Members of the united states House of Representatives will now receive up to $10,000 to improve their home security in the face of growing threats to lawmakers, the House Sergeant-at-Arms announced last week, in yet another sign that American politics has entered a dangerous new phase and violent.
As support for political violence appears to be on the rise in the United States, experts warn that such threats endanger the health of American democracy. But they say the country still has time to quell violent rhetoric if political leaders, especially those in the Republican Party, stand up and condemn the alarming behavior.
The announcement of increased security for members of Congress came days after a man attacked Lee ZeldinNew York Congressman and Republican gubernatorial candidate with a sharp object during a campaign event.
Two weeks earlier, a man was arrested outside the home of Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal for allegedly shouting racist obscenities and threatening to kill her. Last month, authorities filed federal charges against a man they say traveled from California to Maryland with the intent to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Public service has clearly become an increasingly dangerous business in America.
Recent polls show that a growing number of Americans are comfortable with political violence, although there is a wide range of opinions about what kind of violence is acceptable.
According to a mega-survey conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis and published this month, one in five American adults say political violence is justified in at least some circumstances. A much smaller proportion of survey respondents, 3%, think political violence is usually or always justified.
Liliana Mason, professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of Radical American Partisanship: Mapping Violent Hostility, Its Causes, and the Consequences for Democracy, said the framing of survey questions about political violence can significantly affect the results. But after studying those polls since 2017, Mason said it was clear that support for political violence was indeed on the rise in the United States.
“I think it’s a pretty small number of people who actually condone violence,” Mason said. “The problem is that if you go from 7% to 20%, that means that there are certain social spaces where anti-violence norms are eroding.”
The impact of this trend can be seen at all levels of the US government, from the halls of Capitol Hill to local polling places.
US Capitol Police reported 9,625 threats and directions of interest (i.e. regarding actions or statements) against members of Congress last year, compared to 3,939 such cases in 2017.
Members of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 uprising have often been the target of violent threats, forcing them to obtain personal security information.
A committee member, Republican Adam Kinzinger, recently share a threatening letter sent to his wife last month. The sender has sworn to execute Kinzinger, his wife, and their newborn son. He is not seeking re-election in 2022.
Even those who help administer elections in the United States have reported an increase in threats against them. According a survey conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice this year, one in six election officials have received threats because of their work, and 77% believe threats against them have increased in recent years.
Jennifer McCoy, a professor of political science at Georgia State University whose research focuses on polarized democracies, said: “The types of threats and intimidation against … election administration officials and election officials are very concerning and are also new.”
The apparent increase in threats against officials has raised broader concerns about the health of American democracy, particularly in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“There is simply no place for political violence in a healthy democracy. The increase in threats and harassment against people in our government is deeply concerning,” said Jennifer Dresden, political lawyer with the group Protect Democracy.
“To be clear, we are not yet at a point where political violence has fundamentally undermined our democracy. But when violence is linked with other authoritarian tactics, like disinformation and efforts to corrupt elections, it opens up a dangerous path for our democracy that we cannot ignore.
While threats and harassment against lawmakers and political candidates appear to have increased across many government institutions, they are not evenly distributed.
A study online messages sent to 2020 congressional candidates revealed that women, especially women of color, were more likely to be targets of abusive content. Of all the candidates screened, progressive MP Ilhan Omar, of Somali descent, received the highest proportion of abusive posts on Twitter. Progressive congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, saw the most abusive comments on Facebook.
Women of color in Congress have spoken publicly about the threats they face, which have become part of their lives on Capitol Hill.
Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, who is black, told PBS Newshour last year“I remember, at the beginning of the 116th Congress [in 2019]while we were only highlighting and emphasizing the beautiful diversity of this incoming Congress, but then, with every caucus call, we had members who were receiving death threats on a daily basis.
Acts of political violence in the United States are also unevenly distributed across the ideological spectrum. According a study led by the Anti-Defamation League, right-wing extremists have committed about 75% of the 450 political murders in the United States over the past decade. In comparison, Islamic extremists were responsible for about 20% of murders, while left-wing extremists were responsible for 4% of murders.
Experts argue that the frequency of right-wing violence over left-wing violence may be partly explained by the inability of Republican leaders to condemn threatening rhetoric.
“We see justifications for violence that are similar on the left and on the right,” said Rachel Kleinfeld, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who studies political conflict. “But we are seeing incidents of violence that are much higher on the right and have to do with the whole normalization of violence from right-wing leaders.”
This normalization has been evident over the past two years in the United States. Donald Trump infamously called his supporters who led the deadly January 6 insurgency “very special”, telling them: “We love you”. Trump was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House for his role in the Jan. 6 riot, but acquitted in the Senate.
Last year, House Democrats, more quasi-unanimous Republican oppositionvoted to strip far-right Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments, after it was discovered she had previously expressed support for the assassination of Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In November, Congressman Paul Gosar received the same sentence, along with House censure, after he shared an animated video depicting violence against Joe Biden and Ocasio-Cortez. Only two republicans supported censorship.
More recently, Senate candidate Eric Greitens was widely criticized for running a campaign ad that appeared to encourage violence against more moderate Republicans. In the ad, Greitens, who resigned as governor of Missouri over allegations of sexual harassment, is seen carrying a shotgun and barging into homes as he urges Rinos to be ‘hunted’ , that is, Republicans in name only.
Research indicates that the messages supporters receive from their political leaders have a big impact on whether they actually commit acts of violence, several experts said. In the experiments conducted by Mason and his colleagues, some participants were asked to read a quote from Biden or Trump condemning the violence while others read nothing. Those who had read the quote were much less supportive of violence.
“Leaders are actually particularly powerful in being able to quell violence,” Mason said. “Republicans in particular don’t use that power. And they might, but they’re not.
Although political leaders are particularly powerful when it comes to reducing violent rhetoric, Mason’s research indicates that average people can have their own influence. Mason’s team saw positive results when they asked participants to read posts from random Twitter users condemning political violence. For the overwhelming majority of Americans who oppose such violence, the results might offer some hope.
“For Americans in general, I think it’s kind of empowering to know that each of us has the potential to reduce violence by just rejecting it,” Mason said. “We can all do this. The 80% of us who don’t think violence is okay have a real voice, and it’s important to use it. »