On the House floor, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pleaded with her colleagues to hold Paul Gosar responsible for posting an edited anime movie depicting him murdering her and abusing Joe Biden. "What we're doing here is important. It is important that we lead by example. "Our service has purpose," Ocasio-Cortez remarked in a speech last week. "And when we, as leaders in this society, promote violence against our colleagues via portrayals, it cascades down into bloodshed in this country.'' House Republicans answered with a collective shrug when they heard Ocasio-passionate Cortez's plea. Only three Republicans voted against censuring Gosar and removing him from his committee responsibilities, while every Democrat in the House voted in favor of the measure.
The Gosar affair was the most recent example of a worrying trend in American politics. Threats against politicians have increased dramatically in a year that began with a fatal insurgency at the US Capitol. Republicans' lack of response to Gosar's actions has heightened worries of further political violence in the United States in the months ahead. Republicans' failure to hold Gosar responsible, according to Jackie Speier, the Democratic representative who spearheaded the attempt to reprimand him, might have catastrophic consequences. "You are promoting violence if you remain silent about a member of Congress wishing to assassinate another member of Congress, even in a 'cartoon,'" Speier told the Guardian. "And incitement to violence breeds violence."
In the corridors of Congress, that cycle is already in progress. Earlier this year, the US Capitol Police said that they had witnessed a 107% increase in threats against members compared with 2020. The USCP chief, Tom Manger, has said he expects the total number of threats against members to surpass 9,000 this year, compared with 3,939 such threats in 2017.In the last month, several of these risks have been on full display. Aside from Gosar's menacing video, the 13 House Republicans who voted in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill earlier this month have received threats.
Representative Fred Upton of Michigan publicly published one of these messages, in which a guy referred to him as a "fucking piece of shit traitor." "I sincerely wish you perish." In the message, the guy said, "I hope everyone in your fucking family dies." Members of Congress are not the only ones who face such threats. Election workers and members of school boards have also reported getting more violent texts. According to a Brennan Center for Justice poll conducted in April, roughly one-third of election officials are concerned about their safety while on the job.
Such aggressive methods, according to Stephen Spaulding, senior counsel at the government watchdog group Common Cause, are "a central danger to our democracy." "The fear of violence is basically intended to terrify people into not doing their duties and honoring their oath of office," Spaulding explained. "When these violent instances start to infiltrate the system, it completely contradicts how we are meant to engage in open and fair debate about policy matters in this nation."
There are already hints that MPs are being pushed out of office due to concerns about personal safety. When Republican congressman Anthony Gonzalez announced his decision not to run for re-election in September, he stated his vote to impeach Donald Trump for encouraging the insurgency had impacted his family's lives. Gonzalez told the New York Times that he and his family had to be escorted through the Cleveland airport by unarmed police officers earlier this year due to security concerns. "Is this truly what I want for my family when they travel, having my wife and kids escorted through the airport?" Gonzalez stated his opinion.
Despite the fact that threats are being made against members of their own caucus, House Republicans turned down the chance to send a message by voting to reprimand Gosar. Instead, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy denounced the censure motion as a Democratic "abuse of power" and warned that if Republicans win control of the chamber, Gosar will be given "better committee assignments."
"He has a lot of radical radicals in his caucus who are extremely strong communicators to the right edge," Speier said, "and he can't really reign them in because reining them in means they'll attack him." "If they're hauling Kevin McCarthy about, you may as well put a brass ring in his nose." McCarthy's response to Gosar's actions, according to Dr. Joanne Freeman, a Yale history professor and author of The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War, may promote future episodes.
After all, as Freeman pointed out, there are other historical examples of politicians being rewarded for violent actions. In 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks resigned from the House after a cane attack on Senator Charles Sumner for his anti-slavery sentiments, but was swiftly re-elected by South Carolina voters. "He'll be rewarded in some ways for it, and as a result, others will follow in his footsteps," Freeman said. "It's a moment that demonstrates how far the party has risen beyond the government, its institutions, and institutional stability." While conceding the likelihood of future violence within Congress, Freeman also stated that the Gosar episode might present a chance for political rhetoric to be corrected. "We're in a period of extraordinary contingency," Freeman added, "and things might become a lot worse." "However, at those times of tremendous contingency, where anything might happen, there is also the possibility of constructive development."
Gosar's actions served as a stark reminder to Speier of how far some of her colleagues have wandered from their responsibilities to citizens. The California representative, who announced her retirement last week, advised her colleagues to focus on legislation rather than using inflammatory language to collect money and gain retweets. "I'm a big fan of this place." "It's a great honor to serve," Speier said. "We've been given the chance to draft laws that would improve the lives of Americans. And that's exactly what we ought to be doing."
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