HomeLearning Center2024 Begins with a Spate of ‘Disturbing’ Threats, Many against Women Officials

2024 Begins with a Spate of ‘Disturbing’ Threats, Many against Women Officials

Originally published by Grace Panetta for The 19th

2024 began with a wave of threats and swatting incidents directed at high-profile public officials — many of them women — and government institutions. The spate of threats of violence comes as the United States marks the 3rd anniversary of the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol and enters a critical presidential election year that will again test the resilience of American democracy.  

In the past few days, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said she was a victim of a “swatting” —  a form of harassment where a caller falsely reports a violent crime taking place at a person’s home to send a heavily armed tactical police unit to the residence — at her home. Members of the Colorado Supreme Court have faced threats in the wake of decisions on former President Donald Trump’s eligibility for the ballot. On Wednesday and Thursday, emailed bomb threats spurred state capitols and other government offices to evacuate.   

Both the Colorado Supreme Court and Bellows, Maine’s chief election official, have ruled Trump is ineligible to appear on the 2024 primary ballots in those states due to a 14th Amendment clause barring those who have “engaged in insurrection” from holding office. Trump has appealed both decisions; the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to settle the question of his eligibility for the ballot in those states. 

President Joe Biden is kicking off his January campaign schedule with a Friday afternoon speech near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, a pivotal site in the American Revolution, marking the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection and emphasizing threats to democracy. 

In a Tuesday call with reporters, Biden campaign aides described the 2024 contest as an existential flashpoint that will “determine the future of American democracy and every American’s fundamental freedoms.” They also warned of the consequences of former President Donald Trump’s often-extreme plans for a potential second term, pointing to Trump’s own comments that he’s promised to be a dictator “on day one.” 

Threats of violence, particularly threats against women officials, have risen since 2020

Lies that the 2020 election was stolen, spread by Trump and his allies, fueled a surge in harassment and threats toward the woman-dominated local election workforce, much of which has experienced an increasingly hostile environment and rising turnover after the 2020 election. Many particularly vicious attacks on political leaders and election officials have targeted women of color. 

“It does indicate to me an erosion of institutions and principles, and the degree to which some are willing to dabble or outright engage in political violence against their fellow Americans,” David Becker, founder and executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, said on a Thursday call with reporters. 

Bellows, a Democrat, said of the swatting attempt against her, “In this case it was without incident. But make no mistake, just because it was a fake call, it was a swatting call, doesn’t make it any less dangerous,” Though the swatting took place while Bellow was not home, she told SiriusXM the call was “In fact…very dangerous.”

In a Thursday interview with SiriusXM’s “The Briefing” with Steve Scully, Bellows said she — along with those close to her and her staff — have been receiving “abusive, aggressive and threatening communications” in response to her decision to remove Trump from the state’s ballot. 

Law enforcement officials around the country said they were investigating swatting incidents targeting other public officials from both political parties, including California Lt. Gov. Eleni KounalakisRep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu over the holidays. 

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