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KBI says white powder in letters sent to lawmakers tests negative for ‘biological agents’

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Lawmakers express concern, call for rhetorical reset

TOPEKA — Approximately 100 letters targeting Republican legislators and public officials that contain a suspicious white powder had been received as of Sunday.

While the powder has not been identified, a Kansas Bureau of Investigation news release said preliminary testing indicated it is “presumptively negative for common biological agents of concern.” An earlier release said no injuries were reported.

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“Not a fun letter to receive when your wife and kids are the ones who check the mail at home,” wrote Rep. Nick Hoheisel, R-Wichita, on Twitter. “We’ve got to dial back the rhetoric. This is unacceptable.”

Before the white powder was discovered, the letters appeared to be normal, wrote Rep. Lewis Bloom, R-Clay Center, in a Facebook post.

“We were warned around noon it may be coming,” Bloom wrote. “Pretty sad when your grandkid can’t get the mail. The KBI came and was both professional and very courteous, and took it to be tested.”

The KBI and FBI are following the situation with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and other partners.

“Fortunately, House Democrats did not receive any of the letters in question,” said Alexis Simmons, spokeswoman for the Leader and House Democrats. “The leader and caucus defer to law enforcement as they navigate this ongoing investigation.”

Rep. Kenneth Collins, R-Mulberry, took to Facebook and thanked those who supported him regarding the letters.

“Although it seems to be targeted at Republicans it in no way represents the many good people on the Democratic side,” Collins said. “I have received expressions of concern from many friends and colleagues from both parties.”

The letters seem to feature return addresses of churches near the receiver’s residence and feature various sender names. Bloom described the return address as “bogus.”

On Monday, Republican Leadership released a statement about the mailings, calling them “threatening letters filled with a suspicious powdery substance” and urged members to remain cautious when opening mail.

“While we don’t yet know who is behind this threat, our members will not be intimidated by extremists who look to undermine the will of the people we were elected to serve,” the release said. “We appreciate all of the prayers and support we’ve received from our Kansas communities and will continue to stand strong together to move forward.”

Michael Smith, political science professor at Emporia State University, said such tactics have been used in the past to target Congress and executive officials, but it is “a little weird that we’re seeing that at the state level.”

He also said there is no “rational political benefit” to doing this.

“Until they apprehend a suspect and charge them, I would avoid jumping to any conclusions,” Smith said. “There have been some cases where things like that happened that where there was some sort of a coherent political motivation, but there have also been a number of cases, including some of those ones involving Congress, where the person was just flat mentally ill.”

The KBI said the investigation is ongoing, but no further information will be released at this time.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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