Many of bomb suspect’s conspiracy theories tracked Trump’s
By RAPHAEL SATTER
Sunday, October 28
LONDON (AP) — Mail bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc lived in an alternate universe where monstrous reptiles stalk people in Florida’s Everglades, a malevolent Jewish billionaire pays American children to stage school shootings and German politicians are secretly being conceived using Adolf Hitler’s frozen sperm.
Sayoc’s hallucinatory world, pieced together by The Associated Press from the digital residue of his now-disabled Twitter accounts, gives a hint of the toxic news diet of the Florida man who stands accused of mailing pipe bombs to more than a dozen of the United States’ most prominent left-leaning public figures. But Sayoc’s stew of animal gore and partisan hate does more than provide insight into the man arrested in his van in Miami on Friday. It also gives a taste of how conspiracy theories are finding an increased salience in American public sphere — and a sometime-eager purveyor in the White House.
“They are more prominent in our political discourse,” said Joseph Uscinski, the co-author of “American Conspiracy Theories,” who explained that President Donald Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016 in part by bringing “conspiracy-minded Republicans” to the polling booths.
Trump has since disavowed one of his trademark conspiracies — the lie that Barak Obama was born in Kenya — but he continues to cling to others, including the false claims that he saw thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrating the Sept. 11 attacks on television and that millions of undocumented immigrants voted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“You have to dance with the person who takes you to the prom,” said Uscinski. “He has to keep motivating these people, keep speaking their language.”
It’s a language that can easily tip into paranoia and violent threats, Sayoc’s posts suggest.
His Twitter feeds included references to bogus allegations that passenger aircraft were spraying the atmosphere with brain-altering poisons and that Clinton indulged in child sacrifice. One particularly off-the-wall story claimed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was created in a Soviet experiment to resurrect Hitler using a secret stash of the Nazi dictator’s sperm.
The feeds also featured gruesome photos of pythons choking on oversize prey, headless goats oozing blood and a video of a giant alligator seen waddling across a Florida golf course. Sayoc seemed fixated on people who’d gone missing in the Everglades, posting often about reports that humans had been swallowed by snakes or crocodiles along with oblique threats to progressives that they would meet a similar fate. A frequent target for his rage were the high school shooting survivors from Parkland, Florida, some of whom became targets of right-wing hate when they began lobbying for gun control earlier this year.
Sayoc was also obsessed with George Soros, the Jewish investor who long served as a boogeyman for neo-Nazis and anti-Semites around the world and has, in the past couple of years, served as a Republican punching bag too. At one point, Sayoc painted the 88-year-old as a literal child-eating fiend. In more than 40 different posts, he accused him of paying Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg to help fake the massacre.
Minus some of the weirder posts and occasionally incomprehensible grammar, Sayoc’s online rages weren’t so far removed from the social media angst of the commander in chief.
The Soros obsession mirrors the preoccupations of Trump himself, who recently accused the Hungarian-born investor of financing anti-Trump protests and chuckled as supporters called for the Holocaust survivor to be thrown in prison.
Sayoc also rated Fox News’ conspiracy-happy Sean Hannity as one of his favorite hosts, just like the president, and railed against occasionally independent-minded Republicans such as Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Jeff Flake, just like the president. Like Trump, Sayoc despised CNN, posting a photo montage on July 2 that appeared to threaten its New York headquarters with an inferno. And also like Trump, who exults in degrading his opponents with mean nicknames, Sayoc came up with his own pet vocabulary for the targets of his ire, calling them “slime,” ”con job,” ”phony” or “fraud” in repetitive screeds.
“Elizabeth Warren fake Phony, Fraud lies con job,” was one such message, directed at the Massachusetts senator in a dig at her claim to Native American ancestry.
“We have her birth record and factual facts,” Sayoc said of the senator, who happens to also be a favorite target of Trump’s rants. “She has low cheek bones. She is a criminal.”
Trump, who often sources his claims to anonymous people or to what “a lot of people are saying,” has in turn accused the media of making up stories about him and his partisans, a theme he returned to only hours after Sayoc was brought into custody.
“We have seen an effort by the media in recent hours to use the sinister actions of one individual to score political points against me and the Republican Party,” Trump told supporters at a rally in North Carolina on Friday.
But it was Trump who talked politics as the explosives made their way through the nation’s mail system. Critics said Trump boosted conspiracy theories floated by his media allies that the devices weren’t real when he put the word “bomb” in quotation marks. Trump also complained that the incidents were blunting his party’s momentum ahead of the midterm elections next month.
