As a human rights activist, Rep. Tom Perriello (D) of Virginia, saw some of the world’s hottest spots – Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and Darfur. But he never expected to bring danger to his doorstep with a vote cast on the floor of the House or Representatives for a healthcare bill.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the FBI was investigating whether a severed gas line at the home of Congressman Perriello’s brother was related to a comment posted on a local "tea party" website for activists to “drop by” and “express their thanks” for his healthcare vote and to “remember exactly what it is their constituents are saying and how they are telling them to vote.”
The site mistakenly directed activists to Perriello’s brother’s address.
His case – not yet conclusively related to his "yes" healthcare vote Sunday – is one of some 10 incidents and threats reported in the last 72 hours against members supporting healthcare reform, say House Democratic leaders.
Incidents include death threats, bricks through windows of member and Democratic party offices, and incidents of spitting and yelling racial epithets at members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they walked through an anti-healthcare demonstration at the Capitol Saturday.
Back to the '60s?
To some historians, it recalls the long run of threats and violence directed against members during the highly charged civil rights debates of the 1960s.
“Now, everything is ‘kill’ or destroy the other party, not just beat them at the polls,” says former House historian Raymond Smock, who directs the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies in Shepherdstown, W.V. “All this talk of ‘targeting’ other people is very dangerous stuff, and it’s getting worse."
Speaking of the incident a his brother's house, Perriello said: “While it is too early to say anything definitive regarding political motivations behind this act, it’s never too early for political leaders to condemn threats of violence, particularly as threats to other members of Congress and their children escalate."
Republicans condemn the violence
“Violence and threats are unacceptable,” he said in a statement. “That’s not the American way.”
But concern is mounting that the growing influence of the political extremes on politics has led to this moment.
“Passions are running high, and unfortunately there are always extremists who will take it too far,” says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “Call them isolated incidents, but there are enough of them now to cause concern.”