Reported threats against members of Congress skyrocket following 5-year upward trend

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The world watched the U.S. Capitol come under attack during a Joint Session of Congress on Jan. 6, and new data shows our lawmakers have been the target of a growing number of criminal threats before and after the insurrection.

Reported threats against members of Congress have been going up every year for the last five years, according to data from United States Capitol Police obtained by our Washington News Bureau.

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According to U.S.C.P, there were 4,135 reported threats against lawmakers from Jan. 1, 2021-March 11, 2021.

That means U.S.C.P. received an average of nearly 60 threats a day in the first 70 days of this year.

Data showed that’s a huge jump from 8,613 reported threats against lawmakers in all of 2020, which was up from 6,955 threats in 2019, 5,206 in 2018 and 3,939 in 2017.

Our Washington News Bureau spent months talking to members of Congress and their staff, who said the threats often come in emails, social media and phone calls.

“Everyone is concerned about personal security and security for staff,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia).

Johnson sat down with Washington Correspondent Samantha Manning to talk about his personal experience being the target of a criminal threat.

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A Michigan man was sentenced to a year in prison last year after investigators say he left a threatening voicemail for Johnson, saying: “One day you are going to see me. It’ll be about two o’clock in the morning. I’ll be at your bedside and all you’re going to see is me knocking the living s*** out of you … terrified? You should be.”

“Well, you know, first thought is that it’s just a threat that there will be no follow-up to it but as one thinks deeper into these issues, you can’t help but to start to take those kinds of threats seriously,” Johnson said.

Arrests for these kinds of threats are being made around the country.

A New Hampshire man was arrested in January of this year for allegedly threatening members of Congress last year, saying things like: “We’re going to hang you until you die,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In January, a California man was charged with making threats against a New York City-based U.S. Congressman and a journalist and allegedly sent threatening text messages to the Congressman’s family member.

In February, a Pittsburgh man was arrested for threatening Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts) in 2019 and Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) in 2020.

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“I think that a lot of it is drawn by economics and I believe people who are economically hopeless,” Johnson said.

The problem has been affecting lawmakers from both parties.

“Where are we as a culture and as a society that we’re doing this?” said. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-New Jersey).

Van Drew, now a Republican, switched from the Democratic party in 2019 and that political change sparked a threatening voice message left on his home phone line.

“You deserve the fate of all traitors,” said the caller. “I will do everything in my power to ensure that you are deposed if not dead.”

“It is not an acceptable way for a civilized wonderful country like the United States of America to behave,” said Van Drew.

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The man also threatened Van Drew and his wife in an op-editorial for a New Jersey newspaper, writing: “Taking only one page from the vulgar Trump handbook of social usage, Van Drew’s mentor has said it’s cool to greet women by grabbing them between the legs. Should we test the acceptability of this remark and get the direct response of a prominent GOP female by greeting Van Drew’s wife with the Republican high-five, lifting her over the hood of her car and objectively recording her physical reaction to the tickle when she lands?”

The editor of the newspaper apologized to Van Drew and said the man was never a paid employee and is banned from contributing to the newspaper again.

The suspect has been charged with harassment, according to the public information officer for Ocean City, New Jersey.

Manning asked Van Drew if he expects to see the number of reported threats against lawmakers continue to increase as it has been in recent years.

“It’s a good question,” Van Drew said. “I hope the answer is that it does go down at a point. I think more of us should speak out about it.”

The lawmakers we spoke with say for them, the solution isn’t about adding new permanent security measures, but rather to focus on the messaging, and return to civil discourse.

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“We’re at a crossroads and people are going to have to decide how they will live,” Johnson said.  “We can’t have a society that devolves into a state of lawlessness and that’s what threats and actions based on threats lead to.”

“We all have to tone it down,” Van Drew said. “We can be really strong and really intense, really have a vision for the nation and yet still not hate other human beings. That’s the difference.”