Women are saving our democracy — and being attacked for it

Women are saving our democracy — and being attacked for it
© (CLAUDIO REYES/AFP via Getty Images)

During the 2020 election cycle, telling the truth led to violent threats against election workers and state officials and an attack on our nation’s capital. And although male election officials were not immune to the vitriol, women were — and continue to be — top targets.

As the lies about the 2020 election carry on, so do emboldened misogynists and those who get a thrill out of sending a threatening text, email or phone call. Yet, strong women continue to fight for the truth and refuse to buckle to Internet trolls and power-hungry politicians.

Recently, Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn Cheney58 percent say Jan. 6 House committee is biased: poll Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Kinzinger supports Jan. 6 panel subpoenas for Republicans, including McCarthy MORE (R-Wyo.) was ousted from her Republican House leadership position because too many in her party are afraid of the truth, and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs faced another round of death threats for defending the will of voters in her state. 

In a scathing six-page letter, Hobbs laid out in detail why the current recounting the 2020 presidential votes in Maricopa Country has no legitimate basis and violates proper audit procedures. In a response to Hobbs’ plea for the Arizona Senate to come to terms with the already twice-audited results, she got death threats. The threats were so serious that Gov. Doug DuceyDoug DuceyArizona reports highest daily COVID-19 cases since March The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Republican governors revolt against CDC mask guidance MORE (R) had to order Department of Public Safety protection for Hobbs and her family. 

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We, too, have received such threats. As women working on the frontlines of two distinct but increasingly interconnected issues — election protection and gun violence prevention — and who have received threats of gun violence in an attempt to intimidate us, we want to be clear: Threats against election workers and elected officials undermine democracy. 

This kind of behavior is not new. Moms Demand Action volunteers have been sounding the alarm on armed extremism for years, given that our volunteers regularly encounter armed opposition at state houses and at rallies. Open carry is allowed and largely unregulated in over 40 states — even inside some state houses. Gun extremists have used lockdown protests, protests spurred by the murder of George Floyd and others — and now election outcomes as opportunities to incite fear, suppress civil discourse and threaten public officials. 

Last spring, armed insurrectionists wearing tactical gear openly carried guns into the Michigan state Capitol during protests over coronavirus restrictions, causing the legislature to shut down twice to avoid their threats.

In November, six men were arrested on charges of plotting to kidnap and execute Michigan Governor Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerBiden pays tribute to late Sen. Levin: 'Embodied the best of who we are' Former longtime Sen. Carl Levin dies at 87 Reporter: FBI involvement in Whitmer plot similar to sting operations targeting Islamic extremists MORE.

In December, while at home decorating for Christmas with her preschool-aged son, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was faced with an armed mob outside her home, menacing her family because they blamed her for Trump’s loss. 

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And this week wasn’t even the first time Secretary Hobbs has been threatened. In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election, Trump supporters showed up outside her Phoenix home, threatening to “burn her house down and kill her family” and chanting, “we are watching you.” Her home address, personal information and her son’s cell phone number were posted online.

The threats of violence in retaliation for the results of free and fair elections are the unfortunate but logical outcome of the heated. Hateful rhetoric of some of our elected officials — including former President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions The Memo: Left pins hopes on Nina Turner in Ohio after recent defeats Biden administration to keep Trump-era rule of turning away migrants during pandemic MORE — have spread baseless conspiracy theories and made constant and escalating attacks on the integrity of the 2020 election.

While we deeply value the First Amendment, there is no constitutional protection for violence, threats of violence, trespassing, or destruction of property. And the Second Amendment was certainly never intended to be used to threaten and intimidate elected officials and fellow citizens — or to alter the outcome of a free and fair election. In this country, we work out our differences at the ballot box, not armed on the lawns of our public servants or in all caps on their Twitter feeds.  

Taking a stand against this kind of intimidation, harassment and violence is not a partisan issue. Thankfully, we both work with law enforcement leaders across the country who have zero tolerance for illegal armed intimidation and who spoke out aggressively during the election. And at the States United Democracy Center, preventing political violence is a core focus of our nonpartisan democracy protection mission. 

We need leaders on both sides of the aisle to condemn this dangerous behavior that threatens our democracy. We need social media platforms to take down disinformation and aggressively respond to threats. We need lawmakers to stop legislation that would allow for guns at polling locations