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Election year begins with political violence in the United States

Photo: “Donald Trump's controversial and provocative language (seen here during a speech in Washington on Wednesday) tends to demonize his opponents,” says political scientist Jason Lyall.

Fabien Deglise

February 1, 2024 Analysis

  • United States

Daring to stand up to Donald Trump may have been the source of reprisals, at the beginning of last month, for American judge Arthur Engoron, victim of a bomb threat at his home. It was just hours after banning the ex-president from speaking on the final day of his fraud trial in a Manhattan court.

The verdict in this case, which could jeopardize the ex-president's real estate future, is expected early next week.

Donald Trump had, however, defied the gag order, to pour out his usual victimizing diatribes for a few minutes in the middle of the courtroom, before being interrupted by the judge. On his social networks, the populist complained, accusing the magistrate of being personally angry with him.

Chance or coincidence: that same evening, an anonymous call brought a tactical police squad to the judge's home, looking for a bomb that did not exist.

In English, the thing was named “swatting“. It is the sending, on the basis of false declarations, of an intervention team, a SWAT team, to a person's home to harm them or intimidate him.

In recent weeks, the phenomenon has exploded in the United States, and targets public figures, politicians, elected officials and local officials whose speeches or decisions, for the vast majority of them, directly undermine the credibility or political ambitions of Donald Trump. A trend which is particularly worrying as the country is experiencing an election year where divisions and hatred are once again exacerbated by the Republicans' favorite candidate for the presidential election next November.

swatting is a form of political violence, especially when it targets judges, public officials, elected officials, and others occupying official functions, summarizes in an interview with Devoir political scientist Jason Lyall, director of the Political Violence Research Laboratory at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire. It is designed to scare and aims to reshape the political landscape through threats of physical harm and even direct violence. It must be considered a form of terrorism. »

On Monday, Shontel Brown, a young Democratic representative from Ohio in Congress, became the latest American deputy to suffer the landing of a tactical team at her home, which brings to more than 30 the number of deputies or senators victims of these anonymous calls and their dramatic consequences since last Christmas, according to the Capitol Police. Ms. Brown has denounced in recent weeks the radical positions of Republican elected officials in her state on aid and programs benefiting sexual minorities in Ohio.

On Saturday, the Republican representative of Minnesota Tom Emmer, criticized by Trump for not having embarked on his electoral conspiracy theories in 2020, was subjected to the same treatment, after an anonymous call reporting a person victim of a kidnapping held in his residence in Delano.

The ultimate opponent of Donald Trump in the race for the Republican nomination, Nikki Haley, had to face a case of swatting at the turn of the new year, at his residence on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, where police were dispatched, believing they were responding to a call of murder and attempted suicide.

“This is what happens when you run for president,” denounced the former United States ambassador to the United Nations and moderate conservative, while calling it “horrible” he event that put law enforcement and his family “in danger.”

In 2017, such a call led to the death of a young man in Wichita, Kansas, shot by a tactical team sent to his home via a prank call.

Nikki Haley's determination to remain in the race for the Republican Party nomination despite the numerous calls to withdraw launched by Donald Trump and his allies has made her a favored target of the populist. On the electoral field, just as online, the billionaire accuses her of being at the service of the Democrats and has given her the nickname “bird brain” to better discredit her in the eyes of her supporters.

The weight of words

“Donald Trump's controversial and provocative language tends to demonize his opponents and bring its supporters to consider the use of swattingas a legitimate form of protest against their political enemies, says Jason Lyall. He has enormous media reach, both through traditional television and newspapers, but also through social networks, to exert pressure on his targets, without fear of calling for revenge and even disclosing personal information that can be used against them. »

At the beginning of the year, the Attorney General of the United States, Merrick Garland, denounced a “deeply disturbing increase” in these threats targeting public officials, describing them as “unacceptable » and harmful to “the fabric of our democracy”.

Since the FBI set up its first database last June to document the phenomenon, 550 cases of swattingwere registered in the United States, reports the Axios website. This number includes those simultaneously victimized by Justice Tanya Chutkan and Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith a few days ago. Anonymous calls claimed that gunshots had been heard inside their respective residences. Ms. Chutkan is leading the criminal case against Trump and his attempt to change the results of the 2020 election. Mr. Smith is leading the charge against the populist on several of the 91 charges against him and his election campaign.

“There is no doubt that swattingrepresents a threat to American democracy, explains Jason Lyall. It is a form of intimidation that could influence candidates not to run for public office or force qualified people to withdraw from electoral races. This could also lead organizations to cancel gatherings and not hold meetings for fear of being victims of such anonymous calls. Out of fear for the safety of their families, officials may also refuse to investigate crimes or even punish offenders. »

This is undoubtedly the effect sought by the instigators of these dramatic phone calls, against which the Secretary of State of Maine, Shenna Bellows, decided to stand up at the end of last year, after the sending a tactical team to his home. The state had decided, the same day, like Colorado, to remove Donald Trump's name from the ballots due to his participation in the insurrection of January 6, 2021. A provision in the Constitution allowed them to do so , according to them.

“Please encourage those you influence to defuse this rhetoric,” she said on social media. These threatening and incessant communications […] are unacceptable. They are designed to scare me and to silence us,” she added, while calling on people to channel “respect and kindness.” “We should be able to agree to disagree on important issues without threats or violence,” she concluded.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116