offered a few details about the bomb: “Specific to the devices, you may have noticed this person purchased 1×8-inch threaded galvanized pipe. This person may have had unexplained possession of multiple kitchen timers. They may have an interest in explosives, making black powder, or researched these topics.”

The FBI did manage to figure out what kind of shoes the aspiring bomber wore: “The person who placed these bombs wore a face mask, glasses, a grey hooded sweatshirt, gloves, and black and light grey Nike Air Max Speed Turf shoes with a yellow logo. The suspect used a backpack to transport each of the devices.” Some have observed that those are a pretty flashy pair of sneakers for a person who would ordinarily not want to attract attention.

The first curious point is that the would-be bomber placed pipe bombs near both parties’ headquarters, a gesture of “a pox on both your houses.” (Just our luck. We finally get someone in Washington who isn’t obsessed with partisan loyalty, and that person turns out to be a terrorist.) It is theoretically possible that a hardcore Trump supporter would be angry enough at the RNC for not supporting Trump enough or something like that. But the desire to strike at both parties suggests a more generalized anti-establishment, perhaps anarchic rage.

Then again, former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund told Congress in February that he believed the pipe bombs were part of a coordinated effort to distract police and draw them away from the Capitol Building:

We were monitoring the actions and demeanor of the crowd, which at the time did not raise any concerns, when we received word at 12:52 p.m. that a pipe bomb had been located at the Republican National Committee Headquarters, immediately adjacent to Capitol Grounds. We responded immediately to coordinate and send resources to the scene, including a number of officers, officials, and a bomb squad. We also dispatched resources to look for other explosive devices, suspects, and vehicles.

Meanwhile, at approximately 1:50 p.m., USCP resources dispatched to look for other possible explosives located another pipe bomb at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, as well as a vehicle with explosives and a weapon, all within close proximity of the Capitol Grounds. As a result of these explosive devices, extensive USCP resources were dispatched to the scenes, and two congressional office buildings had to be evacuated. I believe all of this was part of a coordinated plan related to the attack on the Capitol.

Another curious point is that in the past year, more than 725 people have been arrested for their roles in the January 6 riot, and more than 70 have been sentenced so far. Presumably, all of those people would prefer to get time off their sentence or potential sentence, and offering up information about the person who built and placed those pipe bombs would seem like a good way to get a sharply reduced sentence. And yet . . . still nothing. Perhaps the pipe bomber wasn’t working with anyone else. If he or she was working with someone else, who hasn’t been arrested yet, those partners aren’t sufficiently motivated by that potential $100,000 reward.

The experience of the hunt for the Unabomber and the Olympic Park bomber teaches us that it can take a long time for police and the FBI to catch a bomber — and those two particularly infamous perpetrators committed multiple attacks over the course of several years before being apprehended. This bomber, as far as we know, has not struck again, nor is there any evidence suggesting that this bomber placed other bombs in other places before.

Let me conclude with one last crazy theory. With more than 725 people arrested for their roles in the January 6 riot, what if the police and FBI can’t find the perpetrator out walking the streets . . . because the perpetrator is already in custody? What if the perpetrator placed the bombs and then participated in the riots in some other manner, and was arrested and charged with other crimes?

Progressive Big Cities Aren’t Working

First, Chicago Public Schools shut down. Now, it’s happening in San Francisco: “A group of San Francisco teachers has organized a ‘sickout’ Thursday, saying they will skip school because they feel the district failed to adequately protect them during the pandemic. It’s unclear how many educators plan to participate in the labor action, although nearly 500 people have signed an online petition supporting it.”

U.S. Postal Service: Enforcing Biden’s Vaccine Mandate Is Just Too Hard

Yesterday, I noted that federal agencies were still dragging their feet on enforcing the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal employees, which had a November 22 deadline. Now, we see the U.S. Postal Service is reaching the same conclusion — if it fired the unvaccinated, the organization wouldn’t be able to function:

The U.S. Postal Service has asked federal labor officials for a temporary waiver from President Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandate, setting up a showdown on pandemic safety measures between the president and one of the government’s largest agencies.

In a letter dated Jan. 4 to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Deputy Postmaster General Douglas A. Tulino wrote that requiring workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or present weekly negative tests would hurt the agency’s ability to deliver the mail and strain the nation’s supply chains.

A vaccine-or-test mandate, he wrote, “is likely to result in the loss of many employees — either by employees leaving or being disciplined.”

We are steadily creeping to the most absurd possible outcome: Private-sector employees’ getting fired for being unvaccinated, while federal employees are given slap-on-the-wrist “counseling and education” for refusing to get vaccinated.

ADDENDUM: Hey, remember on Monday when I suggested that school districts would use bad weather as a backdoor way to close schools for fear of the Omicron variant? And remember how some folks on Twitter called me paranoid and crazy?

Well, the snow in Fairfax County stopped falling around 2 p.m. Monday. Today, Thursday, is Fairfax County Public Schools’ fourth consecutive “snow day.”

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