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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Police say suspected arsonist at county Democratic HQ was after ‘elites,’ but reality didn’t match up

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 10, 2020

A bomb-disabling robot sat outside the local Teamsters labor union building Wednesday after 45-year-old Peter Yeager of Grand Coulee, Wash., entered the building, claiming to have a bomb. He did not, but set a fire.  (Maggie Quinlan / The Spokesman-Review)
A bomb-disabling robot sat outside the local Teamsters labor union building Wednesday after 45-year-old Peter Yeager of Grand Coulee, Wash., entered the building, claiming to have a bomb. He did not, but set a fire. (Maggie Quinlan / The Spokesman-Review)

The man who police say claimed to have a bomb and then lit a substantial fire at the Spokane County Democratic headquarters was after “elites” of any political party, he told investigators, according to a Spokane Police Department news release.

The people he actually encountered included a woman in her second day as a local Democratic volunteer and a member of the local truck Teamsters union.

Peter Yeager, 45, of Grand Coulee, was arrested on suspicion of first-degree arson, although Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl said detectives are pursuing other charges.

At the local Democrats’ office, Yeager told several volunteers he had a bomb and one volunteer saw wires coming from his backpack, said Spokane County Democrats chair Nicole Bishop.

Police determined Yeager’s backpack did not have a bomb but contained gasoline and oil used to start the fire, according the news release.

That fire caused “tens of thousands” of dollars in damage, Meidl said. The FBI and Homeland Security are aiding in the investigation.

Yeager told investigators he does not align with any political party and was not targeting Democrats, Meidl said. Yeager told police he is an Iraqi war veteran and suffers from PTSD.

The suspected arsonist described himself as a “lone wolf,” Meidl said, although his manifesto promised, “We will continue domestic operations.”

Meidl said detectives don’t take Yeager’s self-description at face value, and will continue to see if he really acted alone or was a “cog in a larger machine.”

Yeager told detectives he used a Google search to find a political office and the Democratic office was the closest to him. He assumed the nearest Republican headquarters would be in Idaho, the release said.

Jordan Kuhn said instead of a Democratic leader, it was his father, a member of the local Teamsters labor union and a “strong conservative,” who Yeager “held hostage” in a room for about 15 minutes.

As a former marine and corrections officer, Kuhn’s dad is “hardwired to face danger rather than run away,” Kuhn said.

“He just did it without thinking,” Kuhn said of his father.

Meidl said Kuhn’s father went into a room with Yeager voluntarily after a Democratic volunteer said “there’s a man in our office with a bomb.”

Kuhn said his father wanted to keep the suspect’s attention while some of the women from the local Democrats ran out of the building.

“We have to flesh out what happened while the man was there,” Meidl said. “Was his perception that he wasn’t free to leave? Even then, there might not be anything that rises to the level of a criminal charge.”

Kuhn said his dad tried to “talk the guy down” and connect with him over their respective time in the armed forces. Kuhn said when the suspect was briefly distracted, his dad took the opportunity to “bolt” out the door.

In a Democrats meeting Wednesday, Bishop pointed out the former corrections officer’s heroism in distracting and calming the suspected arsonist.

Bishop also said she believed the threat and arson was likely influenced by violent discourse in the nation.

“It’s not just about the violent rhetoric,” state Sen. Andy Billig said. “It’s about the people who are silent.”

Billig pointed to regional political leaders.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said in a statement Wednesday evening that “no one should be targeted with violence because of their political beliefs.”

Mayor Nadine Woodward failed to release a statement on Wednesday, calling the incident a matter for law enforcement.

In a joint statement issue on Thursday, Woodward and Meidl wrote: “Threats, intimidation, and violence will never be tolerated in our community, especially in an attempt to terrorize the community into making system change.”

In his manifesto, Yeager wrote that he had “profound respect for the grassroots movements of both the Democratic and Republican parties,” but that he and others would continue attacks against their “ruling elite as they exist in their current form.”

Meidl said he’s concerned about more politically driven violence in the coming months.

“I think law enforcement across the nation is concerned with where we’re at across the nation,” Meidl said. “There’s a feeling that the violence people now think is acceptable to push their agendas is at a level most of us have never seen before.”

Meidl pointed out that mental health crisis calls in Spokane are up about four to five times compared with last year. He attributed this to a combination of the pandemic, recession, isolation and political division.

“All of this is compounding stress and depression and some people just don’t have coping mechanisms,” Meidl said. “This is a symptom of bigger issues we’re seeing across the entire country.”

Yeager also told investigators he had been thinking about doing something radical for a long time, according to the news release.

He told police his plan was to burn down the building but not to hurt anyone, and said he tried to get everyone out of the building before starting the fire, Meidl said.

Yeager is in the Spokane County Jail, the release said.

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