The Enforcer: Accused Bombmaker Ryan Chamberlain Helped Blow Up San Francisco Politics. And, in the Process, Himself.

The Enforcer: Accused Bombmaker Ryan Chamberlain Helped Blow Up San Francisco Politics. And, in the Process, Himself.

You’re reading this. That means we probably don’t know each other anymore, and I owe everyone an explanation.Ryan Chamberlain

A door creaks open in the rear of the 15th-floor courtroom and a tall, handsome man trundles into view. Ryan Chamberlain, 42, wears a sweatshirt, shorts, and sneakers and looks as if he sprinted here directly from the Marina. He nearly did: Following a three-day run (of sorts) during a “national manhunt,” San Francisco police officers the prior evening apprehended the political operative turned accused bombmaker and FBI fugitive at Crissy Field.

He is not a man lacking friends. The coterie of Chamberlain’s supporters who visibly wince when he’s marched into his June 3 court appearance also seem to have been delivered here directly from the Marina. Their sundresses, trucker caps, oversize eyeglasses, and tattoos stand out at Federal Criminal Court.

”Ryan,” says a fellow city politico, “is one of those people that just everyone knows.” Yet, according to what was widely described as a “suicide note” posted on Chamberlain’s Facebook page during his time on the run, he is a man no one knows. And that’s the case regardless of whether or not he purchased deadly toxins on clandestine, black-market internet sites or assembled a homemade bomb within his Polk Street apartment.

”I’m so sorry about this. I’m sure this will completely blindside you all,” Chamberlain wrote in the online message posted hours after friends and loved ones were jolted by news of HazMat-suited feds raiding his apartment — and then left to wonder if they ever really knew him at all. “Whenever you saw me I was on the top of the world, because you pulled me up there.

”You never knew what hit me the minute I left to go home alone.”

Today was going to be a good day.

The building manager offered the FBI agents the key, but they wanted no part of it. “They said, ‘Lady, you get back inside your apartment,’” says Jim Hirsch, Chamberlain’s former landlord. “Then they proceeded to knock the door down.”

The lengthy affidavit supporting the search warrant authorizing the excitement of May 31 recounts a convoluted web of shadowy men on shadowy websites exchanging Bitcoins for deadly toxins. It doesn’t, however, mention explosives. But, within Chamberlain’s home, federal agents claim they discovered an alleged improvised explosive device loaded with shrapnel and ready to be triggered via remote control.

”Oh, Ryan,” his landlord laments. “He could’ve blown up the building!”

San Francisco cops arrested him at Crissy Field three days later, only three miles from his busted front door.

In the wake of his high-profile pursuit, capture, and subsequent processions in and out of court, former colleagues and employers attempted to recast Chamberlain’s San Francisco legacy, and not for the better. The man “everyone knows” was, at one time, an elected member of San Francisco’s Republican County Central Committee. As a political operative, he was enabled — and directed — by powerful business and political players to assail this city’s left.

He penned vitriolic campaign material, wrote impassioned articles, seeded nasty quotes, and, at one point, authored an acidic, novella-length broadside against then-Supervisor Chris Daly — whom, witnesses recall, he was not above heckling during public appearances. In a politically bruising era, Chamberlain had some of the sharpest elbows in town. “He did what his bosses told him to do, and then they hung him out to dry as the fall guy,” bemoans a former colleague.

Perhaps. But what struck enemies and allies alike was how willingly Chamberlain played the role. “Ryan was part of a destructive political conversation San Francisco engaged in for a number of years,” recalls a longtime opponent. “He ran out there with a bayonet, and he did it with relish.”

That was then. Now, Chamberlain’s former proximity to this city’s pro-business, development-friendly power structure and San Francisco’s entrenched political class is an embarrassing liability.

So Chamberlain was depicted in recent news stories as a small fish, a hanger-on, a low-level political afterthought, a mindless conduit of other men’s spite.

But this isn’t true.

Chamberlain was, in fact, a skilled field organizer, effectively serving as an on-the-ground representative and evangelist for a handful of citywide and district candidates over the course of half a dozen years. He was a pioneer of political practices that are, for good or ill, now ubiquitous in this city. He grasped the power of the internet before his contemporaries: “Ryan was on the tip of the spear in seeing how you could broadcast to a huge number of people at a time in politics when others were still trying to figure out what the hell CompuServe was,” says a colleague. (Chamberlain was a divisive force in San Francisco politics — but his foes and supporters are now united in not wanting their names anywhere near his in a newspaper article).

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"Malcolm soon received a cryptic response from “Kelly”: a complaint that the abrin “did not work.”

Just what the hell this is supposed to mean cannot be known at this time."

Of course it "can be known" if you think about it, just a tiny bit. It means he tried it out, administering it to someone or something, and that person or creature didn't die. Come to think of it, police should see if they can link him to the cases of poisoned meatballs left around town over the last couple of years. Perhaps he was doing test runs with rat poison, to later ramp up to killing people with what he believed to be "untraceable" poisons. Poisoners are sneaky, devious people. He seems to fit the profile.

topjobsman topcommenter

Don't see that Chamberlain is damaged as much as he is ambitious. Ambitions can catch up with you.


Mr Chamberlain cared to much while to many don't care at all. But he crossed over the line from being passionate about a cause, to believing he had the right to use force, to make his point.

We see the same scenario being played out all over the world, when one opinion, faith or ideology thinks their way is the only way and they force others with a different opinion  conform to their belief. 


The truth is that Ryan Chamberlain is just the guy that worked in SF circles, there is at least one like him in every city and in most important campaigns. Local, statewide and national campaigns all have political hit-men; he was just one that was self-destructing in SF.

Trust me, with Ryan gone there's a new kid in town...


Huh. Well, if the meandering Facebook message quoted throughout is any indication, I think I might know why nobody wanted to work with Mr. Chamberlain: he's a whiner.

Also sounds like something of a narcissist and a drama queen. Of course, it might not be fair to judge a guy off his suicide note (which he now says was not, in fact, a suicide note, but whatever), but I'd guess most people grit their teeth a little bit whenever Mr. Chamberlain's needy voice butts into any story about him.


A friend was one of Ryan's volunteers for District One in that Newsom campaign for mayor. Friend showed me stickers that read "Liar" and  "Asshole" and that Ryan had given them to him with the instruction to slap them on Gonzalez campaign posters.

mblaircheney topcommenter

Jack Davis and Jack Daniels come to mind as I read this article. There is a dirty underbelly to San Francisco politics, very few want talk about it or admit it. Scraping the bottom of the barrel in an attempt to get some sort of an advantage with the voters.
Because the payoff is huge in terms of clout in determining projects, contracts and appointments within the city. Rumors, however placed into the public offerings, carry the old adage "Where there is smoke there must be fire"... This description usually being offered by the arsonist.
Because it works so well and there is no shortage of people willing to carry it out. It does appear that San Francisco may have dodged a bullet here, the man is in custody without bail and is no longer a danger to himself or others. But as this article tries to uncover, who kept pushing him from behind and whispering in his ear... "Good job!"

joe.eskenazi topcommenter

@ReadingIsFundamental Thanks for reading. What you have written is excellent conjecture, but not anything close to "knowing." 

I think the most important part is "at this time." Time marches on. 

All the best, 


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