Growing Support for Political Violence Sounds Alarm

(The Hill) – Just hours after his arrest last month near the home of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a 26-year-old California man carrying a Glock 17 pistol, burglary tools and zip ties told an FBI agent what had inspired his cross-country journey to assassinate the conservative Supreme Court justice.

The suspect, who has pleaded not guilty and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, told a detective he was upset that the draft notice quashing Roe v. Wade and the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed two teachers and 19 children. According to court records, the suspect thought Kavanaugh would vote to loosen gun laws further and said killing the judge before turning the gun on himself would give his life purpose.

The chilling incident is one of a string of violent threats that have recently targeted political figures and comes amid a changing landscape in which the share of supporters who believe violence is sometimes justified to achieve political goals has risen dramatically.

“The idea that violence is legitimate for political purposes has entered the mainstream,” said Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago. “It’s still a minority. … But if you have 10% or 15% of a community that thinks violence is okay for certain political causes, that just encourages more violence for those causes.

A recent spate of violent threats against US lawmakers has raised new concerns about the safety of politicians, particularly after the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who illustrated in the starkest possible terms the challenges of an increased threat environment. And the January 6 coup attempt served to remind Americans that the United States is not immune to the kind of political violence that is relatively common in some parts of the world.

A recent high-profile incident came earlier this week when a man was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Law enforcement says officers discovered the suspect on the street outside Jayapal’s Seattle home on the evening of July 9 with his hands up and a handgun to his waist.

A neighbor told officers they heard the man shouting, “Go back to India, I’m going to kill you” and saw his vehicle pass by Jayapal’s residence about three times as he shouted blasphemy, according to court records.

The 48-year-old suspect was released from jail on Wednesday after police were unable to adequately prove he made the alleged threats, according to the Seattle Times, which reported that security forces order had obtained a court order forcing the man to surrender his weapons, citing concerns about his mental health.

Earlier this month, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Illinois), one of two Republicans on the House Select Committee on Jan. 6, shared threatening letters and voicemails he received.

“Hope you die naturally as fast as f—— possible,” one caller said.

“I will come to demonstrate in front of your house this weekend. We know who your family is and we will pick you up,” another caller said. “Go get your wife, go get your children.”

The calls were compiled into a video that Kinzinger described in an accompanying tweet.

“Threats of violence on politics have risen sharply in recent years,” he wrote. “But the darkness has reached new lows.”

According to Pape, the growing threat of violence he and his colleagues at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats are studying is not exclusive to the political left or right, with Pape citing the attempt on Kavanaugh’s life and the shooting as examples. white supremacist mass in May at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY

Rather, the problem involves several factors, which Pope likened to a three-legged stool: these include an individual’s volatility and potential to inflict harm, as well as the degree of community support for the acts. politically inspired violence.

While it’s hard to pinpoint when sympathy for political violence began to “seep into the mainstream,” he said, “we can be sure that those communal feelings for violence are there today. ‘today’.

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) attributed much of the trend not only to Donald Trump, who was well known for promoting violence at his rallies and continues to push lies about the election, but also to Congressional Republicans who go on to defend the former president and his actions surrounding Jan. 6.

“Everyone is getting threats these days, and it’s compounded by the fact that some of our members don’t condemn political violence, especially when it’s directed at the Capitol, the vice president, the president.” , said Scanlon.

“I only arrived in 2018, and the threats I received were always related to the former president,” she continued. “We have certainly seen a magnification of public dialogue, a willingness to throw baseless accusations that the former president has backed – modeled as behavior – and I would attribute a lot of that to his example for the country.”

US government agencies seem increasingly concerned about the increased risk of political hostility in America, as well as the international dimension of the problem.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has warned that violence in the United States is increasingly likely to be politically motivated, a trend that could clash with concerns over the threat of lone actors.

In a June terrorism newsletter, the agency noted that a wide range of divisive issues, from abortion to the border, could motivate those likely to use violence to express their displeasure. This is something that foreign players are already playing on.

“Chinese, Iranian, Russian and foreign actors of malign influence have sought to contribute to internal discord in the United States and weaken its orientation and standing internationally,” DHS wrote.

“These actors have amplified the narratives that radicalized individuals have cited to justify the violence, including conspiracy theories and false or misleading narratives promoting the division of American society.”

Rachel Kleinfeld, senior researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Hill that the number of threats has increased significantly since 2016.

“The violence and intimidation on the right started after the election cycle in 2016. And so we would see justifications for violence among ordinary people increasing during the election period – 2016, 2018 when Trump was impeached – obviously during the elections. different events leading up to certification on January 6,” she said. “There is a feeling that this violence is increasingly targeted at politics.”

The authors of a recent book “Radical American Partisanship: Mapping Violent Hostility, Its Causes, and the Consequences for Democracy” found that the proportion of supporters who say their own party’s violence is at least somewhat justified in advancing their party’s goals increased. steadily over the past few years, up to about one in five.

Nathan Kalmoe, a professor at Louisiana State University and co-author of the new book with Professor Lilliana Mason of Johns Hopkins University, said poll results varied depending on the wording of the questions and the severity of the violence. in question. But the general upward trend in public support is clear, he said.

“Rising views supporting violence certainly increase the risk of further threats and acts of violence against leaders,” Kalmoe said, “and it creates a broader political environment that further encourages extreme political action.”

Mike Lillis contributed to this report.

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