In the midst of the 2016 campaign, a bit of punditry was born: Take Trump seriously, not literally. Two years later, Trump has done — or tried to do — everything he literally promised on the campaign trail, and on Wednesday morning, there was more chilling evidence that words matter, and that people listening to the president may be taking him very literally.
On Wednesday morning, the Secret Service announced it had intercepted packages containing “potential explosive devices” addressed to former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in New York and President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. Not long after, the CNN New York offices were evacuated after a suspected explosive device, addressed to former CIA director and MSNBC contributor John Brennan, was found in the mailroom.
Suspicious packages were also being investigated Wednesday afternoon at the Sunrise, Florida office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) — the former chair of the Democratic National Committee — and at a sorting facility that sorts congressional mail. The latter was reportedly addressed to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).
The news about the packages — several of them addressed to high-profile Democrats and the president’s least favorite news outlet — came one day after an explosive device was found in the mailbox of prominent liberal philanthropist and billionaire George Soros, and little less than one week after Trump publicly lied about the far-right’s favorite target.
While no suspect or motive has been made public, it’s impossible to untether the apparent attempted bombings from the president’s aggressive rhetoric.
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly welcomed chants of “Lock her up!”, in reference to the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state. He also once suggested that the “Second Amendment people” could do something about Clinton.
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said in August of 2016, then adding, “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Obama has, of course, been a favorite target of Trump’s as well. Trump lead the birther movement, demanding Obama release his birth certificate to prove he wasn’t a secret Muslim born outside of the United States. Since taking office, he’s blamed Obama for Russian interference in the election (if he admits it happened at all) and the ongoing special counsel investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, which he has repeatedly referred to as a “witch hunt.”
And, of course, Trump has made his name attacking CNN, tweeting insults about the network’s coverage of his administration, violent videos depicting attacks on the news outlet, and welcoming “CNN sucks!” chants at rallies where he rails against the media and encourages supporters to harass them. Many journalists have reported being threatened by attendees at those events.
The package intercepted at CNN’s headquarters was reportedly addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan, who is now an MSNBC contributor, and whom Trump publicly despises. In August, he told reporters he’s “never respected” Brennan and revoked the former director’s security clearance.
And Soros, of course, is the ultimate boogeyman for right-wing conspiracy theorists, including the president himself.
The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love! #Troublemakers
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2018
“The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad,” Trump tweeted earlier this month about activists confronting members of Congress with their stories of sexual assault. “Paid for by Soros and others.”
Whether or not the person or people behind the attempted attacks is a supporter of Trump or someone simply intent on creating chaos is still unclear.
What is clear, though, is that someone is taking Trump’s aggressions against political rivals and the media very literally. Someone may be trying to kill his enemies — and that’s dangerous for everyone.
This article has been updated to remove a reference to a suspicious package left at the offices of the San Diego Union-Tribune, which later turned out to be an assortment of random items, and to include a reference to a subsequent suspicious package addressed to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), discovered later Wednesday.