The Road to Jan 6 Final

Christmas Day Bombing Raised Fears of Donald Trump Conspiracists as Terrorists

In this daily series, Newsweek explores the steps that led to the January 6 Capitol Riot.

At 5:30 a.m. on December 25, Christmas Day, a large mobile home detonated on a deserted stretch of 2nd Avenue North in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, nearly collapsing one building and damaging 41 others, shattering windows and sending shrapnel into the early morning street. Trees were knocked to the ground, and Second Avenue took on the charred look of a battleground.

Eight people were injured, including three bystanders who were hospitalized. Two Nashville police officers who had just arrived in the area after the RV broadcast warning messages also received minor injuries.

The message broadcast loudly was "This area must be evacuated now. If you can hear this message, evacuate now."

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Police close off an area damaged by an explosion on Christmas morning on December 25, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. Terry Wyatt/Getty

The RV was parked in front of 166 2nd Avenue, right outside an AT&T telephone exchange, also serving as a switching and transmission center. An AT&T spokesman said the company's network hub was damaged and cellphone and Internet services in the Nashville area, middle Tennessee and Kentucky were affected, reaching as far south as Alabama. 911 emergency services were disrupted in numerous cities and towns.

"Given the damage to our facility, it will take time to restore service," AT&T posted on its website. "We have already rerouted significant traffic from this facility and are bringing in other equipment, including numerous portable cell sites to the area."

Nashville Mayor John Cooper signed an executive order declaring a state of civil emergency and enacting a 4:30 p.m. curfew within the downtown area.

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Nashville Mayor John Cooper speaks during a news conference on the Christmas day bombing on December 26, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. Police are calling the explosion "an intentional act" and have found possible human remains after an RV, exploded on Christmas day injuring three people and causing destruction across several blocks in Nashville. TERRY WYATT / Stringer/Getty Images

K-9 teams searched around the area for bombs. Radiation monitors were brought in. Public transportation was suspended. Due to telecommunications outages, the FAA temporarily halted flights in and out of Nashville.

"Intentional bombing" said local NewsChannel 5.

"Some investigators are asking if there is a relationship between the Nashville bombing and the broader right-wing insurgent cause," terrorism analyst Laurie Mylroie wrote.

Former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe told CNN that an explosion of this size would be investigated as a possible act of terrorism. He speculated that police might have been the target of the explosion because of the broadcast. A Nashville police hazardous devices unit was on the way to the site before the RV exploded.

Bill Ryan, a retired detective and former member of the New York Police Department arson and explosions task force, told Fox News that the Nashville blast could be a "trial run" for a larger attack or "a standalone explosion."

The many threats to the telecommunications infrastructure, particularly 5G wireless technology, was the main hypothesis of FBI and homeland security analysts, given the conspiracy theories that had been voice connecting 5G to COVID.

"The anti-5G movement is strong, and its meld with anti-vaxxers and MAGA supporters is sure to cause many headaches in the months and years ahead," a homeland security analyst told Newsweek at the time.

Responding to the explosion, the U.S. Park Police in Washington DC wrote in an internal briefing: "While the exact motive behind the bombing remains unknown, there have been some social media postings concerning conspiracy theories stating that election data stored at the AT&T building was targeted by the bomber. ... the 25 December bombing should act as a vivid reminder as to the despair and the dedication to act that exists from a small minority of individuals concerning recent social and political events."

"One more event in Nashville's 2020," Mayor Cooper said. Nobody wanted more bad news for Christmas, that terrorism might be accompanying the "recent social and political events." A new consensus was emerging that conspiracy believers, COVID deniers and pro-Trump forces were terrorists or potential terrorists, particularly when these broad groups were seen as a unified mass of gun-owning white supremacists.

Enormous resources were devoted to investigating the Nashville bombing, with over 250 FBI agents on the scene by the weekend—a reminder that, after the fact, the FBI and other domestic agencies were very good at their job.

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A recreational vehicle exploded in downtown Nashville, Tennessee on Christmas morning causing communications disruptions and damage to surrounding buildings. Metro Nashville Police Department/Getty

Forensic tests of human remains recovered from the RV, as well as the VIN number of the mobile home, confirmed that Anthony Quinn Warner, 63, of Antioch, Tennessee, was the likely perpetrator. He had died in the explosion.

The FBI would later say that Warner's actions "were determined to not be related to terrorism."

"Based on analysis of the information and evidence gathered throughout the investigation, the FBI assesses Warner's detonation of the improvised explosive device was an intentional act in an effort to end his own life, driven in part by a totality of life stressors—including paranoia, long-held individualized beliefs adopted from several eccentric conspiracy theories, and the loss of stabilizing anchors and deteriorating interpersonal relationships," the FBI said. "The FBI's analysis did not reveal indications of a broader ideological motive to use violence to bring about social or political change, nor does it reveal indications of a specific personal grievance focused on individuals or entities in and around the location of the explosion."