The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Social media account tied to mail-bomb suspect singled out Democrats

Cesar Sayoc’s mugshot photo.
Cesar Sayoc’s mugshot photo. (Broward County Sheriff’s Office/Getty Images)
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Before Cesar Sayoc was arrested and charged with sending packages containing explosive devices to prominent Democrats and CNN, he appears to have threatened them repeatedly — and sometimes graphically — online.

The Twitter handle @hardrock2016 tells the story.

Law enforcement officials believe the account belongs to Sayoc, who was apprehended Friday and faces five federal criminal counts, including threatening former presidents. A look at the account’s history reveals not only its owner’s overwhelming support for President Trump and identification with far-right political causes, but also his obsession with several of the individuals he allegedly targeted in the real world during the past week.

On Sept. 18, the social media account called former vice president Joe Biden a “piece of slime trash” and attached a photo of Biden’s Delaware home. Two packages addressed to Biden and containing pipe bombs were discovered at mail facilities in the state on Thursday.

On Oct. 12, the account posted a photo of Sayoc at what appeared to be a Trump rally, holding a sign that said “CNN SUCKS.” “You will just vanish,” the account wrote to the network, which received a pipe bomb on Wednesday.

On Monday, the day a mail bomb was discovered in George Soros’s Katonah, N.Y., mailbox, the account posted a menacing image of the billionaire investor and philanthropist. The world is “waking up to the horrors of George Soros,” the text read.

Law enforcement officials identified the account as Sayoc’s in Friday’s complaint, noting that its display name, “Cesar Altieri,” uses Sayoc’s middle name, and that its location matches Sayoc’s previous known residences. Multiple memes tweeted by the account also appear to match images plastered on the window of Sayoc’s van, which was seized Friday by law enforcement.

Twitter declined to comment, citing the “ongoing law enforcement investigation,” but took down the account Friday afternoon.

A review of the account before its removal revealed dozens of abusive tweets in the past six months about former president Barack Obama, former president Bill Clinton, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former attorney general Eric Holder and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), all of whom were targeted with mail bombs this week. Dozens of tweets referred to issues that have triggered a conservative outcry, such as illegal immigration and “Fast & Furious,” the operation to track illegal gun sales during the Obama administration that touched off conspiracies.

One of the account’s recurring threats related to the Florida Everglades, with the owner promising an “air boat ride” and attaching images of alligators, severed body parts, bloody water and headlines about missing people.

Political commentator Rochelle Ritchie, NBC anchor Andrea Mitchell, Portland, Ore., Mayor Ted Wheeler, film director Ron Howard and Zephyr Teachout, an unsuccessful candidate for New York attorney general, received similarly threatening tweets.

On Friday, Ritchie tweeted that she had previously “reported the guy who was making threats towards me . . . and you guys sent back a BS response about how you didn’t find it that serious.” Ritchie didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

The feed produced a regular stream of conspiracy theories and misinformation, such as suggesting that the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) had ties to al-Qaeda and that Obama and Hillary Clinton created the Islamic State.

Brooke Binkowski, the former managing editor of Snopes, described its content as “low rent memes,” the sort that have peppered hyperpartisan news sites and social media feeds in recent years.

Although Binkowksi noted that it’s “hard to say what their provenance is,” several of the memes are watermarked by sites such as the Free Thought Project, Silence is Consent and Overpasses for America, all of which have a history of publishing misinformation.

The ecosystem reflected in the feed is “creating these people who are prone to conspiracy theories, and they’re being flooded by these stories that are not true,” Binkowski said.

“They think they’re doing the right thing according to this twisted worldview they have. It’s slow-motion brainwashing,” she said.