WASHINGTON – (AP) – There is something that comes with being a member of Congress, regardless of your party or status: constant threats to your life and an unshakable feeling that they are only going to get worse.
In the nearly two years since the Capitol riot, in which supporters of former President Donald Trump broke into the Capitol and hunted down House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress, threats against lawmakers and their families have escalated. Early Friday, an assailant looking for Pelosi broke into her San Francisco home and used a hammer to attack her husband Paul, who suffered blunt injuries and was hospitalized.
In fact, it’s only getting worse: U.S. Capitol Police investigated nearly 10,000 threats against members last year, more than double the four years earlier.
“We’re 100% totally vulnerable and the risks are increasing,” says Mike Quigley, an Illinois congressman who is a Chicago-area Democrat. “If someone wants to harm you, they know where you live, they know where you work.”
Lawmakers have pressured congressional leaders and the Capitol Police to improve security, particularly for their families and their homes outside of Washington. They’ve made some progress, with security officials promising to pay for upgrades to certain security systems and an increased Capitol Police presence outside of Washington. But the vast majority of members are largely on their own as they figure out how to protect themselves and their families in a country where political violence has become alarmingly common.
The attack on Paul Pelosi happened when Nancy Pelosi was out of town, which meant fewer security guards were present at her home.
“It’s attacks like this that make us all step back and ask ourselves what we can do better,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who attended baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia four years ago , when a gunman was wounded Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and four others.
Davis, who was defeated for re-election in his Republican primary earlier this year, says safety needs to be improved for members and their families, and “we also need to work to tone down some of the violent rhetoric that some of these individuals have used to do so.” inspires what they do.”
Like many of their peers, both Davis and Quigley say they’ve improved security at their homes in recent years. Two years after the baseball shooting, an Illinois man was arrested for threatening to shoot Davis in the head. Randall Tarr pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.
Davis has since urged his colleagues to report any threats to police and work with local prosecutors to ensure the individuals are charged. “You have to take this threat seriously,” he says.
Incidents like this are alarmingly common. On Friday, just hours after the Pelosi attack, the Justice Department announced that a man pleaded guilty to making threatening phone calls to the office of an unidentified California congressman, saying he had “a lot of AR-15s” and wanted the Congressmen kill members of his staff.
In July, a man approached New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican running for governor of New York, when he was speaking at a campaign rally and said to Zeldin, “You’re done.” Zeldin wrestled the man to the ground and got away with just a small scratch.
MP Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., revealed earlier this year that a man came to her home with a gun and yelled obscenities. After the incident, she wrote a letter to convention leaders asking them to do more to keep members safe.
Lawmakers have received improved security since the January 6 riot. In July, the House Sergeant at Arms sent a letter to all House offices saying members could be reimbursed up to $10,000 for security upgrades in their homes, including intrusion detection systems, cameras, locks and lighting. But in reality, sophisticated security can cost a lot more.
And some members get extra security when there are serious threats. Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders have Capitol Police security guards with them at all times, as well as members deemed most vulnerable at any given time. This safety apparatus doesn’t always extend to families, however, when the member is away from home, which makes spouses like Paul Pelosi more vulnerable.
Members of the House of Representatives committee investigating the January 6 riot also enjoy 24-hour protection. Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on that committee, recently released threatening voicemails he received threatening his wife and baby.
Kinzinger tweeted Friday after Paul Pelosi’s attack that “every GOP candidate and elected official needs to raise their voice, and do it now.”
Republican Rep. Davis also called on his fellow Democrats and Republicans to condemn the attack.
“The attack on Paul Pelosi is not just an attack on Nancy Pelosi and her family,” Davis said. “It’s an attack on us all.”
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