Judging by social media, some have glanced at this AP story and thought it claimed that the explosive powder inside the bomb was harmless. Not so. The package sent to CNN contained a pipe bomb and an envelope with a mystery powder inside. It’s the mystery powder that’s harmless. As far as I’m aware, the bombs themselves are “workable” and “functional,” if crude.

A law enforcement official says tests have determined that a powder found inside an envelope delivered to CNN along with a pipe bomb was harmless…

New York City’s police commissioner said earlier Wednesday that the package sent to CNN’s offices in Manhattan contained a live explosive and an envelope containing white powder.

If you doubt that the bomb was designed to do damage, note this detail from a later update by the AP: “A law enforcement official says the pipe bombs that were sent to several prominent Democrats and CNN were packed with powder and shards of glass.” There’d be no obvious reason to pack glass shards inside the device unless its designer really believed it would go off and that the shards would become shrapnel to bystanders. If in fact the bombs turn out to be duds, the reason may be lack of proficiency, not lack of intent.

Speaking of which, these tweets from Fox News reporter Adam Housley were making the rounds last night and are worth noting:

I don’t know what Housley means by “complete hoax.” The fact that the bombs had superfluous components doesn’t mean they don’t work. If in fact there was no detonation device attached, as he claimed in a separate tweet, then that would mean they don’t work — but it brings us back to why there were reports yesterday that the devices were functional. Maybe the bomber packed the pipes with actual explosives but made a mistake in how he thought they might ignite? If that’s the case, why would a “hoaxster” bother with glass shards and gunpowder (or whatever the explosive agent was) instead of sand or talcum powder?

On the other hand, how hard can it be to build a working pipe bomb if you sincerely mean to do so? I’ve never checked, but since the Internet is a flowing sewer of humanity’s worst ideas, instructions on bombmaking must be no more than a Google search away. Especially for a basic device like a pipe bomb.

The “dry run” theory also makes zero sense, particularly in light of the odd detail about multiple packages being sent to Maxine Waters and Joe Biden. If you were a mad bomber preparing to target ex-presidents through the mail, your dry run would be aimed at random citizens — the fewer the better, so as to leave as little evidence as possible for police. All you’d want to know is whether the package would arrive at its destination and whether it would detonate. Conducting a “dry run” involving the Obamas, the Clintons, Joe Biden, etc, and in some cases sending multiple packages to a single target would be to gift the FBI inexplicably with a mountain of forensic evidence against you before you’ve even begun to try to kill in earnest.

And if ex-presidents are your target for a “dry run,” who exactly is your actual target? They’re at the top of the political food chain.

The idea that this was a “foreign entity” also makes no sense to me. If the goal were to sow discord between America’s left and right by targeting one side with mail bombs, why would they make them so crudely and apparently ineffectually? And why would they run the risk of pulling a stunt like this knowing that relations with the U.S. will be hugely damaged if/when their plot is found out?

Then there’s this oddness:

An image on the explosive device sent to former CIA Director John Brennan on Tuesday appears to be a parody of an ISIS flag taken from a meme that has been circulating on right-wing corners of the internet since 2014.

The print-out appears to show a parody flag that replaces Arabic characters with the silhouette of three women in high heels, and a middle inscription reading “Get ‘Er Done” — which is the catchphrase of standup comedian Larry the Cable Guy…

The “Get ‘Er Done” flag was originally created in 2014 by the right-wing parody site World News Bureau, for an article titled “ISIS Vows Retribution For Counterfeit Flags.” It has since been shared as a meme on right-wing websites and forums.

You can choose your own adventure at this point about the perpetrator’s motive. I favor the “earnest idiot” theory: He meant to take out his targets but was too stupid to build a device that worked. That’s the explanation that seems best to fit the facts I’ve seen. But the “earnest hoaxer” theory is also in play. Maybe the “bomber” knew his devices were duds but wanted to scare his least favorite politicians. (The ISIS parody flag might be a clue to his lack of intent.) I find that harder to believe just because even a dummy would have to assume that he’d do hard time in prison for sending an inert explosive device to former presidents. That’s a long way to go for a prank.

But if you like the “false-flag hoaxer” theory, as seemingly 80 percent or so of the right does, that’s still in play too — so long as the bombs really are duds. It’s hard to believe someone would send working bombs to politicians he admires hoping that his political enemies would be blamed if they went off, and harder to believe it given the sheer number of devices sent. What if one got through? Even if none did, the more packages the FBI has, the easier it’ll be to find the culprit and expose the hoaxer and his motives. A false-flagger should want to target a single pol with a single device and hope he’s never caught, I would think, so that the right takes the blame. The fact that the perp in this case is sending out bombs by the near-dozen, and having them hand-delivered in some cases, suggests that he’s nutty and operating on a lark, not caring particularly whether he’s caught or not. What’s the point of running a false-flag op when you have every reason to think its falseness will be exposed, and soon?

Update: The latest from Fox News:

https://twitter.com/FoxNewsResearch/status/1055478056318570497

So there was a detonator. And the powder inside the bomb does appear to be incendiary. I’m liking the “earnest idiot” theory even more now.