Iowa Democratic Party leader says he was target of racist threats

FILE PHOTO: Iowa Democratic Party headquarters
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By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) - The chair of the Iowa Democratic Party said on Tuesday he received racist messages and emails, including a threat of lynching, after writing an opinion piece critical of Republican former President Donald Trump.

Ross Wilburn, who is Black and sits in the state legislature, told reporters that after his piece ran in the Des Moines Register on Oct. 9, the same weekend Trump was in town for a rally, he received two phone messages and an email that used racial epithets and, in one case, threatened him with violence.

"Unfortunately, these kinds of threats are not uncommon for myself or other people of color serving in public roles," Wilburn said.

The incident, which he said is being investigated by Ames, Iowa, police, is the latest example of threats and harassment against public officials in the highly polarized U.S. political environment.

On Monday, the National Association of County and City Health Officials asked the U.S. Department of Justice for help protecting public health officers targeted since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic by opponents of measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, including stay-at-home orders, mask-wearing and vaccines.

The organization said at least 300 public health department leaders had left their positions since the pandemic began, many because of threats and verbal abuse.

Educators are also coming under fire, amid protests and violent rhetoric over claims fueled by right-wing media that schools are teaching critical race theory, an academic model for describing systemic racism that is little used in public schools but that opponents say makes white children feel bad about themselves.

Educators have also been threatened over public health measures, including mask-wearing at school.

In Iowa, the threats and harassment against Wilburn were condemned by state Republican leaders.

"This type of hate must never be tolerated," Republican Governor Kim Reynolds wrote on Twitter. "Whoever is responsible should be held accountable. Racism of any kind is unacceptable and not who we are as Iowans."

Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann said he is pleased that authorities are investigating the threats.

"I strongly condemn the racist threats made toward Chair Wilburn," he said in a statement on Tuesday. "We can have a spirited debate on issues and candidates without threats of violence."

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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