Less than six months after he mailed homemade bombs to frequent targets of right-wing conspiracist ire, so-called “MAGAbomber” Cesar Sayoc pleaded guilty Thursday to multiple felonies.
Sayoc had initially entered a not-guilty plea in federal court after being charged with 65 counts pursuant to the mail-bombing campaign. His reasons for changing his plea were not immediately clear.
Sayoc’s targets included former President Barack Obama, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and major liberal donor George Soros — each of whom has been the subject of paranoid and sometimes violent commentary by right-wing figures from both the distant fringe and central core of the modern conservative movement. None of the devices detonated as intended.
Soros in particular has been a bugaboo to Fox News hosts and white supremacist rabble-rousers for more than a decade. The wealthy philanthropist and activist is often portrayed in flagrantly anti-Semitic terms by voices on the far right. Barely 24 hours after Sayoc’s arrest in October, another man seemingly involved in those same online anti-Semitic conspiracist circles walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and murdered seven worshipers. The shooter had posted online about his belief that a Jewish cabal was smuggling criminal migrants across the southern U.S. border.
Sayoc had also decorated a van he owned with text and images celebrating President Donald Trump. The president has frequently asserted that southern border migration amounts to an invasion of U.S. territory and has wielded xenophobic smears of Central American emigrées throughout his political rise.
In the years prior to his bombing campaign and arrest, Sayoc had lived a chaotic life at the economic margins. He declared bankruptcy after getting underwater on a mortgage that bears all the hallmarks of the illegal foreclosure practices that plagued the country in the years following the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008.
Investigators have previously warned the public should not take the failure of any of Sayoc’s devices to detonate as evidence they were fakes. They contained real detonation mechanisms and explosive and, in some cases, shrapnel.
“I was aware of the risk that they would explode,” Sayoc reportedly said in court Thursday. “I knew these actions were wrong. I’m extremely sorry.”