Cesar Sayoc was a broke and marginalized man until President Donald Trump gave him a purpose, court records and online archives suggest.
The FBI arrested Sayoc in Florida today and charged him with five counts for his alleged role in mailing pipe bombs to an array of Democratic Party politicians and Trump critics, including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, and former Attorney General Eric Holder, among others. Pipe bombs addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were addressed to CNN’s headquarters in New York.
The FBI also impounded Sayoc’s white van, whose windows were covered with pro-Trump stickers and others that labeled CNN “dishonest media,” and showed target symbols over the faces of filmmaker Michael Moore and Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic Party opponent in the 2016 election. The counts against Sayoc include the interstate transportation of explosives, making threats against former presidents, and the illegal mailing of explosives.
How and why Sayoc went from online troll — he has posted dozens of tweets per day for months — to the accused serial bomber who grabbed the world’s attention are still unknown. But if his bombs, none of which detonated, were sent because he was inspired by Trump’s violent rhetoric at campaign rallies, Sayoc would not be the first domestic terrorist inspired by conspiracy theories associated with Trump.
Three men in August 2017 bombed a mosque in Minnesota. Their de facto leader, Michael Hari, believed that Trump was engaged in a secret war with the deep state. In July of this year, a Nevada man named Matthew P. Wright, an unemployed Marine veteran, blocked traffic on the Hoover Dam using an armored vehicle. Armed with an AR-15 rifle, handgun, and a flash-bang device, Wright had sent letters to Trump and other elected officials, in which he referred to “QAnon,” a conspiracy theory that suggests that Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are secretly working together to expose a sex trafficking ring operated by Democrats and Hollywood celebrities.
For his part, Sayoc has lived an unremarkable, largely marginalized life before his arrest today, public records suggest. Born in New York in 1962, Sayoc had aspired to be a wrestler in the 1990s and, according to an Ohio event promoter, had worked as a stripper. In the early 1990s, Sayoc was living in South Florida, where he exhibited potentially violent behavior.
In 1994, his grandmother Viola Altieri accused Sayoc of domestic violence. Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Sayoc was charged with various petty crimes, mostly involving theft.
In 2002, after making threats to the public utility company Florida Power and Light, Sayoc was charged with threatening to throw a bomb. Adjudication was withheld in the case, and Sayoc received a sentence of one year of probation.
Sayoc had registered several companies in Florida, including Native American Catering & Vending and Ver Tech AG. But for at least the last decade, Sayoc has struggled financially, according to records. A bank foreclosed on Sayoc’s home in Florida in early 2009, during the height of the housing crisis, which hit particularly hard in South Florida. Sayoc had a $165,500 mortgage, according to records.
Three years later, Sayoc filed for bankruptcy. The only asset he listed was $50 worth of clothing. “Debtor lives with mother, owns no furniture,” the filing says. In 2015, Sayoc was arrested for trying to steal a briefcase and garment bag from a Walmart in West Palm Beach, Florida.
A registered Republican voter in Florida, Sayoc appears to have been active on Twitter since March 7. He primarily shared right-wing memes about Hillary Clinton, George Soros, the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and other favorite targets of the far right.
On Wednesday, just as the pipe bombs were being discovered, Sayoc was writing on Twitter about Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, who is facing Republican Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally. Sayoc’s commentary included memes that suggested Gillum was a puppet of Soros, the wealthy financier of progressive political causes. Soros was the first to receive a pipe bomb.