The man who mailed pipe bombs to prominent Democratic figures, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, wrote in a letter to the judge presiding over his case that attending a Trump rally “became like a new found drug.”
Cesar Sayoc, 57, pleaded guilty in March to mailing 16 crude explosive devices to Democrats who criticized President Donald Trump, as well as the offices of CNN, over the course of a week last November. He was apprehended by federal agents in Florida and was nicknamed the “MAGA Bomber” after footage emerged of his van covered in pro-Trump stickers.
In Sayoc’s 31-page handwritten letter to U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, which first emerged Tuesday, he maintained that he never meant to hurt anyone and that the bombing campaign was supposed to “tone down the liberal left violence platform” — contending that prominent Democrats were encouraging violence. He added that he was never political until he started noticing Trump-related posts in his Facebook feed, and went on to describe how he felt when he attended Trump rallies.
“The first thing you see… entering Trump rally is we are not going to take it anymore, the forgotten ones, etc,” Sayoc wrote. “You meet people from all walks [of] life… it was fun, it became like a new found drug.”
Sayoc also claimed in the letter that he had abused steroids for over four decades and that he was using the drugs heavily, along with more than 200 different types of supplements and vitamins in the run-up to the bombings. Defense attorneys are planning to submit two psychological evaluations of Sayoc ahead of his sentencing in August, which could result in life in prison. He is already facing a mandatory 10-year sentence.
Sayoc is far from the only extremist to claim Trump as a motivating force. On Wednesday, The Daily Beast reported that another Trump supporter, who had become angry with the media’s coverage of the president, was arrested in Rhode Island after allegedly threatening to kill a professor and “eradicate” Democrats.
Last October, two lawyers representing Patrick Stein — a Kansas militiaman who conspired in 2016 with two others to bomb a mosque and apartment complex home to Somali-Americans — wrote in a sentencing memo that Trump’s rhetoric helped motivate the men to create their violent plot.
“The court cannot ignore the circumstances of one of the most rhetorically mold-breaking, violent, awful, hateful and contentious presidential elections in modern history,” the sentencing memo read. “Trump’s brand of rough-and-tumble verbal pummeling heightened the rhetorical stakes for people of all political persuasions.”
Trump has had an affect on far-right extremists further afield as well. The gunman who who allegedly killed 50 Muslims in an attack on two mosques in New Zealand in March said that he supported Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Another man, who killed six Muslim worshipers at a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017, obsessively followed Trump and other far-right personalities online. In the run-up to the attack, he searched for “Donald Trump” more than 800 times across YouTube, Google, Twitter, and Facebook, and also appeared in a selfie wearing a red MAGA hat.
It’s not just the most deadly extremist attacks that are galvanized by Trump’s rhetoric either. According to an analysis by the Washington Post, counties in the U.S. that hosted a Trump rally in 2016 saw a 226% increase in hate crimes.
Trump’s incendiary rhetoric has alarmed security experts, who see a tie between the violence he evokes at campaign rallies and the violence then perpetuated against groups criticized by Trump.
“It’s laughable that people are trying to separate the two things in saying there is no relationship between what the president urges his supporters to do and what his supporters then do,” former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner told Vanity Fair in November. “Anybody who says there is no connection, I think is saying it for political or ideological reasons.”