Center for Political Awareness

Brennan Center for Justice Takes a Look at the Intimidation of State and Local Officeholders

Left unchecked, abuse harms not only elected officials but also the public they serve. (Click image for article.)

The January 6 insurrection at the Capitol seemed to mark a new peak in extremist intimidation targeting public officials. But it was hardly the only act of political violence to break the period of relative stability that followed the assassinations of the 1960s. There was the 2017 shooting of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and colleagues by a Trump detractor. There was the hammer attack on U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s husband by a right-wing conspiracy theorist who sought the then House speaker in her home. Then there were threats by Republican extremists against Republican members of Congress for refusing to support their preferred candidate for speaker. These acts grabbed headlines and spurred increases in security for federal officials.

Yet over the same period, with far less attention and often little recourse, officeholders serving in local and state government across the country have faced a barrage of intimidating abuse. Threats and attacks constrain how freely officeholders interact with constituents, narrow the spectrum of policy positions they feel safe to support, and make them less willing to continue in public service. Unaddressed, the problem stands to endanger not just individual politicians but, more broadly, the free and fair functioning of representative democracy — at every level of government.

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