Unrest over sweeping federal health care legislation has turned to vandalism and threats, with bricks hurled through Democrats’ windows, a propane line cut at the home of a congressman’s brother and menacing phone messages left for lawmakers who supported the bill.
The FBI is investigating the instances, which include shattered windows at four Democratic offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas. At least 10 members of Congress have reported some sort of threat as of Wednesday, and no arrests have been made.
The brick flung through the window of a county Democratic Party office in Rochester, N.Y., over the weekend had a note attached: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” roughly quoting 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.
A New York congresswoman whose office window also was smashed with a brick accused the Republican leadership of failing to denounce attacks against lawmakers who supported the legislation. The vandalism was at Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter’s district office in Niagara Falls early Friday, two days before the House passed the health care overhaul bill.
“It’s more disturbing to me that Republican leadership has not condemned these attacks and instead appears to be fanning the flames with coded rhetoric,” said Slaughter, a key supporter of the bill.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said in a statement that while many Americans are angry over the bill’s passage, “violence and threats are unacceptable.”
“That’s not the American way,” Boehner said. “We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change.”
The FBI and Capitol Police were briefing Democratic lawmakers on how to handle perceived security threats, said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Those who feel they are at risk will be “getting attention from the proper authorities,” Hoyer said, declining to say whether any are receiving extra security. Normally only those in leadership positions have personal security guards.
At a news conference in Washington, Hoyer said people have yelled that Democratic lawmakers should be put on firing lines and posters have appeared with the faces of lawmakers in the cross hairs of a target.
While not directly criticizing Republicans, Hoyer said that “any show of appreciation for such actions encourages such action.”
Gun imagery was used in a posting on the Facebook page of Sarah Palin urging people to organize against 20 House Democrats who voted for the health care bill and whose districts went for the John McCain-Palin ticket in 2008. Palin’s post featured a U.S. map with circles and cross hairs over the 20 districts.
Some of the anger over the bill spilled over in a flood of obscenity and threat-filled phone and fax messages to the office of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. His office released some of the messages it has received since the health care bill passed, declining to add further comment.
“I hope you bleed … (get) cancer and die,” one male caller told the congressman between curses.
A fax with the title “Defecating on Stupak” carried a picture of a gallows with “Bart (SS) Stupak” on it and a noose attached. It was captioned, “All Baby Killers come to unseemly ends Either by the hand of man or by the hand of God.”
The vandalism and threats surprised a researcher at a think tank that monitors extremist groups.
“I think it is astounding that we are seeing this wave of vigilantism,” said Mark Potok of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.
In Virginia, someone cut a propane line leading to a grill at the Charlottesville home of U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello’s brother after the address was posted online by activists angry about the health care overhaul. Perriello also said a threatening letter was sent to his brother’s house. The FBI and local authorities were investigating.
Tea party activists had posted the brother’s address online thinking it was the congressman’s home. The post urged opponents to drop by and “express their thanks” for the Democrat’s vote in favor of the sweeping health care reform.
Nigel Coleman, chairman of the Danville Tea Party, said he re-posted the comment that originated on another conservative blog, including the address, Monday on his Facebook page. The posts were taken down after the mistake was discovered.
“We’ve never been associated with any violence or any vandalism,” he said. “We’re definitely sorry that we posted the incorrect address.”
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who has filed a lawsuit challenging the health care overhaul and is a favorite among tea party groups, said for activists to post an address of Perriello’s family shows that things are going too far.
“That is way over the line,” he said. “It’s not civil discourse, it’s an invitation to intimidation and it’s totally unacceptable.”
Potok compared the online posting of a public official’s address to tactics used by hate groups.
“This is what neo-Nazi leaders in America do today,” Potok said. “They post personal information about their enemies and sit back and wait for somebody else to act.”
Lyndsay Stauble, executive director of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party in Wichita, Kan., said a brick was hurled through the party’s storefront plate glass window late Friday or early Saturday, landing in her office and gouging her wooden desk.
She said that written in marker on the brick were the slogans, “No to Obama” and “No Obamycare.”
“The tone is not surprising, but the aggressiveness is,” Stauble said Wednesday. “I’m not shocked that people are not reacting well to a large piece of legislation passed by a president that they don’t like.”
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