Friday’s news of a targeted assault on the husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is another troubling reminder that politically motivated acts of violence directed at public officials are becoming more frequent.
Nearly 12 years ago, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords almost died in an attempted assassination attempt by a lone gunman with an anti-government ideology. Six people were killed, including Federal Judge John Roll, and 15 others were injured.
That shooting marked the first attempted assassination of a sitting member of Congress since 1973. Since then, we have seen numerous examples of violence directed towards high-ranking government officials:
June 14, 2017: A left-wing extremist gunman opens fire on members of the Republican congressional baseball team during an early morning practice. U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) is one of six shot.
October-November 2018: Sixteen packages containing pipe bombs are mailed by a domestic terrorist to multiple prominent Democratic officials, including former President Barack Obama, then-former-Vice President Joe Biden, then-Senator Kamala Harris, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
October 8, 2020: The FBI announces they arrested multiple people affiliated with far-right militias on suspicion of planning to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow the state’s government.
January 6, 2021: A violent mob of more than 2,000 rioters storms the U.S. Capitol to threaten lawmakers and disrupt the certification of the 2020 presidential election – some erect gallows and call for then-Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged. Pipe bombs are discovered near the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. Many of the rioters are aligned with extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.
June 8, 2022: An armed man is arrested outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after planning to murder the justice due to anger with his rulings on gun control, abortion, and other issues.
Attacks on public officials aren’t limited to the federal level – a survey by the National League of Cities found that 87% of local officials report a recent increase in attacks on public officials. These violent acts have been accompanied by countless threats to public officials and their families on Twitter and other platforms.
Most worrying is that there’s no sign of the threats slowing down. Polling suggests that today one in five American adults believes violence is acceptable in the name of achieving political goals.