Hollywood megastar Robert De Niro and former US vice president Joe Biden were the latest targets on Thursday of a spree of 10 devices and pipe bombs sent to opponents of Donald Trump as the president lashed out at the media for stirring up “anger”.
The FBI, US Secret Service and police were conducting a nationwide manhunt for the culprit or network of people behind at least 10 suspect packages that politicians on both sides of the aisle have branded terrorism.
Democrats accuse the Republican head of state of inciting violence after crude, homemade bombs were addressed to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, CNN and other figures who are loathed by Trump supporters.
On Thursday, a police bomb squad removed a similar-looking device, also treated as explosives, that was sent to double Oscar-winner De Niro at the TriBeCa Productions company he co-founded in New York.
The 75-year-old star famously used an expletive to condemn Trump at the televised Tony Awards last June, receiving a standing ovation. During the 2016 campaign, the actor slammed the Republican as “blatantly stupid”.
Two additional packages were addressed to Obama’s former vice-president, Joe Biden, often rumoured as a potential Democratic presidential candidate for 2020, in Delaware, the FBI confirmed.
The mail-bomb spree began on Monday with a device found at the New York home of billionaire liberal donor George Soros.
So far no one has been hurt.
With the US bitterly divided and crucial midterm elections on November 6, Trump reacted first by calling for unity and condemning “acts of political violence”, before reverting to attacks on the media.
“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” Trump tweeted.
“It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
“The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and stop the endless hostility and constant negative, and often times false attacks and stories,” he told a campaign rally late Wednesday.
Liberal critics accuse Trump’s rhetoric-laden “Make America Great Again” presidency of emboldening right-wing extremists. He recently endorsed the body-slamming of a reporter, routinely denounces the press as “fake news” and has leveled toxic remarks in the past against the pipe bomb targets.
All the packages were sent in manila envelopes with bubble wrap, marked with computer-printed address labels. Each listed Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, as the sender, including misspellings of her last name, the FBI said.
“I believe there is someone by definition a serial bomber, yes, and a terrorist,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN on Thursday.
“Person or people, foreign or domestic –we don’t know. And we don’t know if they’re here or elsewhere in the country.”
Former CIA director John Brennan, who was the addressee of the pipe bomb sent to CNN, on Thursday assailed Trump for attacking the media.
“Stop blaming others. Look in the mirror. Your inflammatory rhetoric, insults, lies, & encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful,” he tweeted. “Your critics will not be intimidated into silence.
The White House was forced Thursday to defend the president over accusations that he was not taking the attempted bombings seriously enough.
“We condemn violence in all forms. This is a despicable act and certainly something that should never take place in America,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News.
Top Democrat lawmakers Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have accused Trump of condoning “physical violence and dividing Americans.”
CNN president Jeff Zucker, whose employees were forced to evacuate their New York bureau on Wednesday by the discovery of the pipe bomb in the mail room, slammed the White House for its “complete lack of understanding” about “the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media.”
The FBI has appealed to members of the public to come forward with any information they may have as police study CCTV footage that may help identify couriers who dropped off the packages.
There has been no claim of responsibility and no one was yet known to have been arrested.
The Secret Service said the Clinton and Obama packages were “identified during routine mail screening procedures” and that neither were ever at risk of receiving them.
Soros, the target of the first device, has long been a hate figure for right-wing groups and lives in Bedford, New York, not far from the Clintons.
The 88-year-old is one of the world’s richest men and supported Clinton in 2016.
He has been accused by nationalists of sponsoring protests and of seeking to push a liberal, multicultural agenda.