The Florida man who sent a series of explosive packages to prominent Democrats and critics of the president last year became radicalized off of daily consumption of Fox News, Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, and conspiracy theories on the internet, his attorneys said.
In a sentencing memo filed Monday, attorneys for Cesar Altieri Sayoc, 57, said their client struggled with steroid abuse, “cognitive limitations and mental illness” that made him susceptible to “outlandish reports in the news and on social media.”
As a result, Sayoc came to believe that “prominent Democrats were actively working to hurt him, other Trump supporters, and the country as a whole” — an idea that was reinforced by what he heard on Fox News and from the president himself.
“He then decided to act out — to send a message, to try to intimidate and scare Trump’s perceived enemies,” his attorneys wrote in the memo. “After months suffering from these delusional beliefs and while using large doses of steroids, his heightened paranoia and anger pushed him to commit these offenses.”
Sayoc was arrested in October after authorities said he had mailed 16 explosive packages to 13 intended targets, including Hillary Clinton, Rep. Maxine Waters, and former president Barack Obama. None of the packages detonated, but the discovery of the devices over the course of several days heightened tensions across the country.
He pleaded guilty in March to a total of 65 felony counts in connection with the threat, including 16 counts of using a weapon of mass destruction and illegal mailing of explosives with the intent to kill or injure.
In their sentencing memo, Sayoc’s attorneys described him as a man who grew increasingly “isolated” and abused steroids, which further fueled “his feelings of anxiety and paranoia.”
“In this darkness, Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump,” the attorneys wrote.
When Trump announced he was running for president, Sayoc “enthusiastically supported him” and began watching Fox News religiously and planning his day around watching Fox and Friends in the morning and primetime host Sean Hannity in the evening.
He championed Trump on social media at rallies and covered the van that he had lived in for more than a decade in a collage of pro-Trump and conspiratorial stickers.
He joined hundreds of right-wing Facebook groups that promoted conspiracy theories and the idea that Trump’s critics were “dangerous, unpatriotic, and evil.” Sayoc also was “an avid follower” of the president’s Twitter account where Trump “posted prolifically about his political enemies, including all of the recipients of Mr. Sayoc’s mailings,” according to the court documents.
“Mr. Sayoc was particularly susceptible to believing these dubious stories of
Democratic malfeasance,” his attorneys wrote. “The combination of his cognitive deficiencies, steroid induced delusional thinking, political naiveté, and his isolation resulted in Mr. Sayoc being unable to critically evaluate these claims.”
Sayoc sincerely believed conspiracy theories that cast Democrats as evil and suggested that “Trump supporters were in danger because of them.”
“The world of conspiracy and danger blurred with Mr. Sayoc’s real life, and he
believed liberals, under the direction of Democratic leaders, sought to harm and kill
him because of his support for Donald Trump,” his attorneys said.
Sayoc is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 12. His attorneys are asking the court to give him 121 months in prison, while federal prosecutors are seeking a life sentence.