Death Threats, Intimidation Mar Speaker Race in Age of Extremism

(Bloomberg) -- Death threats and political intimidation have erupted from the struggle to decide the US House speaker, highlighting how extremism and enmity in the American electorate are deepening the political divide in Washington.

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Jim Jordan, a hardline conservative endorsed by Trump in the speaker race, had been counting on mobilizing the party’s populist wing to pressure recalcitrant lawmakers to support his bid. Right-wing media figures including Glenn Beck and Fox News’s Sean Hannity unleashed attacks on his opponents.

Instead, a flare-up of threats intensified distrust among Republican members of Congress and stirred accusations that Jordan and his allies were engaging in bullying. One lawmaker even cited intimidation as the reason he switched from supporting Jordan on the first ballot to opposing him on the second.

Representative Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican who voted against Jordan, said even his wife has been receiving threatening calls and texts over his opposition.

One voicemail warned her that unless her husband fell into line, “We’re going to f***ing come follow you all over the place,” according to an audio of the call. She slept the night with a loaded gun, Bacon told reporters.

Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an Iowa Republican who also voted against Jordan, said she has since “received credible death threats and a barrage of threatening calls.”

Jordan has denied any involvement in the threats.

The leadership contest is the latest political cause to incite hints of violence in a polarized nation less than three years after populist supporters of Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol to try to stop certification of his election loss.

“When the pressure campaigns and attacks on fellow members ramped up, it became clear to me the House Republican conference did not need a bully as the speaker,” said Republican Drew Ferguson of Georgia.

Other holdouts against Jordan posted statements or made comments that intimidation won’t change their votes.

Jordan was prompted to respond with a social media posting on Wednesday calling for an end to threats against lawmakers. “No American should accost another for their beliefs. We condemn all threats against our colleagues and it is imperative that we come together,” he said.

A Capitol Police spokesman declined to comment on the reported threats.

No data is available on threats against lawmakers this year. But the agency reported 7,501 direct threats or “concerning statements” made against members of Congress in 2022. That was down from 9,625 the year before, when the mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

A person familiar with investigations into threats on lawmakers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they often come in waves tied to political controversies or specific news events. Threats previously surged during legislative debate over the Obamacare health insurance plan and confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the person said.

One of the most dramatic acts of violence directed at a lawmaker was less than a year ago. A man who embraced far-right conspiracy theories allegedly broke into then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home and attacked her 83-year-old husband with a hammer.

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