Democracy cannot flourish amid threats of violence

Since 9/11, federal agencies have devoted a wildly disproportionate share of resources to the threat of foreign terrorists, while giving much less attention to home-grown ones. That has to change quickly.

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. says on Jan. 28, when asked about what she means when she said Congress has an “enemy within,” “It means that we have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress.”

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Recent threats of violence against members of Congress should matter to everyone in the nation who cares about effective and representative government.

The attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was bad enough. But in recent days and weeks, members of Congress have reported getting strings of threats against themselves and even members of their families.

It’s just another way antidemocratic forces are trying to keep our government from listening to average Americans. Those behind the ominous threats want to shape government only to their own liking. Left unchecked, this will not work out well.

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Investigative agencies need to ramp up their efforts to track down those doing the threatening, and Republican congressional leaders, who have been missing in action, need to forcefully condemn lawmakers who encourage false narratives that fuel conspiracy theories.

Federal enforcement officers reportedly are investigating many threats against lawmakers as the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump nears, according to The Hill, a news website. The Associated Press reports threats to harm specific members of Congress have been made in chat rooms and on online message boards. Also on Friday, it was reported that the House’s chief law enforcement officer is tightening security for traveling lawmakers.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., wrote about a colleague who joined GOP efforts to overturn the election because, “My colleague feared for family members, and the danger the vote would put them in.” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said last week that he also had heard Republicans were fearful for their safety. U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., said Republicans are  “paralyzed with fear” and some have broken down in tears.

Last month, a Pennsylvania state senator said she feared that if she did not support Republican efforts to overturn her state’s electoral votes, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”

“There are a lot of other threats that aren’t being publicized,” U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., told us on Friday. “This is going in the wrong direction in a hurry.”

Since 9/11, federal agencies have devoted a wildly disproportionate share of resources to the threat of foreign terrorists, while giving much less attention to home-grown ones. That has to change quickly. On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a federal alert about possible attacks in coming weeks by domestic terrorists.

So far, the people and organizations behind the threats have been trying to influence congressional votes on overturning the presidential election and Donald Trump’s impeachment and trial. But there is nothing to say the threats of violence to sway Congress will stop there.

A democratic marketplace of ideas can’t flourish in an environment where lawmakers are afraid to speak their minds or vote in a certain way.

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Moreover, threats of violence, which are nothing new for such Democrats as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., almost surely will affect who decides to continue to serve in Congress or run for office. If those behind the threats are not tracked down and stopped, voters will find their choices are more limited in future elections.

The vileness of it all lurks within Congress itself. Before being elected to Congress in November, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., repeatedly suggested support for the execution of prominent Democratic politicians, CNN reports. On Friday, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., after a hallway confrontation, said she is moving to an office farther from Green to protect herself and her staff.

“These people are really dangerous,” U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said on Friday.

Elected officials are taking what precautions they can. Quigley said some members are discussing using their internal individual budgets to bolster their security in their districts, and at their homes. Some member of Congress confide they are even buying body armor.

Meanwhile, death threats against Congress have led U.S. Capitol police to insist that thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington. Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week said he is sending about 500 National Guard troops from Illinois.

Some arrests have been made.

A California man was arrested on Jan. 26 after making threats against U.S. Rep Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. Another man was arrested on Jan. 27 with a gun, 20 rounds of 9mm ammunition and “Stop the Steal” paperwork with a list of congressional and West Virginia lawmakers’ names. He was arrested near the Rayburn House Office Building, home to many congressional offices.  

A supporter of the Proud Boys who authorities said threatened to harm Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and who police said had military-style combat knives and more than 1,000 rifle rounds in his New York home, also was recently arrested.

On Friday, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., said, “It is so important for all Americans who support our constitutional democracy, who support government of the people, by the people and for the people, [to] stand up and speak out against this.”

Exactly. Debate in any legislative body can be contentious. But good laws that benefit most Americans are less likely to emerge if a threat of physical, bloody violence hovers in the air.

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