Jan 18, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Threats against members of Congress went back up in 2023

Capitol Police secure the U.S. Capitol in response to a call for a "Day of Rage" on Oct. 13, 2023 in protest of Israel's military operations in Gaza. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Investigations into threats against members of Congress rose again in 2023 after dipping in 2022 from their post-Jan. 6 high, according to data released by the U.S. Capitol Police on Thursday.

Why it matters: The rise in threat assessment cases tracks with a surge in disruptive protests, vandalism and security incidents in relation to the Israel-Hamas war that has left members concerned about their safety.

By the numbers: Capitol Police opened 8,008 threat assessment cases in 2023, according to the newly released data – an increase of more than 500 over 2022.

  • The 2023 figure is down from 2021 and 2020, but it still reflects an overarching surge since the year before the Trump presidency began.
Data: Capitol Police, Los Angeles Times; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Capitol Police, Los Angeles Times; Chart: Axios Visuals

What they're saying: Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said in a statement that "threats against Members of Congress are still too high" and have "resulted in a necessary expansion of, not only our investigative capabilities, but our protection responsibilities as well."

  • "While that work is ongoing, everyone continuing to decrease violent political rhetoric across the country is the best way to keep everyone safe," Manger said.
  • Dr. Mario Scalora, the Capitol Police's consulting psychologist, attributed an increase in threats in recent decades to individuals on social media who "have a false sense of anonymity and feel more emboldened."

The backdrop: In addition to Florida and California field offices the Capitol Police launched in 2021, House Democrats created a task force on member security in December following the sudden surge in Israel-related incidents.

  • "The sizable numbers [of threats] indicate, understandably, why we're taking this so seriously" House Administration Committee ranking member Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.), who is leading the task force, told Axios.
  • "We need to make sure that members feel secure in doing this job for the public," said House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.).

Zoom in: Rep. Pat Ryan (D-N.Y.), who earlier this month accused pro-Palestinian protesters of attempting to "forcibly enter" his district office, said the number of Capitol Police cases may not even reflect the full picture.

  • "I've had phone calls and messages and social [media posts] that have been particularly violent and vile that I don't know we actually, technically reported," he said, adding that they were mostly Israel-focused.
  • Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio), who has been subject to antisemitic threats in recent months, said he is "continuously concerned about ... the safety of my family," calling for a "heavier presence" from law enforcement.
  • "Members are worried," Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio), who postponed a town hall last fall over antisemitic threats, said. "When people start showing up at your house, banging on your door, throwing things and threatening you, which has happened to a lot of members, it's a big worry."

What we're watching: As a record number of lawmakers in both parties announce plans to retire from Congress, Morelle suggested the rising threats public officials face should not be discounted as a factor.

  • "There's a whole bunch of motivations, but it's certainly become less comfortable to be here from that perspective," he said.
  • And it's not just lawmakers: Ryan, pointing to the two young staffers who he has said threw their bodies in front of a door to block protesters trying to get into his office, told Axios, "It's less about me questioning [public service], and more about people like that."
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