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Rising political threats take US into uncharted territory as 2024 election looms

Denver – This week’s confrontation with FBI agents is over deadly shot The 74-year-old Utah man who threatened to assassinate President Joe Biden was just the latest example of how violent rhetoric is creating a dangerous political environment across the United States.

Six days ago, a 52-year-old man texas man He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for threatening to kill an election worker in Arizona. Four days earlier, prosecutors had indicted a 56-year-old man. michigan women For lying about buying a gun for his mentally ill adult son and threatening to use a gun against Biden and the Democratic governor of that state.

Threats to public officials have increased steadily in recent years, creating new challenges for law enforcement, civil rights, and the health of American democracy.

Capitol Police reported investigating more than double the number of criminals last year. threats against members It has the same support from Congress as it did four years ago.Driven by ex-president Donald Trump lies it is 2020 election stolen from him, Intimidation of Election Officials 1 in 6 report threats against them, many experienced election administrators I’m quitting my job or considering it.

“It’s definitely increased over the past five years,” said Jake Spano, mayor of the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park and a board member of the National Cities League, who said in a report released in 2021 that the 81% of detained lawmakers reported being threatened, and 87% felt the problem had worsened.

In 2018, officials in the town of Spano were thrown into turmoil when they tweeted critically of President Trump’s decision to stop chanting the Pledge of Allegiance at the opening of the city council.

“The lasting effect of Donald Trump’s inauguration is that he made it clear that the norms of how we treat each other no longer apply,” said Spano, a Democrat.

This threat is not simply a matter of the coarsening of national discourse. Experts warn that these could portend political violence.

In 2017, a man who belonged to a Facebook group called “End the Republican Party” fired He attacked a Republican congressman who was practicing for a charity baseball game and seriously injured current House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. Last year, then-Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 82-year-old husband, be assaulted by a man with a hammer The man posted a right-wing conspiracy theory online before breaking into the couple’s home in San Francisco.

Last year, a man Arrested with knives, pistols and zip ties In front of the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during protests against the High Court overturning women’s abortion rights. after that, armed ohio man A man wearing a bulletproof vest who took part in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was later shot dead after trying to enter the FBI office. Find an agency Last summer at President Trump’s Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago.

President Trump has repeatedly accused the FBI of Justice Department Takeover Whether he should be re-elected as he faces additional charges related to his re-election attempt. flip the results About the 2020 election.

President Trump called Special Counsel Jack Smith, who oversees federal prosecutors, a “crazy” and “crazy lunatic”, and called the charges against him “of election interference and fraudulent theft of the presidential election.” It’s a new attempt,” he said. He also attacked the local Georgia prosecutor, whose charges are due. Additional charges Fannie Willis, the Fulton County District Attorney, is up against him next week.

Experts warn that escalating rhetoric could increase the risk of violence, especially as the 2024 election and Trump’s trial approach.lone attacker acting impulsively rather than collectively violently Attack on the Houses of Parliament on January 6is the biggest concern, said Javed Ali, a former senior FBI counterterrorism officer now at the University of Michigan.

“That threat can materialize very quickly without warning,” he says.

In the FBI agent’s affidavit, it sounded like Craig Deru Robertson could be that kind of threat.

Authorities say the self-employed woodworker calls himself “MAGA Trumper,” a reference to President Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” posted a threat to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, and New York Attorney General Letitia James have all been targeted. Trump’s own attacks on social media.

The Trump Truth social network first alerted the FBI after Robertson became the first prosecutor to post a threat to kill Bragg in March. file a criminal complaint Against Trump.

According to the affidavit, even after the FBI agent’s visit, Mr. Robertson continued to post violent language and images online, including “Stop by again” if the FBI is still monitoring his posts. He also joked, “I’ll always have a loaded gun ready just in case.” He also posted about the murder of Biden, who was scheduled to visit the state on Thursday.

People who knew Robertson said he wasn’t dangerous to anyone, just an old, homebound, conservative man who threw up online.

“He believed in his right to bear arms. He believed in his right to say what he felt. We were doing it,” said Paul Shearing, a local businessman. He tracked Robertson online for years and warned him when he crossed the line on social media. “He was really frustrated and things got out of hand.”

Michael Germann, a former FBI agent and now a fellow at the Brennan Justice Center, said social media can turn personal outbursts into threatening threats.

“What might have been shouted on TV before is now widely represented in public,” Jarman said.

He said the problem is federal law enforcement. it was late Pursue organized right-wing violence, including acts previously perpetrated by the Oathkeepers, Proud Boys, and similar groups. Assault on January 6, 2021 on the Houses of Parliament.

Intimidation of public officials is routine in the country’s history, but the statements by President Trump and some of his supporters pose new dangers, German said.

“What concerns me is that not only Trump but many other authorities in the Republican Party are promoting gangs and denying the violence they perpetrate,” he said. , added that it was sending a signal to some sympathetic people. to the opinion of the group.

Kurt Braddock, a professor of communications at the American University of Washington, DC, said rhetoric need not explicitly direct supporters to be violent. Even if it motivates a small percentage of people to commit crimes, it can still be dangerous given the extraordinary influence of politics and political influence. extremist message The entire internet and the millions of people who absorb it.

“At least one person got to the point where it could be interpreted as a call to violence,” Braddock said. “As we’ve seen, one person can do a lot of damage.”

Braddock said the political right is more dangerous and has tougher rhetoric, but the left also has a responsibility. More than two years before he was arrested in front of Kavanaugh’s home, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the Republican-appointed majority of Supreme Court justices that a ruling overriding abortion rights would be “free from the whirlwind” and “costly.” will be paid,” he warned.

Yet experts cautioned against believing too many Americans have become radicalized enough to engage in politically motivated violence.

Joe Marnick, a doctoral student in the Polarization and Social Transformation Lab at Stanford University, surveyed Democrats and Republicans on their support for political violence and found very low support. . But the perception of the people of the other party brought a different situation. Members of each party believed that members of the other party held high levels of support for violence.

In fact, Melnik said, when participants were told their opponents’ support for violence was low, their own support for violence dropped even further.

Melnik stressed the importance of “making people understand that, like the man in Utah, these people do not represent the Republican Party or the Republican stance.”

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Sam Metz of Provo, Utah and Colleen Slevin of Denver contributed to this report.

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This article was first published on August 12, 2023. Updated on August 13, 2023 to correct Chuck Schumer’s statements about abortion to be made more than two years ago, not just before he was arrested in front of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home.

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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