You are hereRoll Call: Threats to Members Hard to Calculate

Roll Call: Threats to Members Hard to Calculate


-By Daniel Newhauser 

May 18, 2011- One came from a high school student who was goofing off on the school computer during civics lessons. Another from a man angry over an automated call. And another from a man who claimed he grew up with President Barack Obama in Wisconsin.

Threats against Members of Congress are up again this year, surpassing the pace set during the much-hyped debate over health care, but when you get behind the numbers, experts say it’s not clear that the danger is any higher.

The Capitol Police recorded 53 communicated threats from Oct. 1 to March 31, said Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, who is also chairman of the Capitol Police Board. That’s more than the 47 threats recorded from October 2009 to March 2010, when the contentious health care debate raged on Capitol Hill.

Also on the rise are reports of what Capitol Police call “directions of interest,” or correspondence that may be disconcerting to a Member but is not quite a threat on its face.

“‘I wish you weren’t around anymore.’ ‘I hate you.’ ‘If you drop dead tomorrow I’d enjoy it,’” Gainer said. “That’s not a crime. But it might be a sliver of a dot we’d want to connect.”

Members reported 1,211 of these messages from October to March, compared with 1,025 over the same time period a year earlier.

Despite news reports to the contrary, however, these numbers do not show that threats are at an all-time high.

One issue is that the number of reported threats is just that — threats that were reported.

After the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in January, several Members said they had not reported every threat or direction of interest they received in the past.

Gainer said Congressional law enforcement officials have struggled with persuading staff to report suspicious communication.

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