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Potential pipe bomb packages likely product of political climate, extremist researcher says

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

LAWRENCE — Authorities as of Wednesday morning have intercepted suspicious packages reportedly containing pipe bombs sent to the homes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Democratic donor George Soros as well as one addressed to the White House, according to national news reports.

A University of Kansas researcher who studies extremist groups said the divisive political climate has likely contributed to the potential for these types of actions.

Don Haider-Markel, professor and chair of the KU Department of Political Science, is available to discuss the response to the suspicious packages. Haider-Markel researches extremist groups, terrorism, public policy and American politics.

"It's difficult to say how serious this is without knowing more about the devices. Because the package to Soros did not explode when opened, my guess is these are fairly simple devices," Haider-Markel said. "It would be difficult to argue that the attempted bombings are not reflective of the current divisive political environment."

He said there are recent examples of extremists sending packages in an attempt to harm others, dating back to anarchist Theodore Kaczynski, known as "The Unabomber," who killed three people and injured 23 others between 1978 and 1995. Politicians and others were targeted in 2001 with the anthrax scare as well.

"In addition, the widespread conspiracy theories on the right and the left encourage the rise of extremists that are willing to act on their beliefs," said Haider-Markel, who also cited the 2017 shooting at a baseball practice that targeted Republican members of Congress, including seriously injuring Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

To arrange an interview with Haider-Markel, contact George Diepenbrock at gdiepenbrock@ku.edu or 785-864-8853.