A Florida man with a van covered in Trump paraphernalia was charged Friday with mailing pipe bombs to prominent Democrats after investigators lifted his fingerprint and DNA from the packages—some containing photos of the target marked with a red X, officials said.
The disturbing new details were outlined in a complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan against Cesar Sayoc Jr., 56, who was apprehended near his white van in a strip mall in Plantation, Florida.
Court papers said the Democratic Party players who received the chilling photos of themselves crossed out in red included former President Barack Obama, billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, former CIA Director John Brennan, and actor Robert De Niro.
The arrest and charges came as three more explosive devices linked to the mail-bomb spree were intercepted Friday, bringing the total number recovered so far to 13.
A former male stripper who was working as a bouncer and a caterer, Sayoc is a registered Republican who drove a van covered in political decals, pro-Trump material, and threats against Democrats.
He was charged with interstate transportation of an explosive, mailing explosives, threats against former presidents, threatening interstate communications, and assaulting federal officers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday. He faces up to 58 years in prison if convicted.
“This was a nationwide investigation of enormous scope and of the greatest importance,” FBI Director Chris Wray said at a press conference announcing Sayoc’s arrest. “We do believe we have caught the right guy, but we also know that this is an ongoing investigation, and there is a lot of work still to be done, which means there are still many unanswered questions.”
Officials traced the packages to a post office in Opa-Locka, Florida, and had been tracking Sayoc’s movements via cell phone after lifting DNA and fingerprints from the packages that were linked to his criminal profile with the help of state officials, authorities said. Federal agents along with local law enforcement moved in to arrest Sayoc around 11 a.m.
The van seized by authorities was emblazoned with slogans like “Dishonest Media” and “CNN Sucks,” as well as cross-hair symbols over the faces of Hillary Clinton, Michael Moore, and others.
Cable news networks ran aerial footage of the van covered in blue tarp as it was hauled away from the scene on Friday, and Sayoc was dubbed #MAGAbomber on social media minutes after his name was made public.
Sayoc routinely and repeatedly posted conspiratorial pro-Trump messages—and threats against Democrats—from what appear to be his Twitter and Facebook accounts. His Twitter handle, @hardrock2016, features photos of Sayoc’s van, as well as videos of himself purportedly chanting at Trump rallies.
The account posted dozens of angry messages about U.S. Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), whose name—albeit mispelled—was listed as the return address on each of the mailed pipe bombs, and threatening tweets about many of the bomb targets, including billionaire George Soros and CNN.
“Hey CNN all BS con job fraud puppets media blocked,Banned,Barred from all of our properties feel lucky make our day,” he wrote. “You will just vanish.”
The break in the case came some time in the last 24 hours after FBI agents were able to lift a fingerprint from a package addressed to Waters in D.C. and then other DNA evidence from bubble wrap manila envelopes and the devices, described by Wray as six inches of PVC pipe attached with a clock, a battery, wires, and “energetic material,” which means under the right circumstances, the pipe bomb could explode.
“These are not hoax devices,” Wray said.
The arrest came hours after two new packages containing pipe bombs were recovered Friday morning—including one that was addressed to Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey—as the hunt for the man behind the serial bombings reached high alert.
Even after he was taken into custody, authorities confirmed they intercepted a 13th device and have not ruled out the possibility of recovering more. None of the bombs exploded and no one was injured by any of the bombs. All but one so far had been recovered completely intact, authorities said.
In New York, the NYPD bomb squad responded around 8:30 a.m. to a United State Postal Service mail sorting facility on West 52nd Street in Midtown Manhattan and determined a suspicious package is “the same as previous incidents,” a senior law enforcement official told The Daily Beast, adding that an x-ray of the package at the site confirmed there was a pipe bomb inside.
That package was addressed to former Obama administration Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at CNN, the official said. Clapper commented live on CNN early Friday, saying: “I’m not surprised. This is not going to silence the administration’s critics.”
As authorities were responding in New York, a second package was found near Opa-locka, Florida. One senior law enforcement official told The Daily Beast that package was addressed to Booker. Booker’s office declined comment on Friday.
Authorities confirmed that the two packages are similar to others that have surfaced in New York, Maryland, Los Angeles, Florida, and Delaware, bringing the total to 13, with authorities warning more could surface.
The packages are largely identical in size and shape, according to the federal complaint. They all contain about six self-adhesive American flag postage stamps in the top right corner, the return address for each of the packages is the same and the sender and receipient on the address labels on each packages is similar color, size, and font.
Employees working at the post office facility in Manhattan discovered the suspicious package in its system and alerted authorities. The package closely “resembles others sent across the country in recent days” including one that arrived at CNN headquarters on Wednesday and another recovered from Tribeca Productions, a second senior law enforcement official said.
New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill confirmed via Twitter that the package “closely resembles others sent across the nation this week.”
The package was removed from the mail facility about 11 a.m. and transferred to a NYPD facility in the Bronx where the bomb squad can render it safe before sending it to the FBI lab in Virginia, where it will undergo vigorous testing, officials said.
Hours later, another suspicious package was found in Sacramento, California addressed to Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), and CNN reported that authorities were investigating yet another parcel intercepted in California and addressed to billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer.
“I thank God no one’s been hurt, and I thank the brave and resourceful security and law enforcement people for protecting us,” De Niro, who has been an outspoken critic of President Trump, said in a statement to The Daily Beast on Friday.
“There’s something more powerful than bombs, and that's your vote. People MUST vote!”
Meanwhile, Waters told Blavity in a video interview that the bomb scares won’t keep her from doing her job.
“We have to keep to doing what we’re doing in order to make this country right. That's what I intend to do, and as the young people say, ‘I ain’t scared,’” she said. “We must not be intimidated to the point that we stop advocating and protesting for justice.”
Amidst the chaos and fear, President Trump sent a tweet lamenting his drop in Twitter followers and then wrote, “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!”
It was unclear whether the president’s use of scare quotes was meant to call into question the veracity of the bombs.
Just hours earlier, Trump sent a 3:14 a.m. tweet attacking CNN’s coverage of the serial pipe bombs.
“Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, ‘it’s just not Presidential!’” he wrote.