The Ricin Letter Epidemic

Dr. Trevor Thrall, GMU Biodefense Director, published a thought-provoking and timely piece in The National Interest yesterday exploring the potential motivations behind the sudden uptick in ricin use.

Ricin letters in Seattle (image courtesy of FBI)

“Against the backdrop of so much global suffering and conflict or the deadly attack at the Boston Marathon,” he writes, “the handful of ricin letters sent to U.S. political leaders last week seems insignificant, almost narcissistic. Certainly from a national security perspective there is little need for concern; the letters were clearly not the work of professional terrorists. And yet my sense is that officials are a bit too quick to dismiss the letters as simply the work of disturbed amateurs with no broader meaning. We need to ask two questions: Why ricin? Why now?”

“The ricin letters appear to be the updated and metastasized form of an old American tradition. The United States has long been known for the tendency of its crankier citizens to write letters to public officials. Of course, an equally time-honored tradition is for public officials to ignore letters from citizens. Thus, the new and improved 21st century version of the tradition adds punch by sprinkling the letters with biological agents, one of the most dreaded technologies of our day. Ricin thus serves to help cut through the clutter and get people’s attention.”

Read the full piece here.

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