HILLSBOROUGH, N.C.—It’s been slightly more than 24 hours since somebody threw a molotov cocktail through the front window of Orange County Republican Party headquarters, turning the furniture and most of the campaign signage into a giant fireball. Luckily the gas flames burned themselves out against the concrete walls before setting the roof or contiguous buildings ablaze, but the fire left behind a horrid black film of volcanic ash. The pungent smell of gasoline and burnt carpet still fills the sooty air.
Inside the office, GOP volunteers step over broken glass, charred signs and the remains of melted furniture to survey the damage. The office is no longer a taped-off crime scene, so photographers and local camera crews move about the wreckage freely. Police sit in a parked car watching the scene but don’t stop anyone from poking around the ruins.
At a table on the sidewalk in front of the building, party officials answer a stream of phone calls from Republicans and Democrats condemning the attack and expressing their support. The graffiti on the neighboring building warning “Nazi Republicans get out of town or else” has been covered over in black paint.
The feds are handling the investigation, but so far there are no suspects and no arrests.
Donald Trump is the only person on the planet who’s confident he knows what happened. The Republican candidate was quick to offer his amateur gumshoe analysis on Twitter:
Local GOP officials, however, are being much more reserved. And don’t seem to appreciate Trump’s factless finger-pointing.
“I think that was premature,” Orange County GOP chairman Daniel Ashley told me of Trump’s tweet. He says he was more impressed by how the state’s Republican governor Pat McCrory handled the situation.
“[Trump] could have handled that better,” echoed Trump campaign volunteer Blake Halsey, a 21-year-old political science student. “But that’s how he is…it is what it is.”
Halsey, who spent Monday morning answering phone calls and talking to journalists, says he really appreciates all the bipartisan solidarity echoed from around the country. The firebomb attack, he says, has really helped to rally and unify the community as a whole.
Trump’s “animals” comment doesn’t really reflect the sentiments of the party or the community, Halsey said. But he wouldn’t go as far as to condemn his candidate’s choice of words. “It’s hard to tell what’s appropriate anymore,” Halsey said, raising his eyebrows to indicate that he does.
GOP officials are also upset with how the investigation is being handled. They consider the crime to be an act of terrorism. “Six months ago, somebody knocked our elephant off the brick pedestal. That was an act of vandalism. But this here is terrorism,” said GOP chairman Ashley.
The local party boss said he’s also upset the ATF painted over the hate graffiti so quickly.
“I asked the ATF four times why they covered that over so fast, but they never answered me,” he said. “I don’t think they are giving this crime enough seriousness.”
But in downtown Hillsborough, a pleasantly appointed red brick, tree-lined town of coffee shops, bookstores and art galleries, nobody seems to be too ruffled by the incident. Among the hipsters and hippies I interviewed at the coffee shop two miles away, several people hadn’t even heard about the attack.
Those who know about it think it’s most likely a random act of violence by stupid teenagers, but nothing to get too worried about. In fact, several people sitting over coffees at a nearby sidewalk table were already joking about the incident.
“If they’re only targeting GOP Nazis, I’m with them,” joked a man named Mike.
“Don’t quote that! I don’t know that man!” interrupted his wife.
“It was probably liberals who made the firebomb, because it burned out too quickly. They probably used tofu or olive oil instead of gasoline,” added a bearded man named Jim, who wore a bandana tied around his head.
“This probably has more to do with misguided teenagers than terrorists,” added a man dressed in bicycle pants. “You can tell from the bad grammar in their graffiti. It was missing a comma and an exclamation point.”
Others speculated that it might have been a desperate move by Trump fanatics. “There’s no telling what that cat is going to do next,” said another man named Jim.
“I’m just glad the ATF is handling the investigation and not the Hillsborough Police,” added Linda, with a laugh.