Racist charged in mail threat

Sammamish man allegedly sent letter containing a powdery substance

Seattle Post-Intelligencer/December 15, 2001
By Sam Skolnik

A Sammamish white supremacist faces life in prison for allegedly mailing a letter that contained a light-brown powdery substance feared to have been anthrax.

U.S. Magistrate John Weinberg allowed the rarely used felony charge of "threatened use of certain weapons of mass destruction" against Donald Bruce McAninch to stand, concluding that even though the powder was non-toxic, the letter "was a threat, even if no words were said" to use such a weapon.

McAninch -- convicted a decade ago for sending death threats to President George H. Bush and conducting a mail fraud scheme targeting minorities -- sat silently as the criminal counts were read yesterday in U.S. District Court.

McAninch, 45, also faces mail theft and mail fraud charges in what federal agents describe in court papers as a hate campaign against several minority citizens and groups, as well as mixed-race couples.

In the most serious charge, prosecutors claim that McAninch sent the letter containing baker's yeast to Norma Ling, a vice president of a Seattle-based commercial real estate company. According to a complaint filed Monday by an FBI agent, Ling received the standard-sized envelope at her home on Oct. 11.

The envelope was addressed to her in "a distinctive, block style of printed handwriting," according to the complaint, and the return address was bogus.

Ling brought the envelope to her office in downtown Seattle, where her secretary opened it. Some co-workers panicked when they saw the contents, and Ling took it to the Seattle Police Arson/Bomb Squad. The fire department's Hazardous Materials unit was brought in, and all normal operations were shut down on that floor of the city's Public Safety Building.

The substance tested negative for anthrax or any other chemical or biological hazard.

Ling is Caucasian. Her husband, Thomas Ling, is a Chinese-born naturalized American citizen. She could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The complaint also claims that from Sept. 1998 through this month, McAninch sent out racist and anti-Semitic letters and cartoons, and sometimes included pornographic pictures.

Most of the letters were sent to non-Caucasian people and groups, including the Seattle Office of Civil Rights and a local Jewish Community Center. The Caucasian recipients were often people who wrote letters to newspapers in support of civil rights.

McAninch also has been charged with sending unsolicited magazine subscriptions.

Oscar Eason, president of the Seattle chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was one of the victims, according to the complaint. His name and address, agents say, also was used as the return address on some of the hate letters.

Eason said yesterday that someone had for years been sending hate mail to Jewish households in Seward Park and elsewhere -- with his name and return address. The letters would include swastikas and passages from Hitler's Mein Kampf. And after Sept. 11, Eason said, the same person started sending hate letters to local Arab households in his name.

Moreover, the culprit "subscribed me to just about every magazine in the country," Eason said. "What he's been doing is a form of mental terrorism. He made my life an unpleasant existence ..."

At the hearing yesterday, Tom Hillier, McAninch's defense lawyer, asked that the anthrax-threat charge be scrapped because it was a hoax involving no dangerous materials.

"The statute clearly does not contemplate what is happening here, that is, the use of a fake substance," he said. "There was nothing on that envelope that said, 'Anthrax, be scared.'"

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Gonzalez countered that given the media exposure to terrorist-related anthrax deaths around the country, "when you include a powdered substance in a letter, that is an implied threat."

Magistrate Weinberg agreed.

McAninch was sentenced to 30 months in prison in Nov. 1991 after pleading guilty to mailing two death threats to President Bush in the names of two other men. He also had admitted to harassing minorities and civil rights-sympathizers by posing as them and having their power turned off, and by sending scores of unsolicited magazines to their homes.

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