Pittsburgh man faces federal charges after leaving backpack full of Molotov cocktails in public space

A 52-year-old resident of Pittsburgh was charged with planting a backpack full of Molotov cocktails in a public space downtown after a recent protest.

Matthew Michanowicz, 52, faces federal charges of illegal possession of a destructive device, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania said.

Michanowicz, who was allegedly captured on surveillance footage placing the backpack under trees at PNC Plaza, told investigators that he’d ridden his bike to the area to observe the aftermath of recent protests, court documents say.

Based on the description I think the Google image above shows the area where the backpack was left. Here’s a description of what was found inside the backpack:

The devices are described as “spent OC vapor grenades” (identified by the PBPBS as spent devices they had previously deployed) which contained a fluid that had a smell similar to an ignitable liquid. The liquid was leaking out of one or more of the devices. All three devices had wicks attached to them, which were held in place by what appears to be “spray foam insulation.”

Two days after the backpack was left behind, an officer was in the same spot where the backpack had been discovered and saw a man who matched the description of the suspect (based on surveillance video which you can see here). Michanowicz was brought in for questioning and admitted that he’d been in the area and that he was the person seen in security video but he denied knowing anything about a backpack full of explosives. The following day, ATF agents executed a search warrant at his house:

On June 4, 2020, ATF Agents from the Pittsburgh Field Office executed a federal search warrant at Michanowicz’s residence at 144 Republic Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15211. The search revealed, all in close proximity to each other on a workbench in the garage, a bundle of fuse exhibiting the same color and characteristics of the fuses found on the previously seized destructive devices, some partially burnt fuse remnants that appear to be from the same fuse bundle, a can of spray foam insulation consistent with the type of spray foam insulation that had been applied to the exterior of all three recovered destructive devices, and a syringe emitting a strong odor consistent with an ignitable liquid. Also found in the garage were approximately 10 camouflage backpacks that were similar in size, pattern and configuration to the bag in which the destructive devices were discovered. A search of the trashcan in the garage revealed retail packaging of fuses and a pair of used latex gloves that emitted a strong odor consistent with an ignitable liquid.

Michanowicz faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. I wonder what plans he had for the other 10 identical backpacks found in his house. Also, what was he doing back at the scene where he left the backpack two days later? Was he looking for it? Was he looking for signs of damage? The press release doesn’t go into those details.

The other big question is his motive. PNC Plaza is an area where PNC Bank is headquartered. So this could be some kind of far-left statement about wealth inequality. But it’s also possible he was looking to injure protesters. Or maybe he was staging the Molotov’s to throw them at police vehicles. The only thing we know for sure is he wasn’t there for a peaceful protest.

Speaking of violent protesters in Pittsburgh. You may recall that federal charges were previously filed against a 20-year-old man named Brian Bartels who is accused of inciting a riot and damaging a police vehicle. Last week Bartels turned himself in to police. We now know something more about his motive.

According to the criminal complaint, Bartels said his motive was, in part, “that he considers himself to be far ‘left’ and that he had become fed up with incidents involving police mistreatment of citizens.”

“He explained that he had previously hoped that he would be able to change things through voting, but nothing changed,” the complaint added.

So this was exactly what it looked like, a far 20-something acting like a goon and inciting other people to do likewise. Here’s a local news report on Michanowicz.