Following the arrest of 42-year-old former San Francisco politico Ryan Chamberlain, officials from the FBI and SFPD detailed the bizarre situation that culminated in a three-day manhunt across the country. Meanwhile, friends of Chamberlain questioned whether the social media manager was actually capable of domestic terrorism.
Before a federal magistrate in San Francisco this morning, Chamberlain was charged with one count of illegal possession of a destructive device — the alleged explosive materials that were found in Chamberlain's Russian Hill home when authorities served a search warrant there on Saturday.
The discovery prompted a nationwide manhunt for Chamberlain, thought at the time to be armed and dangerous. After posting a time-delayed note online, Chamberlain tweeted a panicked update yesterday morning claiming none of the charges were true, but did not turn himself in to authorities.
The manhunt continued for most of Monday, but didn't actually even need to travel beyond the San Francisco city limits. Chamberlain reportedly hung out at Lower Haight bar the Mad Dog in the Fog, then was spotted again near the Marina. Wearing shorts, a sweatshirt and a beanie, Chamberlain was finally arrested yesterday evening near the Beach Hut at Crissy Field. Video of the arrest was posted to YouTube:
Chamberlain is currently in custody until his next hearing at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday. The FBI is not releasing any further details about the arrest and the search warrant for his apartment remains under seal. [Update: the FBI's court documents have been unsealed.] “The system worked in this case and we got someone off the street before he hurt himself or someone else,” SFPD Chief Greg Suhr said at this morning's press event. “Unbelievable police work," he continued, "unbelievable collaboration with our federal partners to get somebody who was absolutely growing more desperate by the moment, in crisis."
Friends and acquaintances of Chamberlain, meanwhile, seem baffled by the charges leveled against him. Brooke Wentz, who had hired Chamberlain to manage the social media accounts for her music rights consultancy group, told the Associated Press that he seemed to be under a lot of financial pressure and may not have been living in the Russian Hill apartment searched by authorities, citing an incident when he asked her to send a paycheck to a different address. Chamberlain told Wentz that he had been leasing his apartment to two friends who left abruptly, leaving him to cover rent on two apartments. When Wentz dug deeper, Chamberlain began evading her questions.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian also detailed some of Chamberlain's tumultuous political history in San Francisco, where he was known among reporters and PR folk as "a classic political operative -- crafty, cynical, but also really nice," according to former SF Examiner political reporter Adriel Hampton. Chamberlain had worked as a field organizer in the Richmond district during Gavin Newsom's first mayoral bid, but was passed over for a full time job working for Newsom's administration.
A few questions remain, especially among those who don't believe Chamberlain had it in him to become a domestic terrorist. Speaking to the Bay Guardian, fellow political consultant Johnny K. Wang started asking questions: "The whole thing is weird," Wang said. "None of the FBI’s stories make sense. First he’s a domestic terrorist, then he’s made no threats to anyone. What do they know for sure? I’m assuming they know something, because you don’t start a raid and a national manhunt without some facts." In Chamberlain's distraught letter, the fugitive hinted that the government may had him under digital surveillance.
"It’s unacceptable," Wang said to the SFBG, "I want to see some real bomb making materials. I want to see a car that’s rigged to explode. Because otherwise, it’s just accusations."
Finally, a crowdsourced campaign has begun fundraising to help Chamberlain pay for completely unspecified legal fees. Elsewhere, the #FreeRyan hashtags have started flying on Twitter, and are laced with vague conspiracy theories about NSA spying and accusations that the SFPD or the FBI may have been trying to snuff out a local political activist (one who, it should be noted, was most recently working as a social media manager for sports and music companies). As this story is far from over, these should probably all be taken with a City Hall-sized lump of salt:
Update: Read the full, unsealed criminal complaint from the FBI here.
Previously: FBI Fugitive Ryan Chamberlain In Custody After Trip To Lower Haight, Crissy Field
Former SF Politico Wanted By FBI Appears To Have Posted Suicide Note Online
Nationwide Alert For S.F. Man Wanted By FBI For Possessing Explosives