Political extremism morphs into death threats, and a desire to burn books – Las Vegas Sun

There once was a time when a member of Congress could vote for some things as American as apple pie — like roads, bridges and other job-creating projects — without becoming the target of death threats.

And it’s hard to recall if ever before a member of Congress spent time essentially making a cartoon video depicting the murder of another member and a sword attack on the president of the United States.

In communities across the country, school board members increasingly face harassment and threats of violence.

As if all that wasn’t enough for one week in the political culture wars, two Virginia school board members suggested books they considered objectionable should be burned.

Politics have been rough-and-tumble in America since before the country’s founding. But the degradation of civic discourse and the level of extremism in recent years has become alarming, resulting not just in handwringing but in good-faith efforts to engage the public to change it.

It seems the people who need to listen won’t. Things just seem to get worse. The racist and violence-suggesting rants regarding COVID-19 prevention and regulations that have dominated meetings in San Diego — and triggered restrictions on public comment by county supervisors — are among the prime examples.

There is absolutely no justification for officials and their families being threatened and harassed in public and outside their homes. Local election officials in some states are being hounded out of office by the threatening behavior of people who continue to spread former President Donald Trump’s false fantasy that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

The ironic reality is — as reporting by The Washington Post and others has shown — Trump and his forces were the ones trying to overturn Joe Biden’s legitimate election.

In different times, Republicans eating their own on Capitol Hill after the passage of Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill might have been the kind of dispute insiders like to watch for sport. The political world loves few things more than intraparty fighting. Witness how much more focus was paid by the news media on Democratic wrangling over Biden’s infrastructure and social-spending proposals.

But there’s nothing entertaining about the threatening calls received by some of the 13 Republicans who voted for the bill — calls that may have been facilitated by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

“I hope you die,” one caller said in a phone message to Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who shared the voicemail with CNN.“I hope everybody in your (expletive) family dies.”

The caller also used unprintable language in labeling Upton a “traitor.”

Shortly after the vote, Greene went on social media to call the 13 members “the biggest traitors in our party” and listed the phone numbers to their Washington offices.

In a bit of a cheeky move amid the ugliness, one GOP member had their staff forward the hostile calls they got to Greene’s office, according to the New York Post. Other members said most of the calls came from outside their districts and even outside their states.

Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon had posted the office phone numbers of the 19 Republican senators who voted for the infrastructure bill in August, according to The New York Times.

Republicans supporting the bill said their districts were in need of the federal dollars, which, in addition to paying for traditional infrastructure of roads and rails, would modernize the nation’s electricity grid, expand internet access and make investments in clean energy.

The backlash against those Republicans wasn’t really about the substance of the bill, but Trump’s bellicose opposition to it. (As president, Trump sought a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, but walked out on negotiations when Democrats would not agree with his demand to stop investigating him.)

While serious work was being done to pass Biden’s infrastructure plan, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., apparently was altering an animated video to depict a character resembling himself stabbing a likeness of Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in the neck with a sword. The Gosar figure also confronted a Biden-like character while brandishing swords.

After Gosar tweeted it out, he was condemned by the White House, Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, called for an ethics investigation and House Democrats introduced a resolution to censure Gosar — a move that passed Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has remained mostly silent about the threats and Gosar. Gosar’s sister has not.

“I am absolutely beyond aghast at how much this man has gotten away with,” Jennifer Gosar told MSNBC.

Rep. Gosar’s extreme views and behavior — he earlier shared a video meme linked to neo-Nazis and white nationalists — have been an embarrassment to some family members. Jennifer Gosar and other siblings have campaigned for his opponents.

A situation in the Poway Unified School District near San Diego became worrisome in September when protesters against mask requirements became so disruptive that the board had to adjourn before its business was complete.

Recently, Angela Brandt of the Poway News Chieftain reported that the school board agreed to continue to meet remotely for its next session after trustees said they received death threats and protesters had showed up at their homes with “stacks of manifesto documents,” according to the superintendent.

In Virginia, a parent’s concern about books with “sexually explicit” content in a high school library inflamed some of the members of the Spotsylvania County School Board.

The board ordered that objectionable books be pulled from the library shelves. But that apparently wasn’t enough for board members Rabih Abuismail and Kirk Twigg, according to The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va.

“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” Abuismail said.

Twigg said he wanted to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”

Fights over what books should be available to students are common, but the imagery of burning them is chilling.

Ray Bradbury’s haunting novel “Fahrenheit 451,” about a grim future with book burnings, was written in 1953, but it has never lost its relevance.

Perhaps that should be required reading for some school board members.

Michael Smolens is a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune.