Paul Pelosi attack: Violent extremism warning ahead of US election

North America Correspondent

The violent attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband comes just one more week before the US midterm elections - a moment when political tensions start to boil.

As if to emphasize this point, just hours after news of the attack on Paul Pelosi on Friday, the US government distributed bulletins to law enforcement across the country. It warned of the "increasing threat" of domestic violent extremism against candidates and election officials driven by individuals with "ideological grievances".

Also on Friday, the US Department of Justice announced that a man from Pennsylvania had pleaded guilty to making multiple death threats calls against an unnamed congressman - reported Democrat Eric Swalwell of California. The threats included telling a member of staff at the congressman's office in Washington that he was coming to the US Capitol with a gun.

Pelosi's hammer attacker shouted 'Where's Nancy?'

This wailing claxon of a political system in peril comes as Republicans and Democrats frame the upcoming midterm vote, which will determine which party controls Congress next year, as a pivotal moment in American history.

Republicans warn this is the last chance to examine Democrat Joe Biden's presidency. Democrats say America's own democracy is at stake because many Republican candidates refuse to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election.

And the rhetoric comes at the culmination of what has been a violent crackdown - and threats of violence - that have built up over the years.

In Arizona, there have been several reports of masked individuals with firearms stalking ballot boxes, ostensibly to monitor election fraud sites. They have posted photos of individuals casting their votes on far-right social media sites and encouraging others to join their efforts.

In June, a man was arrested near the home of Chief Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He had traveled to suburban Washington from California and called the police after he arrived to tell them he had a gun and intended to kill the conservative judge.

The following month, Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin was attacked while on stage during a campaign. Congressman Pramila Jayapal, a liberal leader in the Democratic Party, was threatened by a man with a gun outside his Seattle home. He was later charged with the crime of stalking.

Republican congressman Marjorie Taylor Greene has asked police to respond to her home six times based on anonymous hoax calls. The practice, called "hitting", is used to try to provoke a confrontation between the target and law enforcement. He was also the target of numerous death threats.

Partisan violence – and its threats – is nothing new in American politics, of course. The bloodiest recent attack occurred five years ago, when a man with multiple guns opened fire on a Republican politician playing baseball in a city park. Five were injured, including one critically - the second-ranked Republican in the House of Representatives, Louisiana's Steve Scalise. However, it was an isolated incident.

Keeping politicians safe

Data provided by the US Capitol Police suggests a wave of violence is brewing. The number of cases involving threats against members of Congress has increased every year since 2017. In the first three months of 2022, the department has documented more than 1,800 incidents.

In response, Capitol Police announced in July that it would cover up to $10,000 for increased security at the homes of congressional legislators.

However, there are 435 members of Congress. They regularly travel to and from their homes around Washington and from the nation's capital to their homes across the nation. An individual who is motivated and fixated on violence will be able to find a way to attack the targeted politician - or their family.

With Mrs Pelosi thousands of miles away in Washington, there was no police security provided for Mr Pelosi at their home in San Francisco. He wasn't the intended target, but he became a victim.

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