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

Lawmakers express concern, call for rhetorical reset

By: - June 20, 2023 11:30 am

Some 100 letters containing a white powder were sent to Kansas politicians and officials. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

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.

“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 appear 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.

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Sam Bailey
Sam Bailey

Sam Bailey graduated from Emporia State University in 2023, where she majored in communication and was the managing editor for the ESU Bulletin, the campus newspaper. She was named Kansas Collegiate Media Journalist of the Year for four-year Kansas schools in 2023. She also won Journalist of the Year in 2021 for two-year schools when she was editor for the Hutchinson Community College student newspaper. She has won awards for her investigative reporting and has covered issues that include student debt, a university presidential search and the firing of 33 professors in 2022.