By Emily Alpert Reyes / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles psychologist claims to have left the festively wrapped box of manure outside the Bel-Air home of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin that spurred a Secret Service investigation, billing it as a political protest against the recently passed tax bill.
Robert Strong, a Kentucky native now living in L.A., appears to have enthusiastically documented the act on Twitter and Facebook, posting photos of himself with a shovel and a Santa-spangled box full of manure and describing it as a “Secret Santa project.”
One of his Facebook posts shows an envelope labeled “To Stevie” and a card from “The American People” inscribed, “We’re returning the ‘gift’ of the Christmas tax bill. It’s (expletive).”
And in a YouTube video posted on Christmas Day, Strong declared that “the prophets of old often did shocking things to highlight the injustice” against which they preached.
“For me, that was delivering a gift-wrapped box of (horse manure) to parallel the idiocy of the complete … bill that’s been passed,” Strong said.
Strong told AL.com, which was first to identify him as the person claiming to have delivered the box, that it was an “act of political theater” meant to inspire others to step up their activism. Since his name was revealed in the media, his Facebook page has been deluged with both tickled supporters and outraged critics, who dubbed his act harassment.
Strong downplayed the idea that the box could have alarmed Mnuchin or created a dangerous situation, saying it was “something a frat boy may do to another frat boy,” AL.com reported.
The Secret Service said Monday that it had found a person who had claimed responsibility for delivering the package and had interviewed him, but declined to confirm whether that person was Strong.
“The United States Secret Service takes all threats, both alleged and confirmed, seriously,” public affairs specialist Cody Starken wrote in an email. “As a matter of practice we do not comment on our protective intelligence, possible criminal investigations, and interviewing practices.”
A neighbor spotted the box Saturday in Bel-Air and called police, who cordoned off the area for two to three hours and called in the bomb squad. The manure inside the box was dumped, but the box itself and the accompanying note were retained as evidence, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The Secret Service, which is charged with protecting federal officials, has taken over the investigation.
The Los Angeles Times was unable to reach Strong on Monday evening. Strong, who has been active with the Occupy L.A. movement, told local radio station KPCC that he was surprised he hadn’t been arrested and realized that he might have jeopardized his job working for Los Angeles County as a psychologist.