THREATS: Do only Republicans get them? Seems like. | WisCommunity

THREATS: Do only Republicans get them? Seems like.

[img_assist|nid=1278|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=80]The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and other state news media again today are headlining reported death threats against a number of state lawmakers -- all of them Republican. The threats were reportedly made on Gov. Walker on down the line to a number of GOP congressmen and state legislators. 

Threats against pubilc figures are always a serious matter, and especially so in light of the Arizona shootings over the weekend. But it's strange that this new round of threats is being reported out of an important context, namely: Elected officials of all political stripes commonly receive death threats. But to read the news accounts today, you'd think the only politicians in Wisconsin who have been threatened are Republicans. 

Of course, this latest flurry of coverage can be explained by the proximity of the Arizona shootings that included Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Also, apparently, the threats on Wisconsin Republicans all came from one source, a CraigsList post online from an unnamed source that law enforcement agencies are investigating. But more important, the GOP lawmakers apparently mentioned in the post all freely spoke of the matter to reporters.  

Far be it from me to suggest that they are grandstanding; it's quite likely and appropriate that journalists are hypersensitive right now to this entire issue, as are the lawmakers. But context would be helpful. And here's a big helping of context:

Death threats nationwide against lawmakers of all political persuasions have been on the upswing in recent years, according to the FBI (see link below). Wisconsin lawmakers have been threatened for many years, irrespective of their party and politics. It's just that -- as law enforcement agencies often recommend -- they have tended to stay quiet about it. Until now.

Very few Wisconsin residents, for example, will have read an interview with former Rep. David Obey (D-WI) by Eau Claire's WQOW-TV (see link below). According to the TV station's account:

"During the Reagan Era and during the debate on the Panama Canal Treaty, where you had the Posse Comitatus [a militant, armed, right-wing group based in Wisconsin] announce they were going to perform a citizens arrest on [then US Senator] Gaylord Nelson and myself and hang us for violating the constitution," says Obey. 

Obey says he and Nelson initially dismissed those threats. 

"We didn't take that too seriously until we were told by law enforcement people that they had someone involved in the operation and we should take it seriously," says Obey. 

Because of the threat, heavy security was added to a state convention Obey attended.  He told the TV station that there were other threats too. 

"I had a fellow come at me once in my office with a knife, with no warning," says Obey. 

Other lawmakers over the years have on occasion mentioned to the press that they have received threats. The death threats against others were, however, never disclosed in the news media if even shared with reporters. Where such threats were mentioned, they were not headlined as something new or startling.

So, in a sense, the coverage today suggests we're making progress on this issue. Yes, this week has been different. We just observed a horrific incident involving an attempted political assassination and many deaths.

But there is something that's still disturbing about today's coverage of a single message (presumably by a single individual) on Craigslist apparently threatening a bunch of lawmakers (who all happen to be Republicans). And that is the lack of context, namely that such threats are nothing new nor are they a partisan phenomenon. Without that context, the coverage tends to bolster some right-wing claims [not, so far, including any of the threatened Republicans here] that they and theirs are the ones most victimized by violence.

[Naturally, there's a difference between a threat and an actual incident. There are far more of the former than the latter, and if anyone cares to keep a tally, it surely seems that progressives and liberals in this country have been bombed and shot and contaminated with apparent anthrax spores at rates a lot higher than anyone on the conservative side of the political spectrum.] 

Today's news coverage is, first and foremost, natural and necessary. But the context in which that news has occurred ought to be given equal attention, and that context is not limited to last weekend in Arizona or yesterday in Wisconsin. Violence -- especially gun violence -- really is as American as cherry pie, and it should not surprise anyone that our elected officials often receive threatening messages, all the time.



January 14, 2011 - 10:13am