Threats of lynch­ing and mur­der un­nerve law­mak­ers

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By MATTHEW DALY

WASHINGTON - A voice­mail mes­sage di­rected to Ari­zona Rep. Martha McSally last month warned “our sights are set on you, right be­tween your ... eyes.” Another voice­mail said: “Yeah, Martha, your days are num­bered and next time you show your face in Tuc­son it might be the last time.”

McSally, a Repub­li­can in her sec­ond term, for­warded the mes­sages to U.S. Capi­tol po­lice, re­sult­ing in fed­eral charges against an Ari­zona man.

Demo­cratic Rep. Al Green of Texas was threat­ened with lynch­ing by call­ers in­fu­ri­ated with his ef­fort to im­peach Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. One caller used a racial in­sult and said the seven-term African-Amer­i­can law­maker would be “hang­ing from a tree” if he pur­sues im­peach­ment.

Since the shoot­ing of House Ma­jor­ity Whip Steve Scalise at a Vir­ginia base­ball field Wed­nes­day, mem­bers of Congress have spo­ken more freely about how threats of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence or death have in­creased in re­cent months, leav­ing law­mak­ers fear­ing for their safety as well as the safety of their fam­i­lies and staff.

“I've never been so shaken,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. The Scalise shoot­ing “hits so close to home,” Cramer said. “We've all been un­der this cloud for a while of ag­gres­sive so­cial me­dia and threat assessments and think­ing about fam­i­lies and what­not and just try­ing to de­ter­mine ... is it even worth it” to con­tinue to serve in Congress.

An­swer­ing his own ques­tion, Cramer said “of course it is,” but said Scalise's shoot­ing and threats against fel­low law­mak­ers “does cause con­tem­pla­tion at a level I haven't had since I've taken this job.”

The Capi­tol is one of the best-guarded build­ings in the coun­try, but when the vast ma­jor­ity of law­mak­ers leave the fortress of Capi­tol Hill, they're on their own. Wed­nes­day's shoot­ing high­lights the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of law­mak­ers when they are in public. Only the con­gres­sional lead­ers have se­cu­rity de­tails.

Even be­fore the shoot­ing, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Demo­cratic leader Nancy Pelosi had be­gun talk­ing about changes that could im­prove mem­bers' safety, said Ryan's spokes­woman, Ash­Lee Strong.

Cramer, who holds many ``Cof­fees with Cramer'' events around North Dakota, said that sev­eral weeks ago, a man walked right up to him and tried to shove money down his shirt col­lar. Since for­mer Rep. Gabby Gif­fords, D-Ariz., was shot dur­ing a town hall event in Ari­zona in 2011, po­lice and leg­isla­tive lead­ers have urged law­mak­ers to en­sure a lo­cal po­lice pres­ence at events, a prac­tice Cramer said he has long fol­lowed.

“At this point I think that pres­ence is a re­quire­ment to par­tic­i­pa­tion” Cramer said, point­ing out that it's not just his safety at risk - it's ev­ery­one who at­tends. “So if peo­ple don't feel safe com­ing to see us, we're robbed of that op­por­tu­nity. I love the in­ter­ac­tion so we have to think of all that.”

At Cramer's events, at­ten­dees sign in but are not screened for weapons.

Rep. Ann Wag­ner, R-Mo., said she has re- ceived five death threats this spring and watched chil­dren in her sub­ur­ban St. Louis neigh­bor­hood scrub away chalk out­lines of dead bod­ies that had been drawn on the drive­way of her home. The chil­dren re­placed them with happy faces. The St. Louis Post-Dis­patch first re­ported the threats against Wag­ner.

Shortly af­ter Wed­nes­day's shoot­ing, Rep. Clau­dia Ten­ney, R-N.Y., re­ceived an email with the sub­ject line: “One down, 216 to go ...”

There are 238 Repub­li­cans in the House, but 217 voted for a bill that would re­peal and re­place Pres­i­dent Barack Obama's health law. It was un­clear whether the email writer was re­fer­ring to that vote. Rep. James Cly­burn, D-S.C., said mes­sages to his of­fice be­came so vile that he told his staff some years ago he no longer wanted to see them.

“If you would like to come to my of­fice, my district of­fice, I can show you some of the letters I have framed and I keep over my desk for any­body who wants to think this is some­thing about left-wingers,” said Cly­burn. “Those are not left-wingers who wrote me that stuff.”

The voice­mails left with McSally's con­gres­sional of­fice re­sulted in a fed­eral grand jury charges against Steven Mar­tan, 58, of Tuc­son. The charges state that Mar­tan threat­ened to as­sault and mur­der a U.S. of­fi­cial, McSally, with the in­tent to in­ter­fere and in­tim­i­date her while she was en­gaged in per­for­mance of her of­fi­cial du­ties.

The threats, while ex­treme, are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon, ac­cord­ing to mem­bers of Congress.

Rep. Bar­bara Comstock, R-Va., said law­mak­ers laid out threats they've re­ceived dur­ing a closed-door meet­ing fol­low­ing Wed­nes­day's shoot­ing. Con­gres­sional lead­er­ship and the House Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee are look­ing at what can be done to in­crease se­cu­rity be­cause of so many death threats.

“Some of this is re­ally nasty - peo­ple wish­ing ill things on you - but it's crossed the line now into quite a few death threats,” Comstock said.

Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., said vi­o­lence - and the threat of vi­o­lence - has no place in pol­i­tics.

“I know we're a di­vided coun­try,” he said, “but Amer­i­cans do not set­tle po­lit­i­cal dis­agree­ments with vi­o­lence.”


Mourn­ers leav­ing Mt. Perry Bap­tist Church with flag-draped cof­fin of lynch­ing vic­tim Ge­orge W. Dorsey, July 28, 1946

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