Following up on yesterday's shutdown of Rep. Raul Grijalva's office after a letter containing a toxic substance was mailed to them, we called up Adam Saravana, Grijalva's communications director, and got the inside story.
Here's what Adam told us:
At about 12:30, as they do every day, the staff checked the mail for the congressional district office. Among the letters was this envelope with -- it just had a mailing label, with a name and address on it, and I can't confirm if it's real or not. Inside the envelope, there were two pieces of paper with swastikas drawn on them.
And there was a little plastic baggie with this powder in there. And so they called the police. The police showed up, and then the fire department arrived. And the fire department did a test, and said, 'OK, this is actually toxic. This is for real.'
So the congressional office was on lockdown for more than an hour. They first had a police cordon around the building, they wouldn't let the staff leave -- the staff were all there while they were all tested for their vital signs and everything. And finally the fire department got its results back and they said, 'This stuff is dangerous, we need to get you out of here.' So they kept the cordon up but they evacuated the building.
Our congressional staff all went home. The congressman and I were out, and so they wouldn't let us in the building.
The substance, he told me, was identified as hydroxyacetenalide:
Symptoms of overexposure to this compound include nausea, vomiting, cyanosis from methemoglobinemia, injury to the liver, kidneys, central nervous system and heart, circulatory collapse, drowsiness, confusion, liver tenderness, low blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, jaundice, acute renal failure, death due to liver necrosis, metabolic acidosis, hepatic damage and cirrhosis. Other symptoms include changes in exocrine pancreas, diarrhea, irritability, somnolence, general anesthesia, fever and hepatitis. Diaphoresis and general malaise may occur. Exposure may lead to hematological reactions and, occasionally, skin rashes and other allergic reactions.
It's available generically as Tylenol, but not in mass quantities as a powder (though it certainly is conceivable that the senders simply ground up a large amount of Tylenol to create this). In powder form it can be very dangerous indeed. Not only will breathing it potentially induce these symptoms, but it also happens to be highly combustible.
This is not the first time the office has been the target of intimidation. In April, the Congressman closed down the Tucson office after receiving personal threats against his life. In July, someone fired gunshots through the front of his Yuma office. Rep. Grijalva calls it an indication of how emotionally charged this political year has been, in light of his stance on Arizona's illegal immigration law.
"This is not the way we have a civil debate," said Rep. Grijalva. "This is not the way we make decisions in this country. I think the tone has been ugly."
Grijalva's Republican opponent in the race for Arizona's Congressional District 7 seat issued a written statement late Thursday evening. Ruth McClung wrote: "There is no room for hatred or terror in this race. Mr. Grijalva and I have different opinions on a wide range of issues. However, our differences on policy and governance are legitimate and reasonable, and should be allowed to play out within the established boundaries of political discourse."
This is clearly an act of domestic terrorism, and it's astonishing to me that my fellow journalists don't seem to recognize it as a significant escalation of the threats towards Democrats we've seen in recent weeks.
As I noted yesterday:
Let's be real clear: It's already considered an act of terrorism to send someone a letter with powder in it, as many right-wing fanatics have done in the past decade and more -- specifically, it's a kind of piggybacking, as in the case of that deranged Malkin/Ingraham/Coulter fan, Chad Castagana:
What Castagana's case demonstrates, clearly, is the way terrorism functions. Initial attacks always inspire subsequent rounds of echo attacks that intentionally feed off the terror created by the earlier rounds. It's called "piggybacking," and it has been an explicit strategy of the extremist right for two decades and longer.
The shape of Castagana's threats -- sending white powder in an envelope and including threats suggesting the powder is anthrax -- has been around for awhile. He almost certainly got the idea from its earlier perpetrators, most notably Clayton Waagner, who terrorized hundreds of abortion clinics with similar hoaxes.
Waagner's threats, in turn, piggybacked off the very real anthrax terrorist who killed five people, sickened dozens more, and scared the bejeesus out of the media for a couple of weeks, until they figured out that it most likely was a domestic terror attack.
And the anthrax terrorist, likewise, clearly piggybacked off of 9/11: the attacks occurred two weeks later, and the rampant speculation in the media for quite awhile was that this was another Al Qaeda attack, or perhaps one from Iraq.
Terrorists of all stripes -- foreign and domestic, Islamist and white nationalist, competent and incompetent -- have a symbiotic relationship with each other: one attack creates an "echo" that often has its own idiosyncratic purpose, but simultaneously enhances the intent of the original terrorist attack. The one thing all terrorists have in common, after all, is a general intent: to destabilize public confidence in the government and thus topple it. In the case of far-right domestic terrorists, they hope to present themselves as an authoritarian alternative to a system unable to keep its citizens secure.
What distinguishes those cases from this is that the powder they sent was benign, and the actual threat thus considerably diminished.
Now someone has sent genuine hazardous material that could have sickened Grijalva's staff.
Rep. Grijalva has already been the subject of death threats. Now it has escalated well beyond that.
This is some serious terrorism. It needs to be treated that way. Let's not let the media sweep this one under the carpet.
Rep. Grijalva is a friend of ours from many visits. Be sure and show him some support if you can.