Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has used her social media presence as a way to frame discussions around important topics and to take her trolls head-on. The freshman representative has yet to shy away from conflict, and I don't see that stopping anytime soon. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's tweet about rhetoric and death threats makes an important point about the way people talk about politics.
On Wednesday, April 10, the New York representative retweeted a screengrab of a fundraising email from the Ohio chapter of the College Republicans, which appeared to have the subject line, "AOC is a domestic terrorist." She wrote,
This puts me in danger every time. Almost every time this uncalled for rhetoric gets blasted by [conservative groups], we get a spike in death threats to refer to Capitol Police. Multiple ppl have been arrested trying to harm me, Ilhan, [and] others. @GOP, what’s it going to take to stop?
The Ohio College Republicans' Twitter account later apologized for the email and said that the language was "unauthorized" and the group did not condone it. Representatives for Ocasio-Cortez said they had no comment in an email to Elite Daily in regards to a request for further comment on the tweet and the spike in death threats cited in Ocasio-Cortez's tweet.
The Ohio College Republicans apologized to Ocasio-Cortez in an April 10 tweet stating that the fundraising email was unauthorized and the group doesn't "approve of the message." The group did not immediately respond to Elite Daily's request for additional comment on the email. They wrote,
The OCRF does not condone the unauthorized email sent out in our name. We apologize to Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez for the use of unacceptable language in this email, and we do not approve of the message conveyed.
But Ocasio-Cortez's point remains — the way we talk about politicians doesn't exist in a vacuum. As David Levinthal, politics editor at the Center for Public Integrity and the person who tweeted out a screengrab of the Ohio College Republicans' email, pointed out on Twitter, "domestic terrorist" is a term usually reserved for people like school shooters or others who carry out mass attacks, and it's wildly out of line to apply it to a politician. While most reasonable people would take a statement like this as hyperbole, there are, unfortunately, always unreasonable, and potentially violent, people.
For example, a November 2018 report from ABC News found 17 instances of violence in which the alleged perpetrators had directly invoked the name of President Donald Trump in acts of violence against members of minority groups, including Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ individuals. The president has frequently been accused of promoting violence, and has made a number of derogatory comments about minority groups and individuals. The White House did not previously respond to Elite Daily's request for comment on the president's rhetoric in relation to hate crimes.
Threats of violence reach across the aisle as well. In July 2018, a man allegedly threatened to chop up Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul's family with an ax and was arrested by Capitol Hill police, according to ABC News. At the time, the senator said that "political differences have to end in violence." Also in July of 2018, a man was arrested outside the office of Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York for allegedly threatening to kill a campaign worker and other President Donald Trump supporters, according to NPR.
During his testimony before the House Administration Committee on Tuesday, April 9, House Sergeant at Arms Paul D. Irving said there's been a rise in threats aimed at Congress members over the last few years, according to The Washington Post. "Members of Congress now receive an unprecedented number of threats and threatening communications," said Irving.
People have political differences, even those on the same side at times, but it's important to remember that even in the heat of frustration or political debate, words have impact. We never know who's taking things a little too seriously.