!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'September 20-October 15, 2001: Hoax Anthrax Letters from St. Petersburg Initially Thought to Be Real'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event September 20-October 15, 2001: Hoax Anthrax Letters from St. Petersburg Initially Thought to Be Real. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

The contents of the anthrax letter addressed to Tom Brokaw. The contents of the anthrax letter addressed to Tom Brokaw. [Source: FBI]A letter addressed to news anchor Tom Brokaw at NBC News is mailed from Princeton, New Jersey. It is postmarked September 18, 2001, which means it is dropped into a mailbox either some time after 5 p.m. on September 17 or some time before 5 p.m. on September 18. The letter contains deadly anthrax spores and a short message in slanting block letters:
bullet 09-11-01
bullet THIS IS NEXT
bullet TAKE PENACILIN NOW
bullet DEATH TO AMERICA
bullet DEATH TO ISRAEL
bullet ALLAH IS GREAT
There is no return address and the word penicillin is misspelled. The letter is opened on October 12, turned over to the FBI the same day, and tests positive for anthrax the next day. Several days later, an employee at the New York Post is diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. An unopened letter is found at the Post’s editorial office, addressed to “Editor.” It also is found to contain real anthrax and the exact same message as the Brokaw letter, and was postmarked on the same day and from the same location. That same week, an employee at CBS News and the infant son of an ABC News employee are diagnosed with anthrax infections, but no letters are found in their New York offices. It is presumed those letters are mailed with the other two, but are thrown away. Also, several employees at a Florida building containing the offices of the Sun, a tabloid, get sick with anthrax infections. However, no letter is found there either. The victims at the Sun suffer from the more deadly inhalation anthrax instead of cutaneous anthrax, suggesting that letter could be sent separately. That letter appears to be directed at the National Enquirer, another tabloid owned by the same company as the Sun, but was redirected to the Sun due to a recent relocation of the Enquirer’s offices. [New York Times, 12/5/2001; Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] A second wave of anthrax letters follows in early October (see October 6-9, 2001).

Entity Tags: CBS News, New York Post, NBC News, National Enquirer, Tom Brokaw, ABC News

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

On September 20, 2001, a letter purporting to contain anthrax is postmarked in St. Petersburg and addressed to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. On September 25, Erin O’Connor, an assistant to Brokaw, gets sick with cutaneous anthrax. During the first days of the anthrax investigation in early October, it will be assumed that O’Connor got sick from the St. Petersburg letter. A brief handwritten note is found in the letter with some powder. The note threatened biological attacks on New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. The letter contains misspelled phrase “THE UNTHINKABEL” with the Ns reversed. On October 5, two more letters are sent from St. Petersburg that resemble to earlier letter to Brokaw. For instance, it is written in the same capitalized, blocked letters, the Ns are reversed, there are similar biological threats made, and there is a powdery substance inside. One of the letters is sent to New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who is a co-author of Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War, a book published just days earlier. The other letter is to Howard Troxler, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times. Troxler opened his letter on October 9 and Miller opened hers on October 12. But laboratory analysis soon determines that the powder in all three of the St. Petersburg letters is non-toxic. Furthermore, it is learned that a different letter containing real anthrax was sent to Tom Brokaw, explaining O’Connor’s infection. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Erin O’Connor, Judith Miller, Tom Brokaw, Howard Troxler

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

On September 22, 2001, an employee at the New York Post gets a blister on her finger. She will later test positive for cutaneous anthrax. Six others get sick from anthrax on September 26, 27, and 28, and October 1, including an assistant to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. But most of these cases their only visible symptoms are minor skin lesions. None of these cases are seen as anthrax infections at the time. On September 30, Robert Stevens, an employee at the tabloid The Sun, starts to feel ill. He will later die of the more serious inhalation anthrax (see October 4, 2001 and Shortly Afterwards and October 3, 2001). Only in the days right after his death will these earlier cases be properly diagnosed and linked to the anthrax letters. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001]

Entity Tags: Bob Stevens

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

Robert Stevens.Robert Stevens. [Source: Associated Press]The first case of anthrax infection, of Robert Stevens in Florida, is reported in the media (see October 3, 2001). Letters containing anthrax will continue to be received until October 19. After many false alarms, it turns out that only a relatively small number of letters contain real anthrax (see October 5-November 21, 2001). [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] In 2004, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen will recall how a widespread sense of panic spread across the US over the next few weeks, as millions felt the anthrax could target them next. He will write, “People made anthrax-safe rooms, and one woman I know of had a mask made for her small dog. I still don’t know if that was a touching gesture or just plain madness.” He says, “The [9/11] terrorist attacks coupled with the anthrax scare unhinged us a bit—or maybe more than a bit.” But he will also mention that the panic quickly passed and was largely forgotten by most people. [Washington Post, 7/22/2004] Columnist Glenn Greenwald will later comment in Salon, “After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential. The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters—with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11—that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax… that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.” [Salon, 8/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Patrick J. Leahy, NBC, Glenn Greenwald, New York Post, Richard Cohen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike