All threats against public officials are unconscionable. Whether the officials are top tier or low level; federal, state or local; elected or appointed; Democrat, Republican or nonpartisan — they are in almost every case just doing their job. Even in the fairly few instances when bona fide malfeasance is at issue, there are ample legal and civil means for citizens to vent their frustration and even their fury without resorting to threats.
To hear some election officials around the country, a wave of threats against them was triggered by the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the attack’s purported premise, that last November’s presidential election was “stolen.” As reported by national media throughout this year, the officials blame the anonymous threats — typically via text or social media — on a climate they say was created by the attack; by repeated, unfounded claims of election fraud, and ultimately by former President Trump.
It is past time for whoever is behind these cowardly threats to stop. Even if they prove idle or are just recklessly idiotic and offensive pranks with no actual intent to do harm — all are menacing and create a toxic climate at our public institutions.
It is also time for the many well-intended citizens who have had nothing to do with such threats — but who continue to harbor grave doubts about the legitimacy of the last presidential election — to move on. Absent any plausible evidence the election actually was stolen by fraudulent ballots, rigged counting, etc., they ought to look ahead instead to the next election. Their voices need to be heard on pressing issues of the present and potential presidential contenders of the future rather than on conspiracy theories about the past.
And at the risk of sounding a bit callous about the pressures of serving in public office, we’ll also suggest it’s time for the public officials who regrettably must navigate these periodic threats — to deal with them less publicly.
That’s not to doubt the jarring effect of the threats or the potential, even if remote, for real harm to come from them. But there are proper channels for handling them, foremost by referring them to law enforcement for investigation and assessment of the level of risk they pose.
There’s typically little need for those officials to go public with the threats. Obviously, if approached by the press, the officials should be forthcoming. But turning threats into a cause célèbre could result in unintended consequences, as those in law enforcement would point out. Publicity is likely what those sending the threats crave; airing them publicly could spawn even more of them, including from copycats.
Publicizing threats also risks politicizing them — something no one should want. If indeed threats are being motivated by a poisonous political climate, why contribute to it? And why risk the appearance of exploiting a threat for sympathy or political gain? That just serves to make voters even more jaded about politics in the long run.
Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s recent public airing of threats against her and her office offer a case in point. As reported by our news affiliate Colorado Politics, Griswold was rebuffed this week by the state’s Independent Ethics Commission on her request to let a national organization pay for her private security in the wake of threats posted on social media and sent by text. The commission found that accepting such aid from the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State would violate state ethics rules for public officials.
The commission also noted that the threats, which had been referred to the Colorado State Patrol, were not considered serious enough for the State Patrol to provide Griswold a security detail. That assessment should offer her some reassurance that she need not be on red alert. Besides, the State Patrol remains on the case and will keep her apprised.
Meanwhile, she also can take solace in the approval by state lawmakers last spring of a law making a credible threat against an elected official a class 6 felony.
A novice in public office in her first term as secretary of state, Griswold may have been stunned by the threats — one of the ugly realities of politics. Sadly, they are nothing new to public office.
It is deplorable when any public agency receives threats. It is impossible to know which ones to take most seriously, but law enforcement agencies will do their best to sort that out. Let’s entrust it to their capable hands.