Adam Enders, who has studied conspiracy theory at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, said there was no evidence Republicans were any more conspiratorial than Democrats — a point also made by Uscinski. But Enders did say that the promotion of paranoid thinking by Trump and others at the highest levels of the Republican establishment might have a hardening effect on those already ensconced in conspiracy theories.
“The people that are already there, or close to being there, it legitimizes those ideas,” he said.
Official: Pipe-bomb suspect had hit list of targets
By CURT ANDERSON and MICHAEL BALSAMO
Tuesday, October 30
MIAMI (AP) — The man suspected of sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and other opponents of President Donald Trump kept a list of elected officials and others who investigators believe were intended targets, an official told The Associated Press on Monday.
The disclosure came as 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc made his initial court appearance in Miami federal court Monday, saying little but tearing up, and after bomb squads were called to a post office in Atlanta about a suspicious mailing to CNN similar to the pipe bomb packages recovered in the case last week.
The official said authorities had recovered soldering equipment, a printer, and stamps similar to those used on the package bombs in the investigation into Sayoc, who was arrested last week in Florida. Authorities believe Sayoc was putting explosives together in his van.
The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity to the AP. The official also said that, as part of the investigation, authorities were scrutinizing Sayoc’s social media posts.
The FBI said via its Twitter account that the recovered package in Atlanta was “similar in appearance” to the bubble-wrapped manila envelopes authorities say were sent by Sayoc to intended targets from Delaware to California, including former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden.
CNN President Jeff Zucker says all mail to CNN has been screened offsite since last week, when a series of package bombs began appearing around the country. Among them were two apparent mail bombs sent to CNN.
At least some listed a return address of U.S. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
She represents the South Florida district where the former male stripper, pizza driver and strip club DJ lived in an older van covered with bumper stickers praising Trump, disparaging Democrats and CNN and showing rifle crosshairs over liberals like Clinton and filmmaker Michael Moore.
At Monday’s hearing, federal prosecutors said they will seek to keep Sayoc jailed until trial as a flight risk and a danger to the community. A judge set another hearing for Friday on whether to grant bail to Sayoc and to discuss when he will be sent from Miami to New York, where five federal charges were filed.
One of Sayoc’s attorneys, Daniel Aaronson, urged people not to rush to judgment based on media reports.
“Right now, we know very, very, very little,” Aaronson said of the case. “We do not know all the evidence the government has. You have to keep in mind he has not been found guilty of anything.”
Sayoc, shackled at the wrists and ankles and wearing a tan jail jumpsuit, said little at the hearing but at one point tearing up. Aaronson said he did not know what made Sayoc seem emotional but noted he is facing decades in prison if convicted.
Although authorities did not immediately say who might be responsible for the most recent package to CNN, the FBI said it believes the package discovered Monday is similar to those that Sayoc is accused of sending. Law enforcement officials have said they believe the packages were staggered and more could be discovered.
The New York Times said in a staff memo that it was notified by the FBI on Monday that one of its editors was on a list of potential targets of the mail-bomb suspect. Later that day, an envelope addressed to the editor raised concerns, but New York police determined that it was a false alarm. The editor was not identified.
Sayoc was arrested Friday outside a South Florida auto parts store after investigators said they identified him through fingerprint and DNA evidence.
Authorities say Sayoc faces more than 50 years in prison if convicted on all charges. None of the bombs exploded and no one was injured.
Balsamo reported from Washington.
Mail bomb suspect’s personality changed radically
By TERRY SPENCER and ELLIS RUA
Sunday, October 28
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Thirteen years ago, mail bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc traveled the country leading a mixed-race troupe of male exotic dancers — he ran scams and had a temper, but a fellow dancer who is African-American said he never expressed racism or homophobia.
Years later, working as a pizza driver, Sayoc would often express hatred for minorities, Jews and gays, his manager said. He drove a van plastered with stickers supporting President Donald Trump, criticizing media outlets and showing rifle crosshairs over liberals like Hillary Clinton and filmmaker Michael Moore. But she kept him around, even though she is a lesbian, because he was honest, dependable and never got into fights.
Why Sayoc changed so radically over the years remains a mystery, but to those who know him, there seems little question that he did.
“We were friends, we were boys, we traveled in the same van, slept in the same room,” said former dancer David Crosby, who is black. “When I think of the guy I knew and the guy I see now on MSNBC, CNN and at Trump rallies, I think, ‘Did he really slip?’” He thinks Trump’s sometimes bombastic criticism of liberals may have pushed Sayoc over the edge .
“He really wasn’t a bad guy,” a puzzled Crosby said.
