A judge sentenced the man who sent 16 mail bombs to more than a dozen prominent critics of President Donald Trump to 20 years in prison on Monday after his attempted attacks led to a national panic. Cesar Sayoc, described by attorneys as a Trump “super fan” and who became known online as the “MAGA bomber,” pleaded guilty in March to 65 felony charges stemming from what federal prosecutors described as a domestic terror attack.
“We believe that the president’s rhetoric contributed to Mr. Sayoc’s actions in this offense,” Ian Marcus, Sayoc’s defense attorney, told the judge. Marcus said a difficult life, childhood sexual abuse, and mental illness made Sayoc susceptible to delusionary thinking.
Sayoc faced between 121 months and life in prison. Prosecutors pushed for the toughest sentence, saying Sayoc “set out to terrorize people” and “silence” liberal voices.
Federal Judge Jed Rakoff said Sayoc’s political motivations and his “infatuation with Trump” played a “modest” role in the sentence, which was well below federal guidelines. Rakoff called the sentence “no more” and “no less” than what Sayoc deserved because the judge believed Sayoc did not intend for the bombs to explode. Rakoff said Sayoc “was fully capable of concocting pipe bombs capable of exploding,” and since he didn’t, he decided that was, “in the court’s view, a conscious choice.”
Over the course of two weeks in October—just before the midterm elections—Sayoc , 57, sent improvised explosive devices to Trump critics, including former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and now-presidential candidates Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Tom Steyer. A bomb addressed to CNN’s New York headquarters led to an evacuation. The devices were made from shards of glass, firework explosive powder, and pool chemicals. None of the bombs exploded, but the threat shut down schools, postal facilities, and train stations.
Sayoc’s terrorist attack came after months of planning and years of “hate-filled threats,” federal prosecutors said in sentencing documents last month. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman asked he be sentenced to life in prison. Sayoc’s attorneys, on the other hand, asked for leniency because he suffered from “severe learning disabilities” and “cognitive limitations” that led him to become obsessed with Trump. His public defenders said he came to believe in an “alternative reality” prompted in part by Trump’s attacks on the president’s rivals, Fox News, and other right-wing outlets and groups on social media.
“President Trump did nothing to dissuade this message,” Sayoc’s attorneys wrote, pointing directly to Trump’s Twitter posts calling his political opponents un-American, dangerous, and corrupt. “A rational observer may have brushed off Trump’s tweets as hyperbole, but Mr. Sayoc took them to heart,” his attorneys wrote. Sayoc lived in a cramped van covered in stickers supportive of Trump and critical of Democrats and the media. A “slow boil” of fear and paranoia led Sayoc to decide he “needed to do something to scare and deter prominent figures in the media and on the left” who he thought were out to harm Trump supporters, his attorneys said. “In this darkness, Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump.”
Sayoc’s sentencing comes as the nation grapples with a shooting in in El Paso, Texas, where at least 22 people, many of them immigrants, were killed by a gunman who posted an anti-immigrant and white supremacist credo online. Like Sayoc’s case, federal prosecutors are treating the El Paso attack as “domestic terrorism.” Trump has never apologized for his divisive and racist rhetoric—comments many consider to be inciting violence like that in El Paso. Last year, he downplayed Sayoc’s actions as “bomb stuff” in a Twitter post in which he complained that Republican candidates would be hurt in the midterms by the attempted attacks.