Aug 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Political threats spiral

Illustration collage of a fist extending from an open envelope
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Politicians, public officials and even obscure bureaucrats are becoming inured to the new normal of today’s polarized America: constant threats of violence inflamed by highly charged political rhetoric.

Why it matters: The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol demonstrated how easily tensions can boil over into devastating political violence. And the problem is only getting worse.

  • FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that political violence is becoming "almost a 365-day phenomenon."
  • "I feel like every day I'm getting briefed on somebody throwing a Molotov cocktail at someone for some issue," Wray testified. "It's crazy."

Driving the news: The FBI's search of former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence spurred a wave of threats against individuals involved in nearly every level of the process.

  • Attorney General Merrick Garland, Wray and FBI agents have faced an uptick in online threats since Monday, according to Fox News.
  • The biography and contact information of Bruce Reinhart, the judge who approved the search warrant, were scrubbed from his district court's website, and his synagogue canceled a Shabbat event amid anti-Semitic threats.
  • "I hear Judge Reinhart has been getting threats, that his information was taken down from the judicial directory, and he’s the object of vitriol from supporters of the former president," Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg told Axios.

What they're saying: Garland on Thursday took aim at "unfounded attacks on the professionalism" of DOJ officials, stating, "I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked."

  • The comments came during a press conference on the Mar-a-Lago search, and shortly after an armed attack on an FBI building in Cincinnati.
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a former impeachment manager, tweeted audio of a call he received in which a person said: "Cut his f***ing head off ... cut his wife's head off, cut his kids' head off." (Warning, linked tweet includes graphic audio.)
  • "Since the FBI search ... Republicans are stoking violent rhetoric against lawmakers and law enforcement," Swalwell said. "Someone is going to get killed."

Context: Trump and his allies immediately cast the search as unjust, malicious and politically charged, responding in severe polemics and broadsides against the government.

  • "I will support a complete dismantling and elimination of the democrat brown shirts known as the FBI," Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) tweeted hours afterward.
  • Republican lawmakers, candidates, committees and Trump himself have blasted out a flood of fundraising appeals in the days after the search — many of which use language accusing "corrupt" Democrats of weaponizing law enforcement and coming after "your president."

The big picture: This latest development is just one ripple in a wave of recent politically motivated threats against high-profile politicians and anonymous private citizens alike.

The other side: Even the issue of security for public officials has become subject to heated partisan rhetoric, with Republicans alleging the focus is one-sided.

  • The conservative Judicial Crisis Network on Thursday announced a $10 million ad campaign accusing Democrats of "endangering the lives of Supreme Court justices" through their abortion rhetoric and slamming Garland for not doing more to ramp up security.
  • "It’s time for law enforcement, the Department of Justice and the media to take this more seriously and not selectively choose who is held accountable or who is worthy of additional protection," House Administration Committee ranking member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) told Axios.
  • Davis' office pointed to threats against Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) after he became a target of the Jan. 6 committee for a tour he gave on Jan. 5.
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