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Threats Against Public Officials Rising

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Threats Against Public Officials Rising

NEW YORK, NY (IANS) – Ever since former President Donald Trump contested the 2020 elections as a “stolen one” by Democrats, state and local officials have faced a surge of violent threats, harassment, and intimidation. Especially from his supporters following the infamous attack on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, when Trump lost the election to Joe Biden.

These threats, harassment, and intimidation are virtually reshaping the way public officials across the US do their jobs, making them less likely to engage with constituents, hold public events, advocate for government policies that could lead to blowback, or run for re-election, the Time Magazine reported in a special dispatch this week.

Public officials have of late faced some level of anger from constituents who disagree with them. And this disagreement and the severity and scale of this “constant barrage of intimidating behaviour is now [having] an impact on the way they do their jobs,” Gowri Ramachandran, the Deputy Director of the Elections and Government Program at the Brennan Center, told TIME.

“It’s made people less willing to lead and legislate on so-called ‘contentious issues’, and all of those things are having really severe impacts on the democratic system.”

More than 40 percent of state legislators surveyed reported being threatened or attacked in the past three years. Nearly 90 percent said they had suffered less severe abuse, including harassment, intimidation, and stalking.

Republican legislators reported the incidence of “abuse” was higher with them than Democrats. The report’s authors partly attribute this to Republican officeholders being targeted by the party’s far-right “for refusing to back extreme positions”, paired with GOP leaders’ unwillingness to condemn violent rhetoric. This dynamic “likely distorts policymaking in ways that fail broad constituencies and makes nuanced, bipartisan law-making often impossible”, the report says.

Almost 40 percent of local officials, including 50 percent of women, said the ongoing harassment made them less willing to run for re-election or to seek higher office. This tally includes many state and local election officials, who in 2020 bore the brunt of the anger of Trump’s supporters, who falsely accused them of rigging that race and subsequently hounded many out of office, the journal said.

The resulting turnover means that more than 1 in 5 election administrators will be doing the job for the first time in 2024, according to the Brennan Centre’s data.

The report is based on a series of national surveys conducted last year of more than 1,700 state legislators and local officials from all 50 states, as well as three dozen interviews with the Brennan Center. Approximately 1 in 5 state officials, and 40 percent of local officials, said they were less willing to work on policies considered controversial, like gun regulation or reproductive rights, due to harassment. More than half of state lawmakers said they believed this atmosphere was deterring their colleagues from advocating for these issues, the report found.

High-profile acts of political violence, like the hammer attack on Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s husband, by a right-wing conspiracy theorist, have not only drawn public ire but also widespread attention.

Public officials have reported receiving bomb threats and letters with suspicious substances, being confronted with guns, having their homes shot at, and seeing their addresses and photos of their homes and their children’s schools posted online.

The abuse has often been more severe and directed at officials who were women, people of color, religious minorities, or LGBTQ community. One female state legislator told the Brennan Center it had become common to see people making online threats of rape or death “identifying my address or talking about my daughter or my mom”.

Female state officials, especially women of colour, reported they were nearly twice as likely as men to change their travel routes due to safety concerns, and were six times as likely to avoid travelling alone, the Brennan report made a chilling revelation.

Some officials are spending their own money on extra safety precautions like security cameras to protect themselves, their staff, and their families.

Though the report offered some recommendations, like regulations for carrying of firearms in public places or at public or shielding officials’ home addresses, and more closely monitoring these threats to better allocate resources, experts warn these are just stopgap measures. A long-term measure for public safety has become increasingly imperative.

“I’m worried about the impact this will have on the pipeline of candidates for public office,” says Ramachandran, noting that the normalization of violent rhetoric directed towards public officials will continue to have a chilling effect. “Even before this kind of other behaviour escalates into physical violence, it does have this corrosive effect on our democracy.”

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  • That’s all democrats will whine this whole year until Nov elections – Jan 6, Jan 6, Jan 6. BTW, what about all those ongoing court cases against Trump to keep him away from the elections?

    January 26, 2024
  • Deplorable

    January 26, 2024
  • I researched this issue and came across the following reference that not only brings up the issue but also provides factors that may be contributing to the problem.

    “A deluge of violent messages: How a surge in threats to public officials could disrupt American democracy

    By Rob Kuznia, Majlie de Puy Kamp, Alex Leeds Matthews, Kyung Lah, Anna-Maja Rappard and Yahya Abou-Ghazala, CNN
    23 minute read
    Updated 10:33 PM EST, Thu December 7, 2023”

    The following are some relevant excerpts.

    “CNN REVIEWED MORE THAN 500 FEDERALLY PROSECUTED THREATS. HERE’S WHAT WE FOUND:

    At least 41% of all the cases across the decade were politically motivated.
    Nearly 95% of people prosecuted for making threats to public officials are male; the median age is 37.
    Politically motivated threats to public officials increased 178% during Trump’s presidency.
    Threats related to hot political topics like abortion or police brutality also skyrocketed during the Trump years, increasing by more than 300% from Obama’s second term.
    As the party in power, 16 Democrats received threats during Obama’s second term. This increased 169% with 43 GOP lawmakers threatened under Trump.”

    “ As the 2024 campaign revs up – and on the heels of indictments against the Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, who has verbally attacked some of his courtroom adversaries – the ongoing onslaught of violent messages, particularly to federal lawmakers and other public officials, threatens to disrupt the American machinery of government.”

    “ Though the threatscape to members of Congress and other public servants appears to have cooled in 2022, this year has seen several flareups that could prove a harbinger. They include a recent burst of threats targeting some GOP holdouts in the failed effort to award far-right Rep. Jim Jordan the House speakership, another surrounding Trump’s indictments, and yet another targeting progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar – who has been historically critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians – following the outbreak of the war between Hamas and Israel.

    Threats have also recently targeted election officials. Last month, staff in election offices in several states received suspicious letters. One of them, in Washington state, contained fentanyl.

    “These are perhaps the most dangerous hate crimes,” said Anne Speckhard, director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, referring to threats against public officials and election workers. “They’re really scary because they can take down a democracy.””

    “ “I think Trump gave everyone a license just to say whatever they wanted, make whatever threats they wanted,” Barron told CNN. “I think they knew they wouldn’t get punished for it.”

    In one voicemail provided to CNN, a man who believed the election was stolen made reference to “Caucasian” founding fathers and said Barron – who is White but managed a majority-Black staff – deserved to be shot or “served lead.””

    “ Between 2013 and January 19, 2017, the sitting president – Obama – was the target in 71% of all such threats against named public officials, CNN found. During Trump’s tenure, threats to the president fell to 24% of the total to public officials; so far under Biden’s, it’s 19%.

    Conversely, the number of named partisan targets quadrupled during the Trump era, with threats singling out all levels of public officials, from members of Congress to state election officials to governors and city council candidates. That trend has continued into the Biden presidency.”

    January 27, 2024

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