A growing number of House Republicans are facing physical threats from angry constituents in their districts, leading many to fear for their safety.
In the last few weeks alone, the FBI arrested a man threatening Rep. Martha McSally’s (R-Ariz.) life, a woman pursued Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.) in her car, and Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) heightened security at a town hall event in response to death threats.
Other Republicans still holding town halls say they haven’t felt physically threatened by protesters, but they worry about the depth of anger from some constituents in the polarized environment and what it means for political civility.
Scores of GOP lawmakers have experienced going viral this year with videos of constituents shouting their disagreement on support for President Trump and policies such as the GOP’s healthcare bill.
Lately, though, Republicans have observed some furious constituents who appear to be going even further.
Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) described attendees at a town hall in his district last week who booed him down after he said people’s rights are God-given.
“They booed God. They booed the pastor. They booed the prayer. They booed the name of the church. They booed when I said rights come from God,” Brat recounted to The Hill just off the House floor. “That’s a fundamental tenet of western civilization. I mean, I didn’t think that was partisan.”
Further north in New Jersey, Rep. Tom MacArthur (R) faced pushback from a crowd when he began telling the story of his special-needs daughter who died at the age of 11.
“Shame!” people shouted. “We’ve heard this story.”
“This child in 11 years has shaped my life more than anybody. So if I talk about my daughter too much, well then so be it. But this is the one human being that has impacted my life more than anybody,” MacArthur said.
Another person sarcastically yelled out MacArthur should write a book about it.
“Maybe I will write a book,” MacArthur shot back.
Still, not every town hall has veered into nastiness. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), a top Democratic target in 2018, said his town hall attendees expressed their clear displeasure with his positions but remained civil.
“You know, they had the signs and stuff like that. But I thought they were pretty nice, I thought they were pretty respectful,” Coffman said.
“From the stories I have heard in other districts, I’ve got it pretty good,” he said.
But an increasing number of lawmakers’ encounters with constituents, even in deep-red districts, have gotten ugly.
The FBI arrested a Tucson, Ariz. man for leaving three threatening messages on McSally’s congressional office voicemail, in which he allegedly said her days “were numbered” and threatened to shoot her. A criminal complaint filed last week in the U.S. District Court in Tucson said the suspect told agents he was upset over McSally’s votes to back up Trump.
McSally represents the same swing district previously represented by then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D), who was shot in the head in 2011 during a constituent meet-and-greet.
In Tennessee, a woman angry over Kustoff’s vote for the GOP’s healthcare bill this month pursued a car carrying him from an event at a local university. Kustoff and a staffer eventually turned into a driveway and came to a stop. Then the woman approached the car, yelled at Kustoff and struck the car’s windows, according to local reports.
Meanwhile, Garrett spokesman Andrew Griffin said the freshman lawmaker has received at least three death threats over the course of the healthcare debate.
One constituent called Garrett’s Washington office and said if his healthcare is taken away, he would take Garrett’s life away. Another person sent a message to Garrett’s campaign Facebook page with graphic details describing how they would kill Garrett.
Griffin said investigating authorities have asked not to publicly reveal any details about the third case yet.
In light of all the threats, Garrett made sure to increase security at his town hall in Moneta, Va. last week.
A security presence at town halls hasn’t prevented some physical confrontations. A constituent angry over the GOP’s healthcare bill approached Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), took dollar bills from his wallet and tried to shove them into the lawmaker’s suit pocket, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
Other times, the lawmakers targeted by the most extreme protesters don’t end up getting the brunt of the hostility.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) wasn’t home when his young daughter found a sign on the family’s lawn last week that read: “Traitors put party above country Do the right thing for once, shithead.”
“Attack me, protest against me, but do not frighten my children at their home,” Fortenberry said in an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto.
“If we are going to be a true civil society that actually upholds the values of liberty and free speech, which means respect for differences and trying to work that out through the ballot box if necessary, but also through rational conversation.”
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) described protesters vandalizing his Gainesville, Fla. office and threatening his staff. One female constituent left a message on the office answering machine for the district director, saying, “Next time I see you, I’m going to beat your f—ing ass.”
He decided to only allow visitors into the Gainesville office who have an appointment after protesters kept showing up every week in the front lobby. The protesters subsequently complained that their representative was trying to block their access, but Yoho felt he had no other choice.
“They’re mad to the point where they’re cussing at my staff, pushed one of them, poured stuff on one of the staff’s car,” Yoho told The Hill. “If they start acting responsible and respectable, we’ll do the same.”
Yoho’s recent town hall in the same town as his vandalized district office was a calmer affair. Attendees made it clear at times they didn’t agree with him on the issues, but they remained civil.
“We had fun the whole time,” he said.