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Opinion: I fear for our public officials

Public service is one of the noblest ways to give back to a person’s community, but, quite frankly, I am gravely concerned that the political climate in our country is going down a frightening path. I fear for their safety.

It was not long ago when people with divergent political views could discuss their differences without screaming at each other, without calling each other vile names and using four-letter words and without threatening violence.

Public officials, most notably school board members of late, are reporting threats at or after board meetings, anonymous phone calls at all hours of the day and night, even confrontations in parking lots. Much of it revolves around COVID-19 precautions or fear of teaching critical race theory.

Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Arizona, writing recently in The Washington Post, offered her views about the recent stabbing death of Conservative Parliament member David Amess in Great Britain while he was meeting with his constituents.

“I was horrified and heartbroken,” Giffords wrote. “Amess was doing exactly what I was doing on that day (in 2011) near Tucson - listening, connecting. But he paid for his public service with his life.”

She went on to say that the polarization and extremism have only gotten worse over the past decade. “Harassment and threats against government officials are no longer the exception but more the norm,” Giffords wrote.

Isn’t that a sad commentary of how low we have sunk? Instead of expressing our gratitude to those who are willing to give up their time and serve with no compensation on the local school board, we bad-mouth them and scream vile things at them because we disagree with them, even in some cases issue veiled or real threats of bodily harm.

You’ll recall that there are five men awaiting trial in Michigan for plotting to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitman because of her actions to curb COVID-19.

During the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., a number of the insurrectionists said they intended to inflict bodily harm on former Republican Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

It is chilling to recall how close they were to actually finding these and other legislators. If they had found Pence, would they have hanged him as they were threatening to do? Remember the noose that some of the insurrections were carrying? I don’t know about you, but I see it as a real possibility. This inflamed mob was out of control and out for blood, and if they had caught any of the “big three,” anything they might have done to them was on the table.

Steve Lynch, Republican candidate for Northampton County Executive in today’s general election, a Donald Trump advocate and anti-vaxxer who’s opposed to mask mandates, said in a speech in Harrisburg several weeks ago that he was going to give the Northampton Area School Board members an option. “They can leave, or they can be removed. And then after that we’re going to replace them with nine parents, and we’re going to vote down the mask mandates that evening.”

Lynch also called for “20 strong men” to accompany him to carry out the mission. Later, Lynch backed off the threat, saying that he did not mean that he was planning any violence against the nine board members. Since then, however, security has been beefed up at Northampton Area School Board meetings, just in case. The situation has gotten to the point where the Department of Justice has directed the FBI to meet with local governments and law enforcement officials to discuss strategies to deal with increasing threats to school board members and school personnel.

School board meetings have come under attack because of vaccine and masking policies, and there has been a conservative backlash against discussions of race in public schools, especially involving the concept “critical race theory,” which is not taught in any of our local elementary, middle or secondary public schools.

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” wrote Attorney General Merrick Garland in his memorandum last month to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Around the country, public officials have received an increasing number of threats. Referring to Chris Krebs, a Homeland Security election official fired by Trump, one of the former president’s attorneys, Joseph DiGenova, said Krebs should be “drawn and quartered, taken out at dawn and shot.”

Former Trump aide Steve Bannon said that FBI Director Wray and infectious disease director Anthony Fauci should be “beheaded and their heads mounted on spikes as a warning to federal bureaucrats.”

Americans who are angry about police brutality, pandemic restrictions or the election outcome have taken it out on people who work for the government - not just those elected to positions of authority, but lower-level workers, too.

Across the United States, dozens of health officials have quit since the pandemic began, some citing death threats and intimidation, some of it from the upper echelons of their state’s government.

Perhaps the most compelling revelation I can point to that puts this issue into crystal clarity is the comment Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, made after dozens of her fellow Pennsylvania GOP legislators sent a letter calling on their congressional delegation to reject electoral votes for Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Ward told The New York Times, “If I would say to you, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ I’d get my house bombed tonight.”

My God, what has happened to civility? We presumably pride ourselves on living in a civilized society, so why aren’t we acting as if we do?

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.