Department of Justice: Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks on Investigation Into Suspicious Packages

Pipe bomb suspect claimed false ties to 'unconquered' Seminole Tribe

By Kevin Abourezk and Acee Agoyo

The 56-year-old Florida man arrested on suspicion of sending a dozen pipe bombs to prominent critics of President Donald Trump is not connected to the Seminole Tribe despite the suspect’s repeated claims of ties to the "unconquered" Indian nation.

In a statement issued as speculation on social media morphed into mistaken media reports, Seminole spokesperson Gary Bitner on Friday afternoon said there was "no evidence" that Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr. -- who has gone by various names online -- was a tribal citizen.

"We can find no evidence that Cesar Altieri, Caesar Altieri, Caesar Altieri Sayoc, Ceasar Altieri Randazzo or Julus Cesar Milan is or was a member or employee of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, or is or was an employee of Seminole Gaming or Hard Rock International," the statement read.

Bitner also said the tribe couldn’t verify that Sayoc is or ever was an employee of any vendor company that has served the tribe or Hard Rock International, a vast enterprise that employs more than 40,000 people and spans multiple gaming facilities in Florida, along with restaurants, entertainment venues and resorts around the world.

But Sayoc, who has been charged with federal crimes in connection with activities being described as "political violence," painted a different picture online. He claimed on two different Twitter accounts -- both since deleted by the social media company -- that he was Seminole and that he was employed by Hard Rock. In doing so, he promoted his support for Trump.

“We Unconquered Seminole Tribe, Hard Rock, millions of our customers, Unconquered Seminole American Top Team stand with you,” Sayoc wrote in an October 22 post directed to @realdonaldtrump, the president's account. “You are greatest Pres. Ever. Trump Trump Trump stand with you.”

Sayoc, who was was arrested on Friday morning for allegedly sending pipe bomb packages to various critics of Trump, including former president Barack Obama, also held himself out as a Native American off line. His van, which was seized by authorities, was plastered with numerous political stickers, one of which which implied that the "Unconquered Seminole Tribe" endorsed the Republican candidate for governor as well the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

That sticker, a version of which Sayoc also shared online, appeared to use the Seminole Tribe's flag without authorization.

A different sticker on the white van used the tribe's flag again, only it was next to an image of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Beneath, it read: "Native Americans For Trump," a label that wasn't too far from the official "Native American Coalition" that supported the president during his 2016 campaign.

Sayoc, who has an extensive criminal history, even extended his "Native" persona to at least two businesses he registered in Florida, according to state records. One was called "Native American Catering and Vending" and the other was "Proud Native America One Low Price Drycleaning."

The unverified claims quickly led numerous users on social media to falsely state that Sayoc is indeed Seminole, as well as Native American. One attempted to shift the narrative from the "#MAGABomber" label that emerged among people who quickly tied the suspect to Trump and other Republicans by calling the suspect the "#IndianBomber". Others appeared to justify his targeting of prominent Democrats by concluding his activities were based on unspecified "threats" posed by those figures to his alleged tribal heritage.

But beyond rumors, some in the media accepted Sayoc's social presence as proof of his citizenship in an Indian nation. The Daily Mail, a publication based in the United Kingdom, went so far as to report that the 'MAGAbomber' is a member of the Seminole Tribe before the tribe confirmed that he is not.

The Daily Mail has since changed the headline of the story that reported the false information but has not retracted the post on Twitter that repeated the incorrect affiliation.

"Fake news. Next time ask the tribe, you idiots," Nastasya Trudeaux, a Sault Ste. Marie Ojibwe multimedia designer who lives in Florida, wrote in response on Twitter.

The Native American Journalists Association weighed in as well as the social media storm surged throughout the afternoon.

"After of the Oct. 26 arrest of mail bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc Jr., some outlets reported that he is a citizen of the Seminole Tribe of Florida without confirmation from the tribe," NAJA said in a statement. "The Seminole Tribe of Florida, through a statement, confirmed that he is not and has never been a citizen of their tribe.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding a story, the Native American Journalists Association urges all media outlets to verify tribal citizenship before reporting someone is Indigenous," the statement continued.

Sayoc, whose arrest was confirmed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation about three hours before the tribe formally debunked his citizenship claims on Friday afternoon, is currently facing five federal felonies, including making threats against a former president. In a complaint filed in federal court, FBI Agent David Brown confirmed that he used some information from the suspect's deleted Twitter accounts to link him to 13 pipe bombs he is accused of mailing from a U.S. Postal Service facility in Florida.

"Based on my training and experience, as well as my review of law enforcement databases, I believe that SAYOC is the user of the 'Cesar Altieri' Twitter account because (i) Altieri is SAYOC' s middle name, and (ii) the location of SAYOC's last known residence in Aventura, Florida is proximate to the two locations listed in the account information for the 'Cesar Altieri' Twitter account (Sunny Isle Beach and Hollywood, Florida)," Brown stated.

The complaint was filed after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the leader of the Department of Justice, decried Sayoc's alleged activities. Though no one was hurt by the pipe bombs, he said the actions posed a threat to all Americans.

"Political violence — or the threat of violence — is antithetical to our vigorous system of self-government," Sessions said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. that was held at about the same time the tribe sent out its statement. "It is a threat to that respect for law and process that allows our people to accept legislation, elections, and court rulings with which we do not agree."

FBI Director Chris Wray noted that the investigation is ongoing. The existence of a 14th pipe bomb, mailed to yet another prominent Democrat, was confirmed later on Friday evening.

"Today’s arrest does not mean we’re out of the woods," Wray said on Friday. "There may be other packages in transit now — other packages on the way. So we need the help of everyone out there — every citizen, every law enforcement partner, everyone we’ve got — to help with this investigation in the days to come."

FBI Director Chris Wray addresses the ongoing investigation into Cesar Sayoc at a press conference in Washington, D.C, on October 26, 2018. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the leader of the Department of Justice, is seen on the left. Photo: FBI

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