But former pizza restaurant manager Debra Gureghian said that while Sayoc originally came across as respectful, articulate and polite, within days a dark side emerged and he told her he was disgusted by her sexuality.
“I was an abomination, I was God’s misfit … I was a mistake,” Gureghian said of her former employee, who quit his job earlier this year. Sayoc thought she “should burn in hell with Ellen DeGeneres and Rachel Maddow… and President Obama and Hillary Clinton.”
Sayoc, 56, was arrested Friday near Fort Lauderdale and is charged federally with mailing at least 13 mail bombs to prominent Democrats and other frequent targets of conservative ire, including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and the cable network CNN. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance Monday.
That radicalism is a stark contrast to the mid-2000s, when Sayoc managed and performed with two male-dance revues — “Men of Steel” and “American Hunks.” He never expressed political views back then, Crosby said.
“I don’t know if he was a Democrat or Republican,” said Crosby, who now runs a gym and is a comedian near Minneapolis.
Along with three or four other chiseled men, Crosby and Sayoc traveled the country by van, stripping to G-strings for screaming women in honkytonks and nightclubs. They would check into a motel, perform, bring women back to party, sleep a few hours and then get up early the next morning to drive several hours to the next gig.
“It’s a hard life,” Crosby said, quite seriously. The partying, bad food and lack of exercise takes a toll, he said.
Sayoc hosted, then danced last. Crosby said he and the other all-but-naked dancers would bring women up on stage, make them and their friends laugh and do some sexual innuendo — except Sayoc, who wasn’t a good performer.
He said Sayoc would have women sit in a chair, get between their legs and drive his pelvis into theirs hard — “bang, bang.”
“The chair is bouncing off the wall, their head is bouncing off the wall,” Crosby said. Sometimes, he would bite the women’s exposed skin hard enough to leave teeth marks. Crosby said women would complain to the other dancers that Sayoc was too rough, but no one ever called the police.
He said Sayoc had a “zero to 100” temper and would sometimes use his 6-foot, 250-pound (1.8-meter, 113-kilogram) frame to intimidate other men.
“If he wasn’t happy about something, he would definitely let you know,” Crosby said.
Still, he never saw Sayoc hit anyone and he treated his employees well — though he would sometimes scam the shows’ financial backers.
For example, Crosby said Sayoc would sometimes drive separately in his own older van, though not the now infamous one he was arrested with. He would then take parts from the troupe’s newer van, which was owned by an investor, and swap them with dying parts from his clunker, Crosby said. Sayoc would then ask the investor to pay for the troupe van’s now-needed repairs.
Twelve years later, however, when Sayoc worked for Gureghian at New River Pizza in Fort Lauderdale, honesty and reliability were his job-saving attributes. He never stole and customers never complained, Gureghian said.
But until he quit earlier this year, he regularly subjected co-workers to fiery political rants. Gureghian called his views “pure hatred.”
He detested liberals, blacks, Jews and especially gays, who he called slurs, Gureghian said.
Gureghian said Sayoc used his van for deliveries and one rainy night he offered her a ride home.
“The first thing I did was kind of look to make sure — God forbid — if something happened, can I open that door to get out and how do I tuck and roll?” she said.
Sayoc lived in the van and Gureghian said it was a mess. There were empty containers from fast-food restaurants, men’s fitness supplements and alcoholic beverages. Dirty clothes were everywhere.
And, ominously, there were dolls with their heads cut off.
“He told me he was fixing them for his two nieces,” Gureghian said.
Tricking and treating has a history
October 25, 2017
Senior Lecturer, Rhetoric, Boston University
Regina Hansen does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Boston University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Over the past few decades, Halloween celebrations have gained in popularity, not only with children and families, but with all those fascinated with the spooky and scary.
As a scholar of myth and religion in popular culture, I look at Halloween with particular interest – especially the ways in which today’s Halloween tradition came to evolve.
A pre-Christian tradition
Many practices associated with Halloween have origins in the pre-Christian, or pagan, religion of the Celts, the original inhabitants of the British Isles, as well as parts of France and Spain.
The Celts held a feast called Samhain – a celebration of the harvest, the end of summer and the turn of the year. Samhain was separated by six months from Beltane, an observance of the beginning of summer, which took place on May 1 and is now known as May Day. Because Samhain led into the cold, fruitless and dark days of winter, the feast was also an opportunity to contemplate death and to remember those who had gone before.
The Celts believed that the veil between the living and the dead was thinner during this time, and that spirits of the dead could walk on Earth. Bonfires were lit to ward off the coming winter darkness, but also to sacrifice livestock and crops as offerings to the gods and spirits.
