Rep. G.K. Butterfield was happy to serve. The veteran Democrat put “North Carolina 1” on his congressional plate years ago. Those times are past.
In recent times, fearsome threats against sitting Congress members have swelled, spurring the Capitol Police to initiate thousands of inquiries, a flurry of new financing for legislator protection at home and in Washington, and legislators to take extraordinary precautions to avoid becoming the next focus of political violence.
Butterfield took precautions to remain nameless in public.
“I’ve taken the congressional license tags off of my car, because I don’t want to be identified publicly. It was right after Jan. 6,” Butterfield told the press before the House left Washington for the long summer break.
“I used to be happy to display my No. 1 plate for North Carolina’s 1st District,” he said. “People used to give me thumbs up at stoplights. But now it’s different.”
"*" indicates required fields
The concern isn’t uncommon. In the past five years, the U.S. Capitol Police has launched 9,625 threat investigations, up from 3,939 in 2017.
As congress members travel into a long Labor Day weekend of parades, picnics, and other district festivities, they seem wary of what they may encounter.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the select panel probing last year’s Capitol incident, stated Friday. “There has been a coarsening of discourse, and a perceived relaxation in inhibitions people would have about attacking public officials.”
Raskin talked Friday while surrounded by investigators’ security detail.
Democrats accuse the former president’s heated rhetoric toward perceived political opponents of the rise in legislator threats.
“We hear — you’ve heard it — more and more talk about violence as an acceptable political tool in this country. It’s not. It’s never acceptable,” Biden said Thursday night in Philadelphia, calling Trump and those who don’t denounce violence “a threat to democracy.”
“We can’t be pro-insurgent and pro-American,” Biden said. “They’re incompatible.”
Trump’s allies claim accusations that he supports violence are political attempts to undermine his 2024 chances.
Recently, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) was attacked on stage while campaigning in New York for governor. Other attacks on Zeldin went further. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was wounded during a GOP practice in 2017 and hospitalized.
In June, an armed man made deadly threats outside Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home. Republicans blamed Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) for inciting the scenario when he warned Kavanaugh he would “face the price” in 2020 if he pulled back abortion rights.
After the June event, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), former chairman of the far-right Freedom Caucus, said violence-inciting rhetoric is dangerous and condemnable.
Trump critics are often violently attacked. The list contains Republicans who decided to vote for an infrastructure initiative he rejected, Democrats who handled the erstwhile president’s impeachments, Republicans who backed his ouster after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, and most recently, the 9 House legislators on the review panel exploring the 2021 riot, who all have round-the-clock bodyguards.
Rachel Kleinfeld, a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior fellow, said MAGA believers regard Trump critics as disloyal.
People who prove it’s possible to be a conservative and not support MAGA are targets, Kleinfeld said. “In every country with factional violence, ‘in-group moderates’ — who may not be moderate on policy but don’t believe in violence — are the first to be targeted.”
It’s unknown if 2022 will continue five years of threat rises on Capitol Hill. Capitol Police opened “approximately 1,820 cases” between Jan. 1 and March 24 – on pace to eclipse 8,000 events for the year, significantly below 2020 and 2021 figures. The agency will issue annual numbers instead of total numbers. A spokesperson claimed the measure would reduce “confusion” about numbers.
The data include “concerning comments and direct threats,” as defined by the Supreme Court, which defines threats as “statements when the speaker intends to conduct unlawful violence to a particular individual or group.”
Certain occurrences are more apparent than others.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 select committee, issued obscene, violent phone threats in July. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who managed Trump’s second impeachment, shared a similar audio voicemail from a man threatening to assassinate him. Several other lawmakers have received similar threats, though they haven’t gone public.
Threats of violence over politics has increased heavily in the last few years. But the darkness has reached new lows. My new interns made this compilation of recent calls they’ve received while serving in my DC office.
WARNING: this video contains foul & graphic language. pic.twitter.com/yQJvvAHBVV
— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) July 5, 2022
“There’s an escalation,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.). “We have some new interns, and they’re shocked [at] the level of animosity that people talk about when they call us — the level of hatred and threats. They were absolutely stunned, and I said, ‘No, that’s what we live with. And it’s getting worse.’”
The House Sergeant at Arms announced extra funds to protect legislators in July. $10,000 to install home security alarms and systems.
Local police enforcement also monitors the family home, said an unidentified House Democrat.
The politician remarked, “A police car arrives twice a day… Nobody feels safe right now.“