Video: Politics spills over into overt threats

  1. Closed captioning of: Politics spills over into overt threats

    >> for us tonight. thanks.

    >>> we have more tonight on the threats that have come in against some members of congress since this bill passed. police and the fbi are looking into the e-mails, phone calls and vandalism that have been reported by democrats and republicans , some serious business. our justice correspondent pete williams following it all day from our washington newsroom. pete, good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, it's getting hard to separate the policing from the politics. while members of congress argue about what's behind these threats, the fbi is working to find out how many of them are actually serious. in new york city today, hazmat crews responded to the office of democratic congressman anthony weiner who received an envelope containing suspicious white powder. republicans condemned the incidents and threats and rejected any claim their actions or rhetoric were in any way to blame.

    >> threats and violence should not be part of a political debate . there are ways for people to channel their anger, and they should do it in a constructive way.

    >> reporter: in fact, republicans said they had threatening calls, too, like this one to congresswoman jean schmidt of ohio.

    >> you and byner [ bleep ] that mitch mcconnell .

    >> reporter: republican eric cantor of virginia said someone shot at the building where he held his campaigning office.

    >> this is not a partisan issue and should never be treated that way.

    >> reporter: at the u.s. capitol police were told to be extra vigilant, but law enforcement officials say the number of serious death threats is quite saw, and something a few of the windows might have been broken response to an apple blogger who encouraged such conduct last friday, "if you wish to send a message pelosi and her party cannot fail to hear, break their windows." while some house members say they are worried about the safety of their spouses back home, others don't feel threatened.

    >> absolutely not at all. all of this is poppycock, compared to what we faced back in the '60s. none of this is any real concern to me at all.

    >> reporter: the fbi is working these cases aggressively, hoping to discourage copycats and get caught up with the partisan warfare.

    >> what a time. pete williams on the case for us in our washington newsroom. pete, thanks.

    >>> now for the coverage of

updated 3/26/2010 10:57:07 AM ET 2010-03-26T14:57:07

A fax bearing the image of a noose. Profane voice mails. Bricks thrown, a gas line cut. White powder sent to an office.

Democrats and a few Republicans revealed mounting numbers and unsettling details of threats against them Thursday in the emotional aftermath of the passage of the health care overhaul.

Lawmakers uniformly condemned the harassment, but that's where the agreement ended. Democrats said Republicans were slow to condemn the vigilantism, while Republicans said Democrats were playing politics with the threats.

"By ratcheting up the rhetoric, some will only inflame these situations to dangerous levels," said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia. "Enough is enough. It has to stop."

Cantor said he has received e-mail threats and that a bullet struck the window of his campaign office building in Richmond. But Richmond police said the bullet apparently had been randomly fired skyward.

At least 10 Democrats now have reported harassment, including incidents involving at least four of their offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas. More frequent have been obscenity-laced, sometime-threatening phone messages. An undisclosed number of lawmakers have been given increased police protection.

"It is unfortunate that a small but vocal group of people are using insults to convey their opinions and alarming that anyone would make threats against me or my family," said Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Pa.

Republicans said they, too, have been menaced. Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, released a recording of a voicemail she said she received in which a man repeatedly accuses Republicans of being racists. NBC News reported on Friday that bricks had been thrown through the window of a local GOP headquarters in Albemarle County, Virginia.

No arrests have been reported. A threat to assault a member of Congress in retaliation for the performance of official duties is punishable by up to a year in prison.

House historian Fred Beuttler said there have been few acts of violence against lawmakers over legislation. The worst occurred in 1954 when four Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the House chamber, wounding five members. A cross was burned on Speaker Sam Rayburn's front lawn in Texas during debate on civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

This week, hate-filled rants have been showing up in voice mails, e-mail boxes and on fax machines of lawmakers since the House approved the health care bill 219-212 Sunday night. President Barack Obama signed it into law on Tuesday. A package of fixes to the new law was winding through Congress Thursday on the brink of a two-week recess that begins on Monday.

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Video: Democrats threatened over health bill On one point Thursday, there was bipartisan agreement: No act of Congress — health care reform or anything else — merits threats of violence against lawmakers or their families.

Condemning the acts
House Republican leader John Boehner met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the incidents and both condemned them.

Pelosi was careful to avoid blaming Republicans directly for inciting the harassment, though she said that words "weigh a ton." Such threats of retaliation "have no place in a civil debate in our country," she said.

Boehner followed moments later. While many are angry over the health care measure, he said, "threats and violence should not be part of a political debate."

Cantor said the House's Democratic campaign chairman, Chris Van Hollen, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine had incited retribution against Republicans by telling The Huffington Post that the GOP would "own" responsibility for retaliatory slurs.

White powder
Rep. Anthony Weiner's office in the Queens borough of New York City received a letter with white powder in it Thursday that mentioned his vote for the health care bill, the police department said. Police later said field tests showed the powder was not hazardous.

In addition to Dahlkemper, Ohio Rep. John Boccieri, one of eight Democrats who switched to "yes" on the most recent House vote, said he had received threats.

E-mails sent to Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla., another member who switched her vote, urged her to commit suicide and said she and her family should rot in hell."

Video: Activist who posted Perriello's address denounces violence Rep. Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat and chairwoman of an influential House committee, said someone had left her a voicemail that used the word "snipers."

Some of the anger spilled over in a flood of threat-filled phone and fax messages to the office of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. Stupak had pledged to oppose the health care package unless given greater assurance that it would not allow federal funding of elective abortions. He voted in favor after the administration agreed.

"I hope you bleed ... (get) cancer and die," one caller told the congressman between curses.

A fax carried a picture of a gallows with "Bart (SS) Stupak" on it and a noose. It was captioned, "All Baby Killers come to unseemly ends Either by the hand of man or by the hand of God."

And in Virginia, someone cut a propane line leading to a grill at the Charlottesville home of 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.

Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer told The Associated Press Thursday that there was "no evidence that annoying, harassing or threatening telephone calls or e-mails are coordinated."


© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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