The following is from the affidavit appealing for a reduced sentence submitted by the lawyers for Cesar Sayoc, the man accused of sending fake pipe bombs to dozens of top Democrats at the time of the 2018 elections. See editors’ comment at end.
Federal Defenders of New York, Inc. Southern District
The Honorable Jed S. Rakoff United States District Judge, Southern District of New York
July 22, 2019
Dear Judge Rakoff:
A series of traumatic events pushed Cesar Sayoc further and further into the margins of society. Kind-hearted and eager to please, Mr. Sayoc was born with cognitive limitations and severe learning disabilities that made it difficult for him to maintain relationships and succeed in school. As a boy, he was abandoned by his father and sexually abused by a teacher at his Catholic school. As a man, he became increasingly estranged from his family and dependent on drugs, particularly steroids. He lost everything in the Great Recession. By 2018, he was living alone in a decrepit and cramped van that had been his home for more than a decade. A typical day saw Mr. Sayoc waking up in his van, showering at the gym, and cooking crockpot meals while inside the DJ booth of a strip club before heading off to his second job delivering pizza. As he grew older and more isolated, excessive steroid use increased his feelings of anxiety and paranoia.
In this darkness, Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump. His infatuation with the President began as something personal, not political. When he was most down, Mr. Sayoc relied on self-help books on tape to keep going. Donald Trump’s books on success and business were his favorites. Mr. Sayoc was an ardent Trump fan and, when Trump announced he was running for President, Mr. Sayoc enthusiastically supported him. He began watching Fox News religiously at the gym, planning his morning workout to coincide with Fox and Friends and his evenings to dovetail with Hannity. Mr. Sayoc’s family had historically been Democrats and this was Mr. Sayoc’s first foray into politics. He firmly believed in Donald Trump the person and wanted him to be President. To that end, Mr. Sayoc passionately championed the President on social media and at rallies and covered his van with stickers supporting President Trump and criticizing his political opponents. Through these actions, Mr. Sayoc found the sense of community that he had been missing for so many years.
Mr. Sayoc was enthusiastic and credulous. Because of his cognitive limitations and mental illness, he believed outlandish reports in the news and on social media, which increasingly made him unhinged. He became obsessed with “attacks” from those he perceived as Trump’s enemies. He believed stories shared on Facebook that Trump supporters were being beaten in the streets. He came to believe that he was being personally targeted for supporting Trump: Mr. Sayoc thought that anti-Trump forces were trying to hurt him and they were to blame when his van was vandalized.
In the lead up to the 2018 mid-term elections, Mr. Sayoc became increasingly obsessive, paranoid, and angry. He conflated his personal situation with the perceived struggles of Trump supporters across the country, and even the President himself. His paranoia bled into delusion and Mr. Sayoc came to believe that prominent Democrats were actively working to hurt him, other Trump supporters, and the country as a whole. Mr. Sayoc became obsessed with this idea and found himself unable to think of anything else. He repeatedly lashed out at Democrats on social media in vitriolic terms. He then decided to act out—to send a message, to try to intimidate and scare Trump’s perceived enemies. 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. Mr. Sayoc constructed devices designed to look like pipe bombs and mailed them to prominent Democrats. In Mr. Sayoc’s mind, he was sending a hoax device, and he had no true grasp of the severity of his crimes or the potential ramifications of his actions. Now, nearly a year later, he understands how deeply wrong his actions were, and he is truly sorry for sending these packages.
Mr. Sayoc is 57 years old. He has no prior history of actual violence against others. In real life, he is almost uniformly described as friendly and affable, in sharp contrast to the tone of his online posts. He has a steady work history. He was a devoted son and grandson before his recent personal disintegration created distance between himself and his family. Nonetheless, his family remains supportive of him and willing to assist in his rehabilitation. Both Dr. Harrison G. Pope, Jr., M.D., a leading psychiatrist and expert in the field of steroid use, and Dr. Michael First, M.D., an expert in clinical psychiatry, believe Mr. Sayoc’s actions here were the product of his long-untreated mental illness, compounded by excessive steroid use. See Exs. A & C.The packages that Mr. Sayoc mailed were not functional as bombs and it was unlikely that they would have exploded. In fact, no one was physically injured by these offenses. All of these factors militate in favor of a below-Guidelines sentence: Mr. Sayoc does not deserve or need to die in prison.
For all of the reasons described below, we ask the Court to impose a total sentence of 121 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a substantial period of community supervision.
Editors comment: The story brings to mind our statement “Defining Hard Crackers,” which begins:
1. Modern American society is a ticking time-bomb where an impending social explosion is hinted at by everyday violence of all kinds— the abuse of children; physical and sexual attacks by men against women, against other men and against those who do not conform to conventional images of men and women; the mistreatment of animals; suicides; street shootings and occasional but frequent mass shootings in places like schools and entertainment events. The violence is accompanied by a widespread sense of dread that something awful may very well happen to all of us.
2. This state of affairs demands an explanation—not one about tormented minds or evil souls but one that makes sense of the fact that many individuals are coming to grips or, perhaps more precisely, failing to come to grips with the real circumstances of their lives.
The question for us is not “why did he do what he did” but “why don’t more people do the same?” Both life in prison and ten years plus community supervision seem excessive for doing what probably many others would like to do.