Cesar Sayoc, who spawned a week of panic and a massive federal manhunt last October after he mailed a series of pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and media figures, was a cognitively limited and emotionally traumatized man who fell into a paranoid alternate reality thanks to misinformation and Trump’s rhetoric, his lawyers argued this week.
Sayoc, 57, pleaded guilty to 65 federal charges in March, including “use of a weapon of mass destruction.” He was nicknamed the “MAGA bomber” by the tabloids, after federal agents discovered his van adorned with pro-Trump stickers.
Sayoc is facing life imprisonment when he is sentenced in August, but his public defenders have asked the judge to show leniency and sentence him to 10 years because of mitigating factors, including his mental state, the effect of misinformation on him, and the fact that none of the crudely-designed bombs he sent actually went off.
According to his lawyers, Sayoc was born with “cognitive limitations and severe learning disabilities that made it difficult for him to maintain relationships and succeed in school.” He was abandoned by his father at a young age and sexually assaulted while at school. Sayoc’s home foreclosed on in 2009 and he was a regular user of steroids, which “increased his feelings of anxiety and paranoia.”
“In this darkness, Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump,” his lawyers outlined in a sentencing memo. “Mr. Sayoc was an ardent Trump fan, and when Trump announced he was running for President, Mr. Sayoc enthusiastically supported him. He began watching Fox News religiously at the gym, planning his morning workout to coincide with Fox & Friends and his evenings to dovetail with [host Sean Hannity’s namesake show] Hannity.”
“In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm election, Mr. Sayoc became increasingly obsessive, paranoid and angry. His paranoia bled into delusion and Mr. Sayoc came to believe that prominent democrats were actively working to hurt him, other Trump supporters and the country as a whole,” the memo continued. “He was not discerning of the pro-Trump information he received and by the time of his arrest he was connected to hundreds of right-wing Facebook groups. Many of these groups promoted various conspiracy theories and more generally the idea that Trump’s critics were dangerous, unpatriotic and evil.”
The memo also called out Trump specifically, noting that in his statements, “[The President] specifically blamed many of the individuals whom Mr. Sayoc ultimately targeted with his packages.”
Prosecutors, for their part, maintained that a life sentence for Sayoc would be “necessary and appropriate,” owing to the detail and planning Sayoc put into the bombs, which contained glass shards and pool chemicals to further increase injury. The fact that the IEDs were not functional did not diminish the legal consequence of building them in the first place, they argued.
“Put simply, the defendant intended to silence, through harm and fear, those with whom he disagreed,” the prosecution’s memo read. “Now he must be incapacitated to protect the public and promote respect for the law.”
ThinkProgress has reached out to both Fox News and the White House for comment, but had not received a reply at the time this story was published.
This is not the first time that the president’s name has come up in a far-right terror investigation. In November 2018, lawyers for a trio of militia members accused of planning to bomb an apartment complex popular with Muslims in Kansas asked the judge to take into account Trump’s rhetoric at the time, which they said was encouraging violence.
Trump was described in March by the Christchurch mosque shooter as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” The president also infamously defended white nationalist marchers after a rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, saying that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the clash, which left one counter-protester dead.