Several Seattle bar owners who received anonymous letters threatening to poison customers with highly toxic ricin called the matter creepy...
Several Seattle bar owners who received anonymous letters threatening to poison customers with highly toxic ricin called the matter creepy but doubted it would hurt business.
“I don’t think this community is going to be scared to go out,” said Carla Schricker, owner of Re-bar, one of 11 gay bars that were threatened in the typewritten letters.
Still, Schricker and many others have posted signs warning customers not to leave their drinks unattended. They also have asked staff to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior.
The letters, received by many of the bar owners on Tuesday, claimed, “I have in my possession approximately 67 grams of ricin with which I will indiscriminately target at least five of your clients.”
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Ricin, a chemical found in castor beans, can be deadly if purified and ingested or inhaled.
The writer also sent a separate letter to the offices of the alternative-weekly newspaper The Stranger that read, “Please be prepared to announce the deaths of approximately 55 individuals all of whom were patrons of the following establishments on a Saturday in January.”
The letter listed 11 bars popular with the gay and lesbian community: The Elite, Neighbours, The Wildrose Tavern, The Cuff, Purr, The Seattle Eagle, R Place, Re-bar, C.C. Attle’s, Madison Pub and The Crescent Tavern. The Crescent had not received a letter as of Wednesday though it was listed in the letter sent to The Stranger.
The FBI confirmed it was involved in the investigation but referred questions to a Seattle Police Department spokesman, who said the department is taking the threat seriously but declined to comment further on the investigation.
Josh Friedes, of Equal Rights Washington, said he is pleased by the seriousness with which law-enforcement and public officials seem to be taking the threat. Friedes said he will be urging people who patronize the bars to be “extra vigilant” with their drinks but that the threats will not curtail his own plans to go out to bars.
The letter sent to bars quoted the poem “A Display of Mackerel” by gay writer Mark Doty, leading many to speculate the letters were written by someone who is gay or lesbian. The poem was recently published in his book “Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems,” which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008.
The letter mimics the poem in the line, “The targets won’t care much that they’ll be dead and nearly frozen, just as, presumably, they didn’t care that they were living.”
Doty, who lives in New York City and is currently teaching at Stanford University, said Wednesday he was appalled that his poem had been used in a threat.
“It’s just deeply repellent,” he said. He wrote the poem in 1994 as a meditation on the nature of the self and mortality after his partner died of AIDS.
“It was a poem that would have helped to address the suffering of gay men, and here it’s being used to instill fear,” he said.
Dan Savage, editorial director for The Stranger, suspects the letter came from someone in the gay community who was frustrated with going to bars. If it were a hate letter from a straight person, he speculated, the letter would have used epithets and contained references to God.
“It’s a gay self-hater,” Savage said.
He said he was not worried about the writer following through with the threats.
“Somebody who was seriously interested in killing a bunch of people at a gay bar wouldn’t announce the method of the attack in advance,” Savage said.
In fact, he said the threats may end up being good for business since people may now turn out for drinks to support the bars that have been targeted. All of the bars, except the Madison Pub, will hold a pub-crawl on Friday starting at 7 p.m. at C.C. Attle’s that will wind its way down Capitol Hill to Re-bar.
Scott Hembree, manager of The Crescent, wondered why his bar was threatened at all.
“It’s not like we’re a troublesome bar or anything,” said Hembree. The Crescent gets a mix of gay, lesbian and straight customers. “There’s no drama here, it’s just a karaoke bar. Unless they are counting bad singing.”
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