‘Fear and Menace are Reshaping Politics: ‘We’ll See You at Your House”



Threats, abuse, and harassment have become a disturbing new normal for public officials in the U.S., fueled by online anonymity, political extremism and the ease of making threats online. According to the U.S. Marshals Service, 2021 saw over 450 federal judges targeted with threats, marking a 150% increase from 2019. A 2021 survey by the National League of Cities found that over 80% of local officials reported experiencing threats or harassment.

Political Threats Rising

Last month, Jamie Raskin, a Democratic congressman from Maryland, secured a protective order after receiving about 50 menacing calls, emails, and letters every month. His latest court visit was prompted by a man who confronted him about the Covid-19 vaccine, Trump’s impeachment, and gender-related surgeries.

Government officials across the US have faced increasing threats in recent weeks. In late March, libraries in North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania were closed due to bomb threats. A California activist protesting Gaza war was arrested after threatening city council members. A Florida man was sentenced for threatening to kill Chief Justice John Roberts. Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, refused to rule out violence if he loses the upcoming election.

Threats and harassment have become a new normal in American public life. Over 450 federal judges were targeted with threats last year, a 150% increase from 2019, according to the United States Marshals Service. The US Capitol Police reported a 50% increase in threats against members of Congress.

The National League of Cities survey reveals that over 80% of local officials have been threatened or harassed. Ronald L. Davis, director of the U.S. Marshals Service, said threats are targeting not only officials but their family members. Although threats rarely escalate to action, instances of political violence, often driven by extreme right-wing views, have increased.

Public support for politicized violence among Republicans and Democrats has also increased. A study by the University of California, Davis, found that nearly one in three respondents considered violence justified to advance political objectives. Threats and the potential for violence have affected how public officials do their jobs, with many feeling less willing to run for office or take on controversial issues.

Threats are often facilitated by online anonymity and extreme political views. Women and people of color are more commonly threatened, according to a Princeton University survey. Public officials at all levels, including election workers and librarians, have reported feeling vulnerable and less willing to seek higher office.

Officials have implemented measures to manage threats, such as installing panic buttons, using motion-activated cameras, and not publicizing speaking engagements. Despite these precautions, threats and intimidation can influence political decisions. Senator Mitt Romney revealed that some GOP lawmakers voted against Trump’s impeachment due to fears for their safety.

Internet has accelerated the climate of intimidation, making it easier for anonymous individuals to threaten public officials. The abuse has led several officials to refrain from participating in cases involving Trump. Many officials insist they have become accustomed to managing their fears, but the intimidation can influence their decisions.

Local officials, particularly election officials and librarians, have faced hostility and abuse after Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 election. The American Library Association reported a significant increase in bomb threats against public libraries in 2021.

Despite the rising threats, local officials have had to learn to endure confrontations amid the growing vitriol and anger. Natalie Adona, the county clerk and recorder of Nevada County, California, said employees had received threats over the election results and a mask mandate.

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