Violent Threats Against Members of Congress Surge from 2009 Through 2010

By Matthew Harwood

Some members of Congress have been living dangerously since 2009 as they confront a spike in violent threats from disgruntled, often mentally-ill and down-on-their-luck, constitutents and citizens, according to an investigation by POLITICO.

“You’ve got a bull’s-eye on your head,” a driver told Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as he took his daughter for a walk back home in Wisconsin. “You’re gonna die, motherf---er.”

POLITICO's investigation, aided by FBI documents from 2009 gained through a Freedom of Information Act request, recounts many  similar sounding  threats of violence against federal legislators.

“If you vote for that stimulus package, I’m gonna kill you. Simple as that,” a message left on Rep. Heath Shuler’s district office said. Shuler and his wife have since acquired concealed-weapons permits.

“You get a threat like that, and you start to rethink your priorities,” Shuler said.

The threats also haven't dissipated as the new year started, they've exploded. Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer told POLITICO that threats against legislators are up 300 percent.

This type of violent rage coursing throughout the body politic has led to steep increases in security for members of Congress, POLITICO's Erika Lovely reports.

...Capitol Police officials have said that the threats against lawmakers have caused them to dramatically increase their security efforts. Police who work on protective details say demands on their time have skyrocketed, and the department has requested a 54 percent increase — of $2.7 million — to fund travel for its dignitary protection officers in fiscal year 2011.

In fiscal year 2009, dignitary protection was provided at 139 congressional events, a nearly 100 percent increase over 2008. Capitol Police also moved to provide “a more robust role” to town hall meetings, including working with hundreds of law enforcement agencies.

Capitol Police made 3,626 mountain bike patrols around House and Senate office buildings, up from 3,500 from fiscal year 2008. They responded to 142 suspicious packages in 2009, compared with only 34 in 2008, and conducted 1,808 bomb sweeps, compared with 970 the year before.

The Hazardous Materials Response Team investigated an average of 38 suspicious package calls per quarter last year, compared with 32 per quarter in 2008. The team conducted 967 sweeps per quarter to ensure the security of areas where congressional meetings and sessions were being held — up from 142 each quarter in 2008. The department also dealt with 13 disturbances or demonstrations, five more than during the previous year.

Analyzing the FBI documents, POLITICO comes up with a very broad profile of these perpetrators.

"Though each threat case is different, the FBI documents reveal some common characteristics," Lovely reports. "The suspects are mostly men who own guns, and several had been treated for mental illness. Most of the suspects had just undergone some kind of major life stress, such as illness or the loss of a job."

The two men behind the threats to Reps. Shuler and Ryan were identified and arrested. Neither was prosecuted though. The man behind the Shuler threat was deemed incompetent to stand trial while the man behind the Ryan threat was not prosecuted after an investigation found he had no weapons in his home.

NOTE: Politicians aren't the only ones dealing with the wrath of an angry fringe. Climate scientists are also receiving violent threats, reports ABC News.

♦ Photo by Vibragiel/Flickr


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