The emotional battle over health care reform has resulted in an unexpected reaction of political vandalism and attacks. At least 10 Congressional Democrats, who supported the health care bill, have reported death threats, incidents of vandalism and harassment over the past week. Bricks have been hurled through Democrats' windows, menacing phone messages, and even a propane line cut at the home of a congressman's brother.
Two days before the House passed the health care overhaul bill, the window of New York congresswoman Louise Slaughter's district office in Niagara Falls was smashed with a brick. She has accused the Republican leadership of failing to condemn attacks against lawmakers who championed the legislation.
"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 primary supporter of the bill.
John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader stated that while many Americans are upset over the bill's passage, "violence and threats are unacceptable." He said, "That's not the American way,” "We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. at a news conference in Washington said that one of these people yelled out that Democratic lawmakers should be placed in front of a firing squad and posters with the faces of lawmakers have appeared with in the cross hairs of a target.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich received a torrent of obscenity and threat-filled phone and fax messages. A sample of the message:
"I hope you bleed ... (get) cancer and die," one male caller told the congressman between curses.
He also received a fax with the title "Defecating on Stupak." It displayed a picture of a gallows with "Bart (SS) Stupak" on it and a noose attached. The caption said, "All Baby Killers come to unseemly ends either by the hand of man or by the hand of God."
U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello's brother had a propane line leading to a grill in his home cut after a Tea party activist believing that it was the congressman's home posted the brother's address online instead. The posting suggested that its members to drop by and "express their thanks" for the Democrat's voting in favor of the health care reform.
Chairman of the Danville Tea Party, Nigel Coleman, admitted that he re-posted the comment, including the address, on his Facebook page. The posts were removed after the error 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."
Even Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who was one of the 14 who filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care overhaul said 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."
Mark Potok of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center commented that "I think it is astounding that we are seeing this wave of vigilantism,"
Potok said that these tactics are very similar to those used by 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."
On Wednesday, behind closed doors over 100 House Democrats met with the FBI and U.S. Capitol Police. The lawmakers voiced their "serious concern" over the security they are receiving both at work in Washington and in their home districts.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., explained that normally, the Capitol Police provides personal security only for members that are in a leadership position. Since the attacks at least 10 members have been offered increased protection.
When he was asked whether members are in danger, Hoyer said: "Yes. (There are) very serious incidents that have occurred."
On Wednesday Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer sent e-mails to senators and their staff warning them to "remain vigilant." He said that the warning was meant to "assuage people's fears." To date there have been no reported incidents involving senators.
Even with the added protection, the aggression has take its toll and unsettled House Democrats.
Hoyer said that "[o] ur democracy is about participation…Our democracy is about differing and debate and animated debate and passionate debate. But it is not about violence.".