NEW YORK: Critics of Donald Trump accused him of inciting violence after pipe bombs were sent to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, CNN and other figures that are loathed by the president's supporters.
With midterm elections less than two weeks away, Trump reacted Wednesday (Oct 24) to the rapid fire spate of bomb alerts by first calling for unity, but then reverting to attacking the media.
CNN is known for its often critical coverage of the Trump administration and has constantly provoked the ire of the president, who defeated Clinton in 2016 to succeed Obama.
From the White House, Trump first said "acts of political violence" have "no place in the United States."
"Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective," he later told a campaign rally in Wisconsin, before switching his criticism back to the media.
"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 added. "They've got to stop."
#MAGABomber trended as users flooded Twitter with accusations that Trump had incited the attempted attacks and highlighting the toxic remarks he has leveled against the pipe bomb targets in the past.
The spree began Monday with a device found at the New York home of billionaire liberal donor George Soros.
The FBI said a total of seven suspicious packages were sent in New York, Washington and Florida, including to Obama's attorney general Eric Holder and two to Maxine Waters, a California lawmaker, one in Los Angeles and one in the Washington area.
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.
The return address included misspellings of Wasserman Schultz's last name, the FBI said.
A photo of the device sent to CNN showed it to be a short length of pipe wrapped in black tape, with wires sticking out of either end.
Another suspicious package addressed to former vice president Joe Biden was also intercepted, ABC News reported Wednesday night. The FBI said it could not confirm this.
FBI Director Christopher Wray appealed for help from the public, saying, "We ask anyone who may have information to contact the FBI. Do not hesitate to call; no piece of information is too small to help us in this investigation."
"FALSE ATTACKS AND STORIES"
Liberal and left-wing critics accuse Trump's rhetoric-laden "Make America Great Again" presidency of emboldening right-wing extremists. He has endorsed the body-slamming of a reporter and denounces critical press.
"There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media," said CNN president Jeff Zucker.
"Words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that."
CNN evacuated its New York bureau after the pipe bomb was found in the mailroom together with an envelope containing white powder. A bomb squad secured the device, police said.
The packaging was addressed care of CNN to former CIA director John Brennan, who has appeared on the channel as a guest and is perhaps Trump's toughest critic from the national security community.
The Secret Service intercepted the package addressed to Clinton at the home she shares with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, north of Manhattan on Tuesday, and a second package addressed to Obama's Washington home on Wednesday.
There has been no claim of responsibility and no one was yet known to have been arrested.
Top Democrat lawmakers Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer accused Trump of condoning "physical violence and dividing Americans."
"EFFORT TO TERRORISE"
"It's a time of deep divisions, and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together," said Clinton, who has remained an outspoken political force despite her stunning loss to Trump in 2016.
The Secret Service said the packages were "identified during routine mail screening procedures" and that neither Clinton or Obama were ever at risk of receiving them.
Republican lawmakers followed the White House in issuing condemnations.
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 seeking to push a liberal, multicultural agenda.
Trump has accused Soros of paying demonstrators opposed to Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was almost derailed after he was accused of attempted rape as a teenager.