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Fueled by Trump-inspired grievances, attempts to terrorize officials escalate

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When Representative Joe Neguse gave his closing address in February during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, he expressed concern about the leadership of a nation that, weeks earlier, had witnessed ‘a local attack in his capital.

I’m concerned, like many of you, that the violence we saw on that terrible day is just the beginning, said Neguse, D-Colo., Who, as impeachment official, played a role. televised nationally in pursuit of Trump over an accusation he incited the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on Jan.6.

Neguse ended optimistically, offering a favorite Martin Luther King Jr quote: I have decided to stick with love. Hatred is too heavy a burden to bear.

The Senate acquitted Trump. A day later, on Valentine’s Day, the propulsive threatening speech Neguse feared to take root in American democracy landed on his doorstep.

A suspicious letter sent to the congressman’s home was opened to reveal a photo of Neguse from the New York Times. An unknown substance, suspected of being feces, was marked with an X in the photo, according to records on file with the Lafayette, Colorado Police Department and obtained by NBC News.

The worrying incident, which has not been reported before, has been referred to Capitol Hill police for investigation and is among more than 9,000 threats the agency is expected to register this year. It is also representative of the escalating security risks facing officials from the federal and state levels down to local school boards.

Someone called me and said: this is the weapon I’m going to use. I’m going to put three bullets in the back of his head, said Rep Adam Schiff, D-Calif last month. on MSNBC. You feel uncomfortable sitting next to an open window in your house. And that’s not something I thought I should think about in this country.

Quantifying exactly how dangerous things have become is a challenge, but even election officials, a smaller echelon of the civil service that is nonetheless at the heart of democracy, are reporting threats.

And officials from the Capitol Police, the agency responsible for protecting members of Congress, said they expected the number of threats against members to exceed the 8,600 dealt with in 2020 and continue to increase significantly during the year. Trump era. In 2017, the first year of Trump’s tenure, only 3,900 threats were reported. (The department is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, which makes details scarce.)

While Trump has fomented much of this hostility among his fellow Republicans, the anger of the left has also grown. Republicans practicing for the annual congressional baseball game were targeted by a shooter known for his anti-GOP sentiments in 2017. During Trump’s tenure, Republican senators were threatened for supporting his Conservative Supreme Court candidates. Progressive activists in the early months of the Biden administration pushed the boundaries in their encounters with moderate Democrats, like Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

NBC News, in requests to nearly 70 state and local law enforcement agencies, requested documents detailing threats over the past year against 37 public officials. The list included Congressional Republicans who voted to impeach or convict Trump; Democrats who, like Neguse, served as impeachment officials; and leading governors and secretaries of state. Most agencies said they had no relevant documents or cited legal exemptions that prevent disclosure of a public official’s safety concerns.

The Covid-19 and the 2020 presidential election fueled much of the rage. Last year, the FBI foiled an alleged plot by extremists to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, over restrictions she imposed during the pandemic. The January 6 riot on Capitol Hill was an attempt by Trump supporters to prevent Congress from certifying victory for Joe Bidens Electoral College.

People are angry and angry, and I understand that, said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has faced death threats while resisting pressure from Trump to undo the victory. de Bidens in his state, in an interview. But they feel like they can say whatever they want and threaten your life, because they are angry with the election results. What is distressing is why they believe it is because they have been lied to.

More recently, the grim tone of political dialogue has spread to smaller grievances and partisan debates about politics, with Trump and the Republicans vitriolic.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., Made public the death threats he received this month after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Called him and 12 other GOP colleagues. who voted in favor of an anti-Trump infrastructure bill. Republican traitors and shared their office phone numbers on Twitter. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, was censored last week by the Democratic-led House after posting an anime video of Rep attacking Biden and killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y.

GOP leaders rarely condemn such behavior. But there were wider and more tangible consequences.

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, is not seeking re-election next year, partly citing the chaotic political environment and threats he received after he voted to impeach Trump in January. Others limit their interaction with the public.

The Congressional Management Foundation, a nonprofit group that helps members run their offices and engage their constituents, said in-person forums pose a security risk. Bradford Fitch, the president and chief executive officer of the nonprofits, said he is also urging staff members to send unknown calls directly to voicemail, in order to prevent verbal abuse from young helpers.

I’m going to give you a very scary anecdote that happened to me recently when I was doing training for new interns coming to Capitol Hill, Fitch said. Normally the question you ask yourself is: Hey, where are the parties where the free food is? Instead, the question I got was, I just took my training to answer the phone, and my chief of staff wants that in cases where we get death threats, I try to bring the person who calls to give us his name. Do you have any tips on how I do this?

Thanks to requests for public recordings from NBC News, several previously unreported incidents have come to light.

Rep. Tom Rice, a Republican from South Carolina who voted to impeach Trump in January, received a threatening voicemail message from a constituent in Myrtle Beach a few weeks later, according to a report from the Horry County Sheriff’s Office. The caller wanted Rice to come to his house for coffee so he could beat him to death, according to the report. MPs visited the suspect, who admitted to making the call but said he had no plans to follow up on the threat. Rice refused to press charges.

Representative Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Was threatened with arrest by citizens days after the January 6 riot, according to a report from the Torrance Police Department. Although the report says there were no articulate threats, officials noted that Lieu had spoken and was at the forefront of national media supporting the impeachment or impeachment of President Trump.

Torrance Police received at least four other patrol requests this year for Lieu, who was a House impeachment director, including an April call from Capitol Police that mentioned threats of bodily harm to the member. of Congress.

Other members, through their staff or the Capitol Police, have made similar requests to local police and sheriff departments this year, citing threats or security concerns.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine who voted to convict Trump in the February impeachment trial, underwent at least 77 property checks at her home and local office between Jan.6 and Sept.1, according to the Bangor Police Records. There were also at least two reports of suspicious behavior at his home: a drone flying overhead on January 15 and a man leaning against a nearby fence on March 19. Neither turned out to be a threat. Collins, a moderate with a high-profile swing vote, has faced threats and harassment for years, including her 2018 vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a candidate for Trump.

Property checks are usually in response to a vague or potential threat relayed by Capitol Police, Bangor Police Sgt. said Wade Betters. Usually an extra precautionary type thing.

Ohios Gonzalez and Rep. John Katko, RN.Y., also reported threats after voting to impeach Trump, according to records obtained from their local police departments. Patrols have multiplied near their homes.

Records do not always capture the full magnitude of what a public official is faced with. A November 2020 security check at Raffenspergers’ home in suburban Atlanta, for example, only alluded to his family having received multiple threats.

Raffensperger has offered more details publicly, in interviews and in Integrity Counts, the autobiography he published this month. The attacks escalated as Raffensperger refused to back Trump’s false claims that he had won Georgia. His wife, Tricia Raffensperger, received sexualized threats, Raffensperger wrote in his book. Someone broke into the house of his widowed daughter-in-law. The family briefly hid.

We could have stayed, Raffensperger said of the decision to temporarily leave their home. But what if the situation gets out of hand? What if the situation had changed? So it was something that really concerned, not just us, but our grandchildren and our children as well.

Raffensperger is seeking re-election next year and faces a Trump-approved main challenge from Representative Jody Hice. Threats have subsided, he said, but he received a few bad guys after his book came out. They were only insulting me, he said, as we like to say in the South.

But in times of fiery tensions and heightened alert, it becomes easy to imagine the worst.

At home in Colorado with his wife and toddler, the day he received the disfigured newspaper clipping, Neguse treated the flowers that had come to him unexpectedly with the same suspicion.

Capitol Police then determined that the flowers were not a threat, but simply a friendly gift from a colleague in Congress.

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