In 2005, staffers in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office slit open mail to find red-tinged pennies and threatening notes in a scene fit for a new kind of movie genre, political horror.
“Not one red cent for war in Iraq,” an accompanying letter read.
FBI agents discovered that the red substance wasn’t blood but oil-based paint. Still, the sixth letter unnerved Pelosi’s staff.
The incident is one of at least 236 investigated by the FBI in the past decade and outlined in documents obtained by POLITICO under the Freedom of Information Act. An analysis of the cases reveals that serious death threats against lawmakers plummeted in the past 10 years, just as Congress’s overall public approval cratered.
But serious threats still occur, flaring up around heated political moments in the American conversation — from funding for the Iraq War, to the Elian Gonzales incident, to Napster, to immigration reform.
“It’s interesting that specific events and legislation can trigger death threats,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “The popular image is that these people are crazy, not that they have policy motivations behind their anger. It’s interesting to see that connection…”
Pelosi’s office wasn’t alone in receiving Iraq War-related threats. The war seemed to be the impetus for a slew of the serious threats in the past decade.
In 2002, former Rep. Hilda Solis was sent a bullet covered in red paint. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) received a letter with “Let this be a warning” written in Latin…
Death threats flared up around other heated moments, even those unrelated to life-and-death policies…
The debate over whether Cuban refugee Elián Gonzalez should stay in the United States prompted threats from an angry group that identified itself as “the American Majority.”
“I sure hope your [sic] sorry ass is in the street the day I run it over with my truck,” the group wrote in a mailed letter to the Washington office of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).
In 2007, an immigration reform critic took his heated thoughts far beyond the bounds of news website comment threads, sending a letter to Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham, both Republicans from South Carolina, threatening to drive to Washington “in a pickup truck loaded with dynamite” and blow up both senators if the immigration bill passed.
I’m not as surprised to see threats diminish in parallel to overall disapproval. Even nutball anarchists aren’t as likely to go off the deep end if there isn’t any alternative at all in Congress. What can you gain when the dweebs on both sides of the aisle have the courage and integrity of a hoe handle?
Anyone out there think the majority of their Congressional representatives aren’t beholden to one or another bloc of corporate lobbyists? Between the Chamber of Commerce/Oil Patch Boys, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical hustlers, there’s hardly anyone who isn’t owned. I’ll give you one or two principled individualists per state. Woo-hoo!