The Fulton County Republican Party headquarters in Sandy Springs received a threatening letter containing a white powder on June 21.
The powder turned out to be harmless Arm & Hammer baking soda, but only after safety officials sealed off the North Buckhead home of party chairman William “Trey” Kelly III to examine the letter.
The incident follows similar powder-containing packages and threats delivered June 15 to Roswell Republican Karen Handel and several of her neighbors, days before she won the 6th Congressional District seat. Those packages arrived the day after a Democratic activist with a violent rap sheet opened fire on Republican officials at a Virginia baseball practice, severely wounding U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana). U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, whose district includes parts of Buckhead and Sandy Springs, was at the baseball practice, but escaped unharmed.
Gabriel Sterling, a Republican political consultant who serves on the Sandy Springs City Council and is running for Fulton County chairman, said the powder threats are unprecedented in local campaigns, where historically, “worst was, people would steal yard signs.”
“It’s just sad when we get to the point where people on either side are out there trying to make things better, and someone who’s not right is trying to scare people, out of political disagreement,” Sterling said.
According to an Atlanta Police Department incident report, the threatening mail was addressed from Greenville, S.C., and was found June 21 at the party headquarters in the Parkside Shopping Center at 5920 Roswell Road near Hammond Drive. Kelly picked up the mail at the office that afternoon.
“He stated he felt a noticeable powder substance inside one of the letters,” the police report says.
Kelly placed the mail in his car and drove to his home on North Stratford Road in Buckhead and notified authorities.
“The scene was secured and neighbors were told to return indoors until it was safe,” the police report says. The Atlanta Fire Department examined the package, finding it contained baking soda, and spoke with Kelly to make sure he was not having any health problems.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also arrived and investigated the scene.
The suspect is described as “unknown” and “Asian” in the APD report.
Sterling said he frequently joined a diverse array of volunteers at the Fulton GOP headquarters in recent weeks to work for Handel in her battle with Democrat Jon Ossoff. He noted the race drew national attention, and along with that, some “intensity and hatred.”
Sterling said much of the recent political threats, local and national, have targeted Republicans, but that such behavior comes from both parties, and “it’s all wrong.” He said that in the days before the Congressional runoff election, he met some young volunteers for Ossoff and congratulated them, and he now fears that such threats could discourage young people from participating in campaigns.
Sterling also said officials must stay wary of potential threats, “because you don’t know if this is just some unhinged person sitting in a basement, or if this is real.”
The mailing of letters containing powder has been a relatively common method of terrorizing and threatening people since the 2001 “Amerithrax” case, where someone mailed powdered anthrax, a biological weapon, to U.S. senators, media outlets and others, killing five people.
The Fulton GOP could not be reached for immediate comment.