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Congressman‘s Claim of ’Toxic Substance‘ in ’Domestic Terrorism’ Attack — Proved Wrong

October 23, 2010

CongressmanIn a little-reported story Thursday, a Tuscon-area office of Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., claimed to have received a suspicious piece of mail, subsequently closing down his Tuscon and Yuma offices and sparking the involvement of local police, the bomb squad and the FBI. Fortunately, Rep. Grijalva was reportedly not at the office at the time the package arrived. According to news accounts, the envelope arrived with swastikas drawn all over the outside and a white powdery substance on the inside.

Ironically, Grijalva — a co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus and four-term incumbent Democrat currently locked in a tight “toss up” battle to retain his House seat — appeared on a national news talk show earlier this week complaining about racist tactics being used in politics. Just days later, it seemed Grijalva himself had been a target of this negative rhetoric.

Adam Sarvana, Grijalva’s spokesman, told the local press Thursday that staffers were undergoing preliminary health checks and Grijalva himself declared the envelope of white powder “toxic.” Despite the FBI having yet to identify the substance, MSNBC.com reprinted Grijalva’s claim,reporting:

White powder delivered in an swastika-covered envelope to the Tucson, Ariz., office of Rep. Raul Grijalva is a toxic substance, the Democratic congressman said the FBI told him Thursday afternoon.

This seemingly racist threat also caught the eye of MSNBC host Keith Olbermann who interrupted his regular prime-time programming to feature Grijalva:

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Olbermann repeats the assumption that the substance was “confirmed toxic,” and Grijalva himself says the piece of mail put constituents and his staff in danger.

Further, Grijalva used Thursday’s events to confirm what he called a “disturbing pattern.”  Grijalva’s office has been targeted twice in the past, supposedly related to his outspoken opposition to Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law and his own subsequent calls for a boycott of his state.  In April his office reported having received death threats, and in July staffers say they found a bullet and a shattered window inside his Yuma office.

“We’re in a tough election… there is still room for a little bit of civility,” Grijalva told Olbermann.  “This is not the way the system works.  The system works by who‘s going to vote and how we’re going to vote on Nov. 2.  … This is unfortunately a disturbing trend that goes beyond anger; it goes toward anger and trying to hurt people.  I can’t even describe it.”

Olbermann asked Grijalva to confirm details of the case and the congressman confirms the presence of swastikas and that “this is a pattern.”  Olbermann then claimed Politico reported the substance as “toxic,” although Politico’s source on that theory appears to have been the congressman himself.  Grijalva responded that it has been confirmed as “toxic,” but it’s “level of toxicity” had yet to be determined.

Olbermann then opened the door for Grijalva to make a plug for his stance against SB 1070 where the congressman again asserted the bullying “is a pattern.”

Also weighing in on the issue Thursday was Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers who said he was disappointed in the level of discourse in politics, blaming the Grijalva office incident on the tea party and right-wing Republicans.  “It’s disappointing and I think it’s directly related to the level of rhetoric,” Rogers said.  “That kind of level of rhetoric is what leads people to do crazy things.  They have a responsibility to tamp this down and say we can have a civil discussion about the future of the country without screaming names and violence or threats of violence.”

Roger‘s direct assault on the tea party may be an attempt to link Grijalva’s tea party-backed opponent to the incident at his Tuscon office.  Ruth McClung is a conservative rocket scientist giving Grijalva and the Democrats heartburn in Arizona’s Seventh Congressional District.  McClung has since condemned the alleged threat on Grijalva’s office and added that violence or threats of violence against politicians are wrong.  “This is a democracy, this is about ideas. We should have a right to share our ideas and we should not be afraid to share our ideas regardless of what they are,” she said.

In response to Rogers’ accusations, Tuscon tea party organizer Trent Humphries said the tea party in no way advocates violence.

“I have to say it’s really interesting that when Democrats are most in trouble, something like this always happens,” he said, suggesting the incident was a political ploy.  “We aren’t sending out anything with swastikas or powder.  And as far as ‘inflamed rhetoric,’ all we’ve said is Raúl Grijalva is an idiot because he called for a boycott of his own state,” Humphries said.

On Friday, the FBI confirmed that the powdery substance was indeed not toxic and Politico quickly corrected the record, pointing out that this information contradicted Grijalva’s assertions.

Meanwhile, Congressman Grijalva appeared on a live MSNBC broadcast later in the day, but continued to claim the piece of mail was “toxic,“ insisting the incident was an act of ”domestic terrorism” — both ideas repeated by host Ed Schultz:

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Once again, Grijalva immediately directed attention to his own re-election race, specifically attacking his opponent’s campaign: “It’s a pattern of intimidation.  When you have a campaign filled with distortion, filled with division, where you feed hatred, then people feel, that are on the extreme, that they have impunity — that they can do something as stupid and as harsh as this,” Grijalva said.

Grijalva went on to not only inflate the severity of the situation, but to also indirectly accuse McClung’s campaign for the alleged attack.  “I’m in a tough race, I know that,” the Democrat said.  “But it’s a race about ideas, it’s a race about effort.  But to add insult to injury, to bring threats, to bring intimidation into the process, it needs to be condemned for what it is.  It’s domestic terrorism.”

Schultz went on to claim he didn’t want to “mischaracterize” the situation, and asked, “What is it about Raul Grijalva that they don’t like and why are you being targeted?”  Grijalva once again went on the stump outlining his campaign platform.

The day before the toxic envelope arrived at Grijalva’s Tuscon office, the Yuma Sun reported that two organizations — SEIU’s Mi Familia Vota and One Vote Arizona — had delivered 3,000 new voter registrations to the Yuma County Recorder‘s Office in Grijalva’s district.

On the same day the envelope arrived at Grijalva’s office, the County Recorder’s Office found more than 65 percent of these ballot registrations to be fraudulent, either belonging to individuals living in the country illegally or addressed incorrectly.  However the only story out of Arizona’s Seventh Congressional District to receive national media attention Friday was the mysterious envelope — coincidence?

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