Pressure in the Pipes: Targeted Pipe Bombs and Their Implications for US Politics

(Ellicott Ashworth Cochrane, Queen’s University)

On Monday October 22nd 2018, less than two weeks before the US Midterm elections, several suspicious packages containing pipe bombs were found addressed to prominent critics of President Trump. These included the CNN New York Headquarters in the Time Warner Center, which also received an envelope of white powder sent with the package. The Secret Service intercepted packages addressed to the residences of former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In consequence, a Floridian man was recently arrested as a suspect in connection with the mail bombs.

Other targeted individuals include political activist George Soros, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Representative Maxine Waters, former Vice President Joe Biden, actor Robert De Niro, and former CIA Director John Brennan.  Explosive experts declared the bombs live and capable of exploding. As a result, they were transported in an equipped bomb vehicle to a designated range for detonation.  An investigation has been launched employing the services of federal, state, and municipal agencies in an effort to find the senders of the packages.

It is believed that these devices were intended ignite fear and cause commotion rather than as a dangerous attack.  Experts claim that these bombs had the potential to cause injury or death, however they were not sophisticated weapons. Additionally, if the bomb makers wanted to cause real harm there are several other effective tactics that could have been used.  This has lead to speculation that the packages were designed with fear and intimidation in mind rather than physical destruction.

Several other details in the series of packages raised concern amongst the public. For example, the package addressed to Eric Holder was discovered at the office of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as her office was used as the return address with her last name misspelled. Additionally, the package addressed to John Brennan was sent to the CNN bureau in New York. This raised suspicions, as Brennan is a contributor to MSNBC and NBC News and not CNN. These events have possible several implications for politics in the United States. Voters could be being shepherded away from or pushed towards the Trump administration, or perhaps US elections are again the target of foreign interference.

One suspicion is that the packages could serve as a means to push voters away from President Trump. The bombs targeted prominent democrats, especially those that have been outspoken with their criticisms of the President. This could lead people to believe the perpetrators are Republican extremists who are devoted to the Trump administration; radicals who have been created, or at least given voice, by Trump. Although the individuals who sent the bombs may not have been directly influenced by the President, many people might perceive or suspect that Trump’s unconventional approach to politics and aggression inspired this attack.

Another possibility is that the bombs promote Trump’s agenda by drawing attention to political figures that many Republicans despise and compare them in a negative light to Trump, who sometimes portrays himself as a law-and-order candidate. In this case, Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who have been out of the media’s eye for some time, will become more present in the news as victims, not as authority figures or defenders of the people.  This attention could drive both Republican and non-Republican voters with strong feelings against these politicians to support Trump and his colleagues. Alternatively, the bombs could serve as a means to silence Trump’s critics for the upcoming elections by creating fear that they might receive similar packages if they choose to voice their opinions against the president.

Finally, the packages may have come from an outside source, which could lead the US to reevaluate its relationships with other countries. Some countries—Russia being the most ready example—could benefit from Trump remaining in office, while others may wish to see a new president is inaugurated.  Russia’s history of interfering with US elections should elicit particular attention, especially considering that the country is known to destabilize democracy by sowing chaos.

Although a suspect has been arrested, the motivation behind the bombs is unclear.  What is evident is that this threat of violence in the US is a threat against the stability and structure of the country’s democracy, and will likely continue to show ramifications for the rest of the Trump presidency. Furthermore the case of these dangerous packages reminds us us that it is important to question political intent and not succumb to the pressures imposed on voters by those willing to threaten the safety of a nation and its political leaders.



Baysinger, Tim, and Jon Levine. “CNN Says John Brennan, Former CIA Director and MSNBC Contributor, Was Target of Suspicious Package.” TheWrap, 24 Oct. 2018.

Karimi, Faith. “Mailed Pipe Bombs Spread Fear in Several States, and There May Be More.” CNN, 25 Oct. 2018.

Levenson, Eric, et al. “Soros. Clinton. Obama. Brennan. Holder. Waters. Biden. De Niro. Here’s Who the Packages Were Sent to.” CNN, 25 Oct. 2018.