A death threat is no trifling matter. It is a crime that transcends American’s First Amendment right to free speech. Communicating the intent to kill or physically harm another person is called a criminal or terrorist threat or malicious harassment.
For a threat to be criminal, it must be made with the intention to cause someone else the fear of injury or death.
There is one caveat: a vague or unreasonable threat is not considered criminal. “The threat must be capable of making the people who hear it feel as if they might be hurt, and conclude that the threat is credible, real, and imminent.”
States make the rules on whether the crime of terrorist threat is a misdemeanor or felony, leading to jail time, probation, fines, and other penalties.
Historically, politicians have been the targets of death threats and rarely, an assassination attempt is made. In a very few cases (such as U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Jr.) the death threat is executed successfully.
Politicians are also famous for rhetoric, the art of persuasion and motivation through “the undue use of exaggeration or display,” or “bombast.”
Death threats go beyond mere rhetorical speech. They are a criminal act when framed with the intent to instill fear of injury or death.
Normally, crimes are featured in media news coverage with outraged calls to action: stop this illegal malicious harassment now!
But, apparently, these are not normal times.
Since Republican Donald Trump was sworn into office in January 2017, a great many GOP lawmakers and government officials associated with the new Make America Great Again (MAGA) administration, found themselves the recipients of death threats.
By July 2018, Bre Payton, writing for The Federalist, listed 14 Republican leaders who had been threatened or harassed in public places, notably restaurants.
Consider the evolution of the terrorism directed at conservative political officials:
In June 2017, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) survived an anti-Republican shooting during a practice session for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity in Alexandria, Virginia. In a subsequent call for bipartisan civility among all Americans, his opponents said it was unfortunate that he had not “succumbed to his wounds.”
The following May, in 2018, a liberal PAC fund-raising group called Mad Dog sponsored a billboard that exhorted its viewers to “take out” Rep. Scalise. The sign showed the PAC chairman as saying his supporters planned to “toss mortars” at Republicans.
On June 25, 2018, a group of protestors followed Kentucky Republicans Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, and his wife Elaine Chao, U.S. Transportation Secretary, to their car outside of a restaurant in Kentucky (after harassing them inside) and chanted, “We know where you live too, Mitch!” and “Abolish ICE!”
On July 8, 2018, Martin Astrof was arrested on charges making terroristic threats and reckless endangerment after he threatened to kill supporters of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and President Donald Trump at the Congressman’s Long Island campaign headquarters:
“Astrof went to the campaign headquarters of Congressman Zeldin and became irate with a campaign worker at approximately 11:15 a.m. After threatening to kill the campaign worker and other supporters, Astrof backed his car up in an aggressive manner nearly striking the worker.”
On August 9, 2018, a “growing number” of Congressional representatives were reportedly fearful for their personal safety due to criminal threats. Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) said he and his family had received an increasing number of such hate crimes, prompting Schweikert to say during a podcast interview:
“We had more death threats last year in my office – even one towards my little girl – than we ever had in all of the other years combined.”
On October 6, 2018, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced her support of Supreme Court Judge nominee Brett Kavanaugh, only to receive an onslaught of death threats and abuse, some of it misogynistic (women-hating) on Twitter.
More recently, on July 16, 2019, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) claimed he has been the recipient of multiple death threats and Antifa attacks. In an interview with conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, Gaetz mentioned one man who threatened the Congressman’s life.
Although the perpetrator was identified from the audiotape, a federal prosecutor declined to bring charges. Instead, the U.S. attorney’s office notified Gaetz that, after reviewing the information, had adjudged the messages a “non-threat.” Here is that audio message, with no redactions:
“Gaetz, you pathetic piece of sh*t, do you know that I could blow your f**king head clean off your shoulders from over a mile away? Watch your back, b**ch. You pathetic little piece of sh*t. You got your head so far up Trump’s a** – hahaha – I could still take it off your shoulders. F**k you, Gaetz. I’m coming after you, b**ch.”
Earlier this month, on August 6, 2019, Mitch McConnell was once again the target of death threats and profane harassment from protestors outside his Kentucky residence – while live-streaming to Facebook Live. One voice was heard to say, in fractured English:
“The b**ch home – we keep seeing the lights go on and off.”
“This hoe really thought he was going to get ready to be at home after he hurt his little punk a** shoulder. B**ch, don’t nobody give a f–k! F–k your thoughts and prayers, Mitch. F–k you, f–k your wife, f–k everything you stand for.”
One woman was recorded saying she hoped someone “just stabs the mother f*cker in the heart, please.”
Do we hear any media outrage and call to action concerning these criminal activities victimizing U.S. Republican leadership? Not so much.
But let a junior Democratic Representative tell the press she has gotten death threats and no less than the Democratic House Speaker jumps to the script and calls for stepped-up security – at taxpayer expense.
Draw your own conclusions.