- Mike Germanfellow at Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. From 1988 to 2004, he served as an FBI agent specializing in domestic counterterrorism. He’s the author of Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former FBI Undercover Agent.
- Pete Simiprofessor of sociology at Chapman University. He’s co-author of the book American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate.
Federal authorities have launched an investigation after pipe bombs were sent to a number of prominent Democrats, all critics of President Trump. The targets identified include President Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Congressmember Maxine Waters and former CIA Director John Brennan. The packages listed Democratic Congressmember Debbie Wasserman Schultz as the return address. Police are also investigating a suspicious package sent to former Vice President Joe Biden and a suspicious package found today at actor Robert De Niro’s restaurant in New York. On Wednesday, CNN was forced to evacuate its New York office after it received what police described as a “live explosive device” along with a container of white powder. It came in a package addressed to Brennan. All of the targets have been vilified by President Trump in the past. Authorities said it remains unclear if the devices were operable bombs or designed to look like bombs. No one has been hurt by the devices. We speak to former FBI agent Mike German and Chapman University professor Pete Simi, who has studied political violence for decades.
AMY GOODMAN: Federal authorities have launched an investigation after pipe bombs were sent to a number of prominent Democrats, all critics of President Trump. The targets identified include President Obama and Michelle Obama; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; George Soros, the billionaire liberal philanthropist; former Attorney General Eric Holder; Congressmember Maxine Waters; and former CIA Director John Brennan. The suspected bomb packages listed Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz as the return address in some cases. Police are also investigating a suspicious package sent to former Vice President Joe Biden and a suspicious package found today at actor Robert De Niro’s restaurant in New York. On Wednesday, CNN was forced to evacuate its New York offices after it received what police described as a “live explosive device” along with a container of white powder. It came in a package addressed to John Brennan. All of the targets have been vilified by President Trump in the past. Authorities said it remains unclear if the bomb devices were operable bombs or designed to look like bombs. No one has been hurt by the devices. This all comes less than two weeks before the midterm elections.
On Wednesday afternoon, President Trump described the attempted bombings as, quote, “despicable acts,” but later, at a campaign rally in Wisconsin, called on the media to stop what he called its “endless hostility.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As part of a larger national effort to bridge our divides and bring people together, the media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories. Have to do it.
AMY GOODMAN: At the Wisconsin rally, President Trump did not name any of the Democrats targeted.
Earlier this morning, Trump went on Twitter, quote, and wrote, “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!” said Trump.
Trump has a long record of attacking CNN and inciting violence. Last year, he tweeted a video showing him tackling and punching a figure with a CNN logo over its face. On Wednesday, CNN President Jeff Zucker blasted President Trump, saying, quote, “There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media. The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that,” Zucker said.
Meanwhile, a number of prominent conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Michael Flynn Jr., all suggested, without any evidence, that the suspected bombs were a false flag operation.
We begin today’s show with two guests. In New York, Mike German is in Democracy Now!'s studios, a fellow at Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law. From 1988 to 2004, he served as an FBI agent specializing in domestic counterterrorism. Here in Orange County, California, we're joined by Peter Simi, professor of sociology at Chapman University. He’s studied extremist groups and violence for the past 20 years, co-author of the book American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Mike German in New York. We don’t know who has done this. The list of people—and we hear added to the list of the Obamas, the Clintons, Waters, former Attorney General Eric Holder, George Soros, Maxine Waters, maybe today Joe Biden, the former vice president. While we don’t know who has done this, Mike German, it looks like a Trump hit list. He did not mention the names last night and didn’t—did attack the media, despite the fact that CNN got one of these packages. Your thoughts today?
MIKE GERMAN: Right. Well, I do appreciate the caution in attributing any blame at this point. There’s a lot of work for the FBI and other law enforcement partners to do before we can do that. But, obviously, just looking at the target list, this is sort of the prominent people in the recent culture war.
And, you know, I think what troubles me is how our perception of a far-right violence, since I worked these cases in the early 1990s, seems to have changed in law enforcement. And I’ve been troubled over the course of the last couple of years in the way law enforcement seems to have not realized the way that these groups were mobilizing. And we saw that through a number of violent protests, from Anaheim to Sacramento to Portland to, of course, Charlottesville and continuing right here in New York City. And it just is troubling that law enforcement is just seeming now to understand that this is organized criminal violence.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the Trump administration’s, and particularly President Trump himself, political rhetoric? Do you think it’s fair to say he emboldens extremists? I mean, amazing, last night in Wisconsin, he doesn’t mention who the targets are, doesn’t say that CNN was one of the targets, but attacks the media again.
MIKE GERMAN: Right. And I do think, again, you know, it’s important to have caution. We’re very fortunate in this country that terrorism is very rare. And the connection between rhetoric and violence is not really as strong as a lot of people suggest. But it’s very different when it is an authority figure who seems to be sanctioning the violence. And whether that is a matter of the police not responding to this kind of violence as aggressively as they do other kinds of political violence or, certainly, when a position in authority like President Trump is saying things that seem to suggest to people that this is OK, that the government supports your violent activities, when political parties are inviting far-right fight clubs to speak at events and to appear at events, this is the kind of sanctioning that makes these groups much, much more dangerous. And my concern is, now that we’re starting to see some enforcement actions taken, that these groups have had two years to organize and recruit, and, I think, can be a much more dangerous problem in our society, moving forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Mike German, what about these allegations of some of the far-right conservatives talking about this being a false flag operation? And if you could explain even what that means?
MIKE GERMAN: Sure. A false flag operation is when somebody targets a specific entity that will automatically cause people to think it’s their opponents that have engaged in the violence. I think it’s entirely irresponsible to be suggesting that, and, again, only ramps up these culture wars and would only encourage more violence in retaliation. I mean, one of the big problems you have after an event like this is not just all the false alarms and how easy it is to trigger a false alarm if somebody wants to cause trouble, but copycats. And, you know, to the extent these groups are getting any kind of encouragement, whether it’s from the figures of the culture war, certainly whether it’s from government figures, authority figures, the chances of seeing an increase in this kind of activity, I think, goes up.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh speaking yesterday.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: We have this series of bombs that were supposedly sent today, exclusively to Democrats. And it just—there’s a smell test that this stuff has to pass. And so far, a lot of people’s noses are in the air, not quite certain what to make of this. Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Pete Simi, what do you think of Rush Limbaugh’s comments?
PETE SIMI: Thanks for having me, first of all. But it’s incredibly irresponsible for folks to be touting these kind of false flag conspiracy theories, especially at this point, when so little is actually known about what happened. And to suggest it doesn’t pass the smell test, we’re not—I mean, we’re not sure exactly what that means. But what this does is it does further a much larger narrative that suggests that there’s some kind of deep state conspiracy that’s trying to undermine President Trump and is trying to ultimately really disempower individual citizens. And it’s an idea that stems from ideas about the Second Amendment trying to be abolished, essentially, so that people can’t arm and defend themselves. And it really is—you know, this is really part of this larger kind of right-wing conspiracy theories that have included things like Pizzagate, and ultimately, you know, influence—
AMY GOODMAN: Pizzagate being?
PETE SIMI: Yeah, the false contention that a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., involved a child sex labor ring that Hillary Clinton was involved with, and ultimately led one individual to go there to investigate and open fire. So, you know, these kinds of wild accusations that involve these kind of conspiracy theories, they do have an influence on people in a lot of different ways—fortunately, not necessarily directly leading to violence most of the time, but on some occasions there does seem to be an influence. And so, words matter. And especially people in authority positions, they have more influence. And so, you know, I think there’s just a real lack of responsibility when folks are touting these kinds of wild theories.