Some scholars – because of the long historical association of the Celts with the Romans – have also linked the modern observance of Halloween to the Roman festival honoring Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees. During that festival people practiced divination, which uses occult for gaining knowledge of the future.
One of the practices was similar to the modern-day Halloween tradition of bobbing for apples – a party game in which people attempt to use only their teeth to pick up apples floating in a tub or a bowl of water. Originally, it was believed that whoever could bite the apple first would get married the soonest.
Many of the modern-day practices of Halloween and even its name were influenced by Christianity.
Halloween coincides with Christian celebrations honoring the dead. In the autumn, Christians celebrate All Saints’ Day – a day to honor martyrs who died for their faith and saints. They also celebrate All Souls’ Day – a day to remember the dead and to pray for souls more generally.
The history of how these dates came to coincide is worth noting: It suggests ways in which the pagan holiday may have been absorbed into Christian observance. Starting around the seventh century A.D., Christians celebrated All Saints Day on May 13. In the mid-eighth century, however, Pope Gregory III moved All Saint’s Day from May 13 to Nov. 1, so that it coincided with the date of Samhain.
Although there is disagreement about whether the move was made purposely so as to absorb the pagan practice, the fact is that from then on Christian and pagan traditions did begin to merge. In England, for example, All Saints Day came to be known as All Hallows Day. The night before became All Hallows Eve, Hallowe’en, or Halloween, as it is now known.
Around A.D. 1000, Nov. 2 was established as All Souls Day. Throughout the Middle Ages, this three-day period was celebrated with Masses. But the Pagan tradition of appeasing the spirits of the dead remained, including the Christian – now Catholic – practice of lighting candles for the souls in Purgatory.
People still light bonfires on Oct. 31, especially those in regions where the Celts originally settled. In Ireland, bonfires are lit on Halloween. In England, the bonfire tradition has been transferred to Nov. 5. This is known as Guy Fawkes Day and commemorates the Gunpowder Plot, a thwarted attempt by Catholics, led by Guy Fawkes, to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
There are other practices that continue today. In England, for example, one of the practices on All Hallows Eve was to go door to door begging for small currant biscuits called soul cakes, which were offered in exchange for prayers. While not all scholars agree, it is part of popular belief that this practice is echoed in the modern tradition of trick-or-treating.
In Ireland, people would walk the streets carrying candles in a hollowed-out turnip, the precursor of today’s jack o’lantern, or the carved pumpkin.
When the tradition came to the US
Halloween, however, did not make its way to the United States until the 1840s, when waves of immigrants from the Celtic countries of Ireland and Scotland arrived. These immigrants brought with them their tradition of Halloween, including dancing, masquerading, fortune-telling games and – in some places – the practice of parading the neighborhood asking for treats, such as nuts and fruits and coins.
By the late 19th century, some stores began offering commercially made candy for Halloween.
The North American observance of Halloween also included everything from minor pranks to some major vandalism, as well as a lot of drinking. By the early 20th century, however, many municipalities and churches attempted to curb this behavior by turning Halloween into a family celebration with children’s parties and, eventually, trick-or-treating as we know it today.
Today, Halloween has become a multi-million-dollar industry.
Candy sales, costumes, decorations, seasonal theme parks, annual television specials and October horror movie premieres are some of the many ways North Americans spend their money on the holiday.
But Halloween has come to mean many things to many people. Roman Catholics and many mainline Protestants, for example, continue to observe All Saints’ Day for its spiritual significance. In the Catholic Church it is considered a holy day of obligation, when people are required to go to Mass. All Souls’ Day is celebrated soon after. In fact, the entire month of November is set aside as a time to pray for the dead.
On the other hand, some people reject Halloween because of its pagan origins and its perceived association with witchcraft and the devil. Others see it as too commercial or primarily for children.
Nonetheless, whether people see it as a children’s holiday, a sacred ritual, a harvest festival, a night of mischief, a sophisticated adult celebration or a way to make money, Halloween has become an integral part of North American culture.
Nuns on the Bus Continue Holding GOP Accountable for Their Tax Law, Rallying at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort on Friday
Sisters Hosting 54 Events in 21 States Ahead of Midterm Elections
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Nuns on the Bus are on the road, traveling across the country to educate the public about the deceitfully-named “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017” and organizing against the Republicans who supported it.
Covering 5,633 miles, the Nuns on the Bus will host 54 events in 21 states over the course of 27 days, launched in Los Angeles and will end at Mar-a-Lago with a “Fiesta for the Common Good” on November 2.