TELLING STORIES, CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

FBI says TV personality, Lisa Durden was on hit list of mail package bomber Cesar Sayroc

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Black woman commentator and Ark Republic contributor finds out that she was on the radar of Florida mail bombing suspect.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation alerted pop culture and political analyst, Lisa Durden with shocking news — her name was on the short list of suspected bomber, Cesar Altieri Sayoc, Jr. as a potential target.

Recently, authorities arrested Sayoc for allegedly mailing over a dozen packaged bombs to notable persons, their businesses and popular cable news channel, CNN. Durden’s name is amongst political and entertainment high-profilers such as Republican strategist Ana Navarro, former US President Barack Obama, actor Robert De Niro and billionaire George Soros.

“That white, racist, asshat was about to put a bomb up my ass and blow the whole building,” says Durden who received a call from her father, John Durden, while on a shoot for a documentary a little over two weeks ago.

“My father said, ‘Lisa the FBI is here.’ I said ‘The FBI is there?’ Then I thought, ‘Oh, shoot, what did I do?’”

While dad-and-daughter live in Newark, New Jersey, they reside in different homes; however, FBI agents came to the parent’s address. When agents finally spoke to her, they asked to meet.

Later, the TV personality met with two male agents, who disclosed that Sayoc named her as a possible mark. She says that the two agents explained: “We caught him and scrubbed his computer and there were additional names and your’s was one of them.”

The Washington Post reported that Sayoc drafted a list tallying 100 potential targets. A man with a history of criminal offenses including a previous bomb threat accusation, Sayoc was also a Donald Trump supporter who reportedly expressed racist and homophobic views.

At a press conference detailing the investigation on the failed bombing attacks and the possible threat of more, FBI Director, Christopher Wray said, “There may be other packages in transit now—other packages on the way. So we need the help of everyone out there—every citizen, every law enforcement partner, everyone we’ve got—to help with this investigation in the days to come.”

According to Durden, agents told her that they “don’t know if the guy sent [her] something before they arrested him and its forthcoming [or they] don’t know if the guy has somebody helping him out.”

Fox in the henhouse

When Durden inquired about Sayoc’s reasons for naming her, she says that the agents claimed it was because of an appearance she made on a June 2017 segment of Fox News show, Tucker Carlson Tonight.

Durden went tête-à-tête with Carlson in a debate about Black Lives Matter disinviting whites to a Memorial Day party. Durden defended the group’s right to hold an exclusive private event.

In a retort to Carlson, Durden said, “Boo-hoo-hoo, you white people are angry because you couldn’t use your ‘white privilege’ card to get invited to the Black Lives Matter’s all-black Memorial Day celebration.”

Carlson called her “demented” and “hostile and separatist and crazy.” Almost instantly, the video went viral amassing millions of views across social media platforms.

Shortly after her appearance, someone created a whites-only, anti-Durden group on Facebook. Durden, who describes its members as ‘fascists’ said that she joined, but was quickly kicked out of the online collective once administrators discovered her identity.

One of Durden’s white colleagues enlisted in the group and remained a member until they took their page down. While the anti-Durden social media page was up, her insider-ally reported back that the overarching sentiment towards Durden was violent.

“A guy in a video [on the Facebook group] said that he was going to kill me,” tells Durden who also details that someone posted her personal address. During this period, she began to receive calls from people she believes were members.

“Somebody from the group was calling my home number from a Florida area code,” she recalls.

Ironically, Durden is currently a weekly A Plus panel contributor on “Chasing News,” a news and talk show owned by Fox Television. The format converges traditional broadcasting with commentary by panelists.

Known for her searing critiques and bold statements, Durden is quite familiar with heated dialogue that often happens during discussions. Nonetheless, she still expresses shock over being a possible bombing target.

Says Durden. “These kind of white people exist because I stood up for myself, while the president of the US puts babies in cages.”
The sword cuts both ways

The sword cuts both ways

The anti-Durden Facebook group and online trolls were not the only people upset about Durden’s remarks on Fox news. She also received backlash from an employer.

At the time of her controversial Fox news debate, Durden worked as an adjunct professor teaching a public speaking course at Essex County College, a predominantly Black community college in Newark. Prior to going to her class meeting following her TV appearance, the Humanities Chair, Christopher Rivera, met her as she entered the building. He told her that she could not teach that day, then escorted her to human resources where she was immediately suspended and escorted out of the building.

The college administration, both president and vice-president who are African-American, suspended Durden. Two weeks later, they fired the media professional who just started her teaching career at institutions of higher learning.

The college’s president, Anthony E. Munroe released a statement saying that her termination “was handled in a lawful manner.”

Munroe stated:

“The college was immediately inundated with feedback from students, faculty and prospective students and their families expressing frustration, concern and even fear that the views expressed by a college employee (with influence over students) would negatively impact their experience on the campus.”

Durden’s debate with Carlson and her subsequent termination made nationwide headlines, as a high-profile issue on freedom of speech and academic freedom. In response, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sued the college when it stalled to turn over documents regarding Durden’s firing.

After months of protests and the passage of a petition to reinstate Durden, she filed a lawsuit against Essex County College in April of this year.

“She lost income and business opportunities as a result of her being terminated,” says her attorney, Leslie Farber, who added that Essex County College is in “violation of New Jersey Constitution and New Jersey Civil Rights Act.”

“There’ve been many incidents of people in New Jersey and elsewhere being silenced for what they said. At a private school, you can get away from [those violations], but not at a public institution,” says Farber who reports that Essex County College “filed an answer” to their suit.

Now, the case has been “assigned a mandatory mediation process” with Durden’s counsel already starting the discovery process.

‘I’m still here.’

Durden sits in disbelief as she gathers news clips and research for this week’s talking points at “Chasing News.”

“I’m still processing everything,” she states.

Nonetheless, Durden does not finger the current US president, Donald Trump, as the central cause for the current climate. She adamantly argues:

Long before this man was in office, we’ve had racism going back whenever. Racist presidents are not a new thing. What Trump did slightly different is that he’s just not hiding his racism. Donald Trump wasn’t the president when Trayvon Martin was murdered . . . when Eric Garner was choked . . . when Sandra Bland was hanged. I think that what has caused a lot of this is not the president, I think its social media. People can go behind the keyboard and create these groups and spew this hate.

In spite of pending threats, Durden keeps her calendar full. “I don’t have security like Cory Booker. I don’t have the luxury of not doing anything. What I can do is live every day like its my last while I’m still here,” she declares optimistically.

To keep her going, Durden says she implemented a habit after the backlash from her Fox News appearance.

A lot of people loved what I did. So, I remind myself to pay more attention to the positive than the negative, although it may seem that the negative has a lot more fire and seems to last longer. I have thousands of screenshots of white folks tearing up racist white people over the wrongness of their hatred toward me because I spoke up for Black Lives Matter’s right to have an intentional safe space. When I started to pay attention to those individuals who were in support of me, when I started to open my eyes to that, I began to see that there were many, many more people thankful and energized at what I said and how I said it. And over time, those individuals lasted a lot longer than the racist haters.

Although Durden focuses living her best life, for now, she nor her father, plan to not open packages sent to their homes any time soon.

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Kaia Niambi Shivers covers current news, Diaspora and feature stories.

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