Cesar Sayoc: What We Know
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Authorities have a man in custody after improvised explosives were mailed across the country this week to at least a dozen high-profile Democrats and critics of President Trump. Cesar Sayoc, a 56-year-old man with a long history of legal trouble, is in custody. He was arrested near Miami yesterday. There are still many unanswered questions. And we're going to put some to NPR's national security correspondent Greg Myre in Fort Lauderdale. Greg, thanks so much for being with us.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: And what's the latest in the case?
MYRE: Well, Cesar Sayoc is in the Federal Detention Center in Miami. We expect him to appear in court on Monday. He's facing five federal charges, including mailing explosive devices. And this could add up to 48 years in prison if convicted. Now, the FBI's still looking for, potentially, more explosives out there. They want to know things like - did he act alone? - and, quite frankly, still, the motive. How did he make these devices while he was apparently living in a van? And maybe even the larger question of how one person with no resources put the nation on edge for a week.
SIMON: And what have authorities learned about Mr. Sayoc, once more, and that van that seemed to be the center of so much?
MYRE: Yeah, this van - it's a white van covered with stickers. It's sort of this bizarre collage of pro-Trump and anti-democrat and anti-CNN stickers. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are in crosshairs. Now, we know Sayoc attended some Trump rallies. He had signs. He had a red MAGA hat - Make America Great Again - very harsh on social media against Democrats. Twitter took down some of his posts. And just for years and years, very troubled guy, arrested at least eight times - things like theft and fraud. He was a registered Republican. But authorities are stressing they're not assigning a motive to his alleged defenses so far.
SIMON: And he wasn't in hiding. He was out and about in public at this critical time when he must have known people - certainly knew people were looking for him. What can you tell us about that?
MYRE: Yeah. He really liked to hang out in two particular places - the gym and strip clubs. He was an avid weight lifter for many years. And the videos and photos that we've seen so far show this husky guy with a buzz cut and this sort of wisp of a ponytail. He's almost always dressed in these tight, sleeveless T-shirts. And, in fact, part of his legal troubles are linked to selling steroids at gyms. And he also worked at strip clubs. And on Thursday night and even into Friday morning, just hours before he was arrested, he was working as a DJ at the Ultra strip club in West Palm Beach. And he got picked up shortly after he finished that night shift.
SIMON: You've spoken with people who know him. What do they tell you?
MYRE: So Ron Lowry is a former attorney who - is an attorney who formerly represented Sayoc in several cases. He says he still represents the family and saw them Friday. And he described them as very distraught. And he says Sayoc is estranged from them now. He said the cases he dealt with were routine - shoplifting, changing his driver's license to look a little bit younger. He really believes Sayoc has mental issues that the family wanted addressed. But Sayoc resisted. Here's what he had to say.
RON LOWRY: He refused to even get diagnosed. But his family and anyone who interacts with him can see he suffers from something.
MYRE: And he described one incident back in 2002 where a power company was threatening to shut off the lights. And Sayoc threatened a bombing against them, got a year's probation for that. Lowry says he's been living in this van for years. And he called him a little boy in a man's body.
SIMON: And I gather you talked to somebody who met him coming out of that gym.
MYRE: Right. We talked to a guy named Sergio Menesis. And he said he met Sayoc in a parking lot. And they were parked nearby. And they struck up a conversation. And he noticed that distinctive van. But he said, very quickly, the conversation had a political edge. And Sayoc started talking about how Democrats were ruining the country. And according to Menesis, here's what Sayoc had to say about the president.
SERGIO MENESIS: Trump is going to fix this because these immigrants are taking over America. And it's really ruining the lives for those that are true Americans.
MYRE: So Menesis said he didn't really think Sayoc struck him as a violent person or would act out on this. And he sort of put it aside until events of yesterday.
SIMON: NPR security correspondent Greg Myre, thanks so much for being with us.
MYRE: Thank you, Scott.
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