Fox News helped to radicalize Cesar Sayoc, the so-called “MAGA Bomber” who sent explosive devices to several prominent critics of President Trump, his lawyers argued Monday.
Public defenders representing Mr. Sayoc, 57, claimed in a federal court filing that Fox News, right-wing Facebook groups and Mr. Trump amplified misinformation and conspiracy theories that ultimately triggered him to act.
Described by his lawyers as a “Donald Trump super-fan,” Mr. Sayoc’s attorneys said that lifelong cognitive limitations and learning disabilities – along with delusional beliefs compounded by excessive steroid use – had led him to mail the bombs because he was convinced his life was at risk.
“He truly believed wild conspiracy theories he read on the internet, many of which vilified Democrats and spread rumors that Trump supporters were in danger because of them. He heard it from the President of the United States, a man with whom he felt he had a deep personal connection. He read it on almost every website he visited. He saw it on Fox News, which he watched at the start and end of his day. And it was reinforced to him on social media,” his lawyers wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed in Manhattan federal court.
“In this bubble, Mr. Sayoc personalized the misinformation to which he was exposed. He began to consider Democrats as not just dangerous in theory, but imminently and seriously dangerous to his personal safety,” they added. “President Trump did nothing to dissuade this message.”
Representatives for neither Fox News nor the White House immediately returned requests for comment.
A former exotic dancer, strip club DJ and pizza deliveryman, Mr. Sayoc was apolitical before Mr. Trump ran for office but quickly became a passionate supporter of his campaign, according to his lawyers. He soon began watching Fox News “religiously” and eventually connected with hundreds of right-wing Facebook groups where, according to his attorneys, users promoted the idea that Mr. Trump’s opponents are “dangerous, unpatriotic and evil.”
“They deployed provocative language to depict Democrats as murderous, terroristic and violent,” Mr. Sayoc’s lawyers said about the Facebook users. “Fox News furthered these arguments.”
The lawyers cited a Fox News broadcast from a few days before Mr. Sayoc started mailing the bombs in which host Sean Hannity claimed that Democratic leaders were “encouraging mob violence against political opponents.” Mr. Trump, on his part, had previously claimed on Twitter that Rep. Maxine Waters, New York Democrat and one of the intended recipients of Mr. Sayoc’s bombs – “called for harm” directed toward the president’s supporters, the lawyers noted.
“A rational observer may have brushed off Trump’s tweets as hyperbole, but Mr. Sayoc took them to heart,” his lawyers wrote. “He was credulous, paranoid and using large doses of steroids and supplements.”
Mr. Sayoc faces a mandatory 10-year prison sentence and up to life behind bars. His lawyers have requested he serve 10 years and a month.
The Department of Justice has recommended he serve the rest of his life behind bars, meanwhile.
“A life sentence is also necessary to adequately deter acts of domestic terrorism aimed at silencing and intimidating government officials and members of the public based on their political views and activities,” federal prosecutors wrote in the government’s sentencing memo Monday.
In addition to Mr. Obama and Ms. Waters, other individuals targeted by Mr. Sayoc included former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and current White House hopefuls Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, among others.