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The Most Explosives Allowable by Law 

Tuesday, Jul 29 2014

San Francisco political operative-turned-accused-bombmaker Ryan Chamberlain was the subject of a multi-jurisdictional federal investigation and a three-day FBI "national manhunt." He faces a 10-year prison sentence on a federal explosives possession charge.

His purported bomb fit within a bike messenger satchel. But it turns out size isn't everything.

Last week, a 47-year-old Pacifica man named Marc Ormando was released from jail following a March arrest; he pleaded no contest on two felony counts of possessing explosives.

The stash removed from Ormando's garage: 938 pounds of explosive material, 732 "barrel bombs," and 44 pounds of black powder. Authorities also discovered nine guns and eight rifles in the home Ormando shared with his 10- and 7-year-old kids (but, reassuringly, these were apparently obtained legally).

Could Ormando have reduced his entire neighborhood to rubble in a scene rivaling Beirut's worst? Oh yes, says San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe: "He could have produced enormous damage for blocks around."

But, here's the rationale behind the unemployed laborer being sprung from jail after a scant few months: He just wanted to have a good time.

While hapless Beirut residents are being blown to bits by hefty, indiscriminately dropped "barrel bombs," the so-called "barrel bombs" seized from Ormando's domicile are something akin to an M-80 firecracker. Ormando, it seems, had a thing for firecrackers. "He actually attended at least one if not more schools or seminars for pyrotechnics at shows and music videos," Wagstaffe says. The half-ton of explosives in Ormando's garage was "designed for fireworks purposes, rather than going into a bomb."

A casually tossed cigarette or home fire would have wrought a level of damage likely dwarfing anything Chamberlain's alleged shrapnel-packed backpack bomb could have done. (San Franciscans may recall the illegal fireworks factory blast that leveled a Bayview warehouse in 1986, killing seven or eight people — no one is sure quite how many). But Ormando wouldn't have meant to do what he did, and so intention loomed large in determining his punishment.

So did the old real estate adage: location, location, location. Ormando's case was handled in San Mateo County. But fellow alleged firecracker nut Sean Gunther, who was arrested in San Francisco along with Ormando, is being tried here. He faces significant prison time on charges of possession, transportation, and sale of destructive devices (and possession of methamphetamine).

Chamberlain, whom federal prosecutors accuse of crafting an "aggressive weapon" which would provide "a messy, very painful way to die," remains locked up here without bail.

His federal public defender has not yet attempted to play the "it was only fireworks" card.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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