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A year later, Capitol Hill pipe-bomb case takes on new significance

The Capitol Hill pipe-bomb case is taking on new significance, in part due to new revelations, and also because of Trump's conspiracy theories.
Image:headquarters of the Democratic National Committee
The headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, on June 14, 2016.Gary Cameron / Reuters file

There was considerable attention yesterday on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and for good reason. It was a dramatic and deadly assault on our democracy, and one of the most important acts of domestic political violence in generations.

But let's not forget about the crimes of Jan. 5, which also took on renewed significance yesterday. NBC News reported:

Kamala Harris, then the vice president-elect, was at the Democratic National Committee headquarters when a pipe bomb was found outside on Jan. 6, 2021, according to three people familiar with the matter. "She was there until she was evacuated," said a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

A Politico report added that Capitol Police began investigating the pipe bomb at 1:07 p.m. It was seven minutes later when Harris was evacuated from the DNC headquarters, which is roughly a half-mile from the Capitol building.

Fortunately, no one was harmed, but the revelations were unsettling: A fully functional pipe bomb was placed just outside a building filled with many people, including the then-vice-president-elect.

What's more, a similarly dangerous pipe bomb was also left outside the Republican National Committee the night of Jan. 5 — the day before radicalized pro-Trump followers attacked the Capitol.

The information about the degree to which Harris was in danger is new, but the questions surrounding the explosive devices are not. Indeed, MSNBC's Chris Hayes noted earlier this week how extraordinary it is that officials "never caught the person who planted pipe bombs outside the DNC and RNC."

NBC News reported soon after that the FBI is still investigating who planted the bombs, but one year later, it doesn't have any suspects.

That's not for lack of effort. In March, the FBI released videos to the public, showing footage of the apparent bomber. In September, additional videos were released, with the hopes that it would generate information that might lead to an arrest. (The suspect was hard to see: He or she was wearing a mask and hood, but agents hoped someone might have been able to recognize the person's gait, body language, or other mannerisms.)

To be sure, the investigation will almost certainly continue, and in theory, we can take some comfort in knowing there's nothing especially partisan or ideological about the story. Both parties' headquarters were targeted, and both sides of the political divide have an interest in seeing the suspected bomber in custody.

That is, in theory. In practice, Donald Trump has peddled weird conspiracy theories about this, too.

"This pipe bomber or bomber — who knows if it was a pipe, who knows what it was — they never found him?" the former president said a few weeks ago. "I've seen pictures of them, and very clear pictures. And you know that they do have cameras — not just a camera, they have many cameras on every corner. And I would imagine they probably know who he was, and I guarantee he wasn't one of the people that were at that [Jan. 6] protest for the right reason."

The Republican went on to say, "Why aren't they finding this pipe bomber and how come other people haven't been revealed? Because I think that were more than just — let's call them MAGA people.... You have BLM and you had antifa people, I had very little doubt about that, and they were antagonizing and they were agitating."

To the extent that reality matters, nearly everything Trump said was factually wrong. But it was a reminder there's very little the former president can't incorporate into a ridiculous conspiracy theory.