‘Consider This A Light Warning,’ Alleged Arsonist Warned In Note To Texas Dems

TPM Illustration/ U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas/ Austin Fire Department
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October 4, 2021 4:19 p.m.

In the aftermath of an alleged attempted arson aimed at the Travis County, Texas Democratic Party headquarters last Wednesday, investigators said they recovered a note from the remnants of the blaze. 

The note read like a bitter country song, telling Democrats that they could “have” various territory — “the financials of New York, the mountains of Colorado, even the sweet peaches of Georgia” — but not the Lone Star State. 

“But one thing you cant have is TEXAS,” the note read. “Consider this a ‘light’ warning.” 

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas

Ryan Faircloth, a 30-year-old Austin resident, was arrested Friday on suspicion of setting the fire, which covered a few square feet near the office’s door before a neighbor quickly helped put it out. Law enforcement said that the implied threat of future attacks spurred officers to move quickly. 

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“In case this suspect was planning further attacks, we could go ahead and get him off the street to prevent that,” Captain Jeffrey Deane of the Austin Fire Department’s arson investigation division said in a press conference.

“There was additional concern that he would continue to try to commit terrorist acts to get attention,” Katie Naranjo, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, told TPM in a phone interview Monday. In a press conference the morning after the attack, Deane said it appeared the same person behind the Democratic Party headquarters attack had been behind a vandalism incident the same night at the Granger Building, which houses county prosecutors. 

After initially facing state charges of second-degree felony arson and third-degree felony prohibited weapon, Faircloth was charged in a federal criminal complaint with a single charge of arson and attempted arson, according to online court records. He was not charged in connection to the Granger Building vandalism. It was not clear at press time whether Faircloth had legal representation.

“I look forward to the criminal justice system defending and protecting our right to vote from any terrorist attack, and expect for him to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Naranjo told TPM Monday after learning of the federal charge. 

Things could have been much worse: Had it not been for an employee at the bar across the street who extinguished the fire before authorities arrived, “we wouldn’t have come back to an office,” Naranjo said. 

Surveillance video provided by the party to investigators and the media showed a man in an American flag bandana sauntering up to the office’s glass front door and then throwing something through it.

Then, the man was seen throwing “a lit object” and an unlit Molotov cocktail, according to an Austin Police Department detective’s affidavit. He allegedly returned a few minutes later and threw another “object on fire” through the window.

Naranjo said that arson investigators had collected samples of “projectiles” scattered around the office that she believed were from a firework.

“There are things stuck in walls and in our ceiling,” she said. “Small black and grey pieces.” 

A spokesperson for the Austin Fire Department, Michelle Tanzola, confirmed to TPM that investigators had collected the samples Naranjo described.

The police detective’s affidavit said three tipsters identified Faircloth as a possible perpetrator of the arson. Authorities said they subsequently matched Faircloth’s truck to a truck spotted at the scene. 

At Faircloth’s home, investigators allegedly recovered fireworks, as well as a notepad and tape consistent with the note found at the scene — and “written material with similar verbiage to the one left at the scene.” 

Faircloth also offered a confession, according to the affidavit, admitting to assembling the Molotov cocktail and confirming “his participation in the events described above from the surveillance video.” 

For her part, Naranjo said the attempted arson was part of a string of incidents, including a previous vandalism incident and ongoing threats and harassment.

“We’ve had staff members harassed and spit at when they were out doing voter education,” she said. 

Party staff were rattled by the attack, Naranjo said, but the county party and its supporters were also committed to getting to work. 

“If anything, the terrorist lit a fire under a lot of folks who’ve been waiting on the sidelines,” she said. “Seeing that attack personally on a county party made them realize that they do have power, because people wouldn’t attack you if you didn’t have power.” 

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