NEW YORK (AP) — The discovery of pipe bombs targeting prominent Democratic politicians and CNN is raising the threat of election-season violence largely unknown in the U.S. — and prompting uncomfortable questions about the consequences of leaders’ increasingly vitriolic rhetoric.
Coming two weeks before midterm elections, the thwarted attacks Wednesday caused renewed soul-searching — and finger pointing — about whether President Donald Trump has fanned passions to dangerous levels. Democrats swiftly pointed to his remarks seeming to condone violence against reporters and belittling political opponents, including some apparently targeted by the devices. Trump decried all political violence and issued a broad call for unity.
Some voters expressed concern the country was spiraling into new territory.
“It almost seems like we’re in the middle of a civil war without the shots being fired,” said Bobby Dietzel, a 45-year-old information technology worker from Kansas City who is registered with neither party. From a Denver coffee shop, he said he watched the political conflict with alarm. “It’s almost scary to talk politics with people.”
Law enforcement officials did not comment on the possible motives behind the crimes or whether political ideology may have played a role. Those involved have all been targeted by Trump and the right.
The thwarted attacks — revealed in rapid succession Wednesday — added volatility to midterm elections poised to be a referendum on Trump’s tumultuous two years in office.
Long before the explosives were discovered, violent rhetoric had emerged as a central theme in the closing days of the midterm elections, particularly for the GOP. Republicans derided protesters for disrupting GOP lawmakers or Trump officials at restaurants or other public places. While campaigning, Trump and leading Republican candidates have increasingly warned of a rising Democratic “mob” prepared to inflict physical harm upon its adversaries.
But even some Trump allies saw the events of Wednesday as a moment for reflection and urged Trump to tone it down.
“You gotta calm it down,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a prominent Trump supporter who briefly worked in his administration. “The president has grown in the job. He now has to take another transcendental step and realize that he’s got to dial down the rhetoric.”
On the other end of the political spectrum, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, offered a message to “all public officials of all partisan affiliations.” ”Don’t encourage violence,” he said. “Don’t encourage hatred. Don’t encourage attacks on media.”
De Blasio added: “That has to start at the top.”
The White House’s political arm, the Republican National Committee, released a video less than two weeks ago entitled, “The Left: An Unhinged Mob” that featured liberal protesters banging on doors backed by aggressive rhetoric from several prominent Democrats, including Rep. Maxine Waters of California and Hilary Clinton.
Waters in June called on supporters to harass Trump’s cabinet members in public, while Clinton this month said: “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.”
Clinton is among a handful of top Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder, who were targeted with explosive devices, authorities said Wednesday. The New York offices of CNN, the cable network frequently attacked by Trump and his supporters, was evacuated after receiving an explosive device and an envelope containing white powder. Billionaire Democrat George Soros, a regular focus of conservative conspiracy theories, was targeted on Monday.
In a written statement, CNN President Jeff Zucker decried what he called “a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media.”