“I wouldn’t be surprised if a senator or House member were killed.” That was the chilling comment from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) about escalating threats of violence and other intimidating acts against members of Congress. We would like to think the senator was being hyperbolic, but it’s hard to look at the surge in violent threats and confrontations and not fear the worst. The nation’s lawmakers should be safe. A good starting point would be for Republican leaders to unequivocally denounce those in their party who have helped create this increasingly dangerous reality.
A recent New York Times report detailed a rise in recorded threats against members of Congress and an accompanying trend of disturbing in-person confrontations. Political violence has occurred throughout U.S. history, but what is new in modern times — and alarming — is its journey from the fringes to center stage, thanks largely to the dangerous rhetoric of former president Donald Trump. According to the Times, in the five years after Mr. Trump was elected in 2016, following a campaign marked by his virulent discourse, the number of threats recorded by the Capitol Police against members of Congress increased more than tenfold, to 9,625 in 2021; the first quarter of 2022 saw 1,820 cases opened.
Members of Congress from both parties have been targeted, but the Times’s review showed that more than a third of the threats were made by Republican or pro-Trump individuals against Democrats or Republicans seen as disloyal to Mr. Trump. Nearly a quarter were made by Democrats targeting Republicans, while party affiliations could not be determined in the other cases. Particularly vulnerable are lawmakers of color.