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A politician takes an unpopular stance. Election officials count ballots and certify election results. Police arrest men intending to disrupt a public event. A veterinary practice makes a difficult decision. These recent events – and countless others that didn’t make the news – have led to death threats.
People simply doing their jobs are now faced with harassment and threats against their lives. Worse, their family members – including children – are often threatened as well.
This degradation of our discourse and growing propensity to threaten violent harm to those who have made us mad, and those we simply disagree with, must stop. Obviously, threatening to kill someone – or their spouse, children or coworkers, who often have nothing to do with the original concern – is no way to come to a reasonable resolution to a disagreement. Worse, it can literally put people’s lives in danger. At minimum, it drives people away from essential jobs and offices.
For those who say it’s no big deal, they’re just words, the problem is that it is hard to know what threats are just heated rhetoric and which ones demand a law enforcement response. As a result, law enforcement resources are increasingly directed to protecting both public and private individuals and property. Individuals and companies are also dedicating growing resources to security concerns.
These threats aren’t just social media posts and voicemails. Some are much more concrete. Threatening notes and nooses have been left at homes. Elected officials have been surrounded and hounded at airports and restaurants, even at their homes. Some have been followed in their cars. In some instances, which thankfully appear to be rare, people act on these threats.
Last week, 26-year-old Nicholas John Roske was arrested outside the Maryland home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Roske allegedly told law enforcement officials that he traveled from California to Maryland to kill Kavanaugh, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office in Maryland. Roske also said he was having suicidal thoughts. He was taken into custody. When law enforcement officials searched the suitcase and backpack that Roske had with him they found a pistol with two magazines and ammunition, a tactical knife, pepper spray, zip ties, a hammer, screwdriver, nail punch, crow bar, pistol light, duct tape, and other items.
Roske has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of attempted murder of a Supreme Court justice.
Death threats against members of Congress doubled from 2020 to 2021, and Capitol Police have asked for additional resources to combat the trend.
CQ Roll Call asked every member of Congress if they had received death threats since 2020. Seventy-five percent of those who responded (147 members) said they had. The percentages were nearly identical for both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
“I don’t know many members of Congress who haven’t received a death threat,” Rep. Donald Norcross, D-New Jersey, told the news outlet.
These threats likely don’t change minds but they do drive people away from jobs that require interaction with an increasingly hostile public. Already in Maine, some communities are having a hard time attracting candidates for elected offices and municipal jobs. Staffers are also leaving congressional offices because of the increasingly heated rhetoric, CQ reported.
We all get mad. Some will find themselves confronted with actions or decisions that are infuriating and may even negatively impact us directly. Threatening the lives of those who make such decisions isn’t about resolving these difficult situations. It is about intimidation. Intimidating elected officials, the staff at a veterinary clinic or anywhere else is not productive – far from it – and it may be a crime.
Many Americans are feeling stressed and on edge. But, that is no excuse for threatening or harassing others. We must turn down the anger and find constructive ways to work through our differences.