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Tracing Cesar Sayoc’s past through his recent shift into politics

Cesar Sayoc, who was arrested on Friday on suspicion of sending more than a dozen mail bombs to Democratic party leaders, traversed many lifestyles until he started engaging in politics in 2015. Trevor Aaronson of the Florida Center of Investigative Reporting sifted public records and talked to people who knew Sayoc, and he tells Hari Sreenivasan what he found.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    A Florida man, suspected of sending at least 14 mail bombs to Democratic Party leaders and vocal critics of President Trump, is in police custody and faces five federal charges. The 56 year old Cesar Sayoc was arrested yesterday and is expected to appear in court on Monday. The most recent package found yesterday was addressed to a wealthy Democratic Party donor and activist, Tom Steyer in California. Joining us now via Skype from St. Petersburg Florida is Trevor Aaronson, executive director of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and a contributing writer for The Intercept.

    So Trevor what do we know now — 24 hours have passed since the arrest — about this individual?

  • TREVOR AARONSON:

    So, what we know about Cesar Sayoc was that he was born in New York and ended up moving to South Florida when he was a teenager, graduating from a local high school here. Early in his life, he aspired to be a professional wrestler. At one point, he had traveled with male revue show as a male stripper. But what the family attorney tells us is that basically, you know, this is a man who tried and failed at many things in his life and just never had much success in life but also really kind of had trouble finding a place to fit in in this world. And you know, after Trump started running for president in 2015, that's when Sayoc began to, kind of, get engaged in politics for the first time and starting earlier this year is when he became very active on social media. Started sharing, you know, memes about Hillary Clinton and George Soros and various other people who ended up receiving pipe bombs.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And how much — right now the Twitter account is no longer up — but what kind of patterns were visible to either other people who were harassed by him or law enforcement that was looking for more evidence to corroborate that this was the individual?

  • TREVOR AARONSON:

    So the activity on Twitter itself did not necessarily point to his being the serial bomber although, in hindsight, you can see these in action. I mean that he was making threats, you know. But ultimately, how police linked him was through a fingerprint that was on one of the pipe bombs. Cesar Sayoc had been arrested in South Florida a dozen times since the late 1990s. And during those arrests he submitted fingerprints. And ultimately, one of those fingerprints proved to be the same one that was on that pipe bomb package, according to the FBI.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What are the people that worked with him, that were perhaps his family members or friends, what are they saying about this?

  • TREVOR AARONSON:

    A family friend, who had represented Cesar in a bankruptcy, explained that he viewed Cesar as being someone who was like a 14 year old in a grown man body, that this was a man who was emotionally and intellectually immature. But also, was someone that was not really born to any kind of sense of person or history. And when I say sense of history, sense of personal history.

    You know, this was a man who apparently was Filipino and Italian — but he identified on social media and to others as being Native American, a member of the Seminole Indian tribe. None of that was apparently true. And certainly, the created identity that he had in recent years was very much linked to supporting Donald Trump. But then also, you know, kind of, fall into some of the far right means that some of the conspiracy theories we see trapped by some of Donald Trump's most ardent supporters.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Trevor Aaronson, executive director of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and a contributing writer for The Intercept, thanks for joining us.

  • TREVOR AARONSON:

    Of course. Thanks for having me.

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