It was a metaphoric Molotov, a middle finger, a knife in the back. Naturally, it emerged from the "Deep Throat" ether just after 4 p.m., smack in the middle of the workweek.
Even in the midst of an administration and news cycle that powers a ceaseless hamster wheel of drama, the New York Times op-ed from an anonymous "senior" official in the Trump White House was jaw-dropping. The author declared that he or she is part of the "resistance" against the President, "working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations." The piece slammed Donald Trump for his inadequacies and volatility and declared him a danger to the country. But lucky for us, the author said, there's a group of honorable subversives trying to keep him at bay.
But the explosion the piece created wasn't really about the what; it was mostly about the who. It was also about the spectacle, the joy of the adrenaline-fueled race. It was the starting whistle setting off another remarkable round of Washington's unofficial sport: gossip. Internet conspiracy theorists cracked their knuckles and settled in for a long night's labor. Pundits sat by their phones and in front of TV screens, waiting for their chances to weigh in. Ravenous masses took to Twitter to tear into the piece's bread crumbs.
The game was afoot.
The avalanche of guesses engulfed just about everyone in the top tiers of the White House - press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, adviser Kellyanne Conway, chief of staff John Kelly. Some were sure it'd be a big name; others were positive it'd be a powerful nobody. Perhaps it was written by John McCain before his death in a final act of defiance? Many predicted Trump and his allies had plotted and penned the op-ed themselves to feed the fires of internal controversy and distract from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's hearings. The bets literally rolled in.
Some zeroed in on Vice President Mike Pence as the mystery author, primarily because of the use of the word "lodestar" in the piece. Gung-ho sleuths traced the word through numerous Pence speeches, dating back to 2001.
Or maybe it's Pence's speechwriter, some pondered. Who the heck knows?
Trump attacked the piece and its publisher - the "Failing New York Times" - in his Wednesday afternoon meeting with the press pool, calling it "gutless."
"We have somebody in what I call the failing New York Times that's talking about he's part of the resistance inside the Trump administration," Trump told reporters. "This is what we have to deal with. And you know the dishonest media . . . But it's really a disgrace."
Afterward, the President tweeted a single word: TREASON?
In a fiery statement, Sanders declared the piece "a new low," demanded an apology from the Times and called for the author's resignation.
"He is not putting country first, but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people," she said. "The coward should do the right thing and resign."
Paranoia blossomed behind closed doors in the White House, according to a Washington Post report, as aides and staffers engaged in a fevered, real-life game of "Guess Who?" as they tried to nail down the op-ed's author.
Although a note at the top of the piece saying the author's identity was "known" to the Times opinion staff, those privy stayed tight-lipped, apparently bound to protect the official's anonymity, despite outcry from the paper's own reporters.
But in an interview with CNN, a Times op-ed page editor, Jim Dao, revealed that the source had reached out to the paper through a go-between, offering to unveil (well, sort of) the "resistance" within the administration to the world. He didn't say how the Times communicated with the author, or elaborate on exactly how "senior" the person is, CNN reported.
Those bored by the attempts at unmasking the author moved on to what might follow, what legacy the person might win through their public betrayal. Would they be heralded as a hero, paraded through the talk-show circuit and rewarded handsomely in book deals and prestigious opportunities, asked Karen Attiah, The Post's Global Opinions editor.
Others decried the author as a coward, a villain in complicity, proof that even those who see the president as a threat and a failure still aren't willing to confront him in the open.
Through all the hoopla, the mystery of the op-ed led to a rare moment of unity in a divided nation, in the form of countlessreferences to the 1979 horror movie, "When A Stranger Calls."
This article was written by Taylor Telford, a reporter for The Washington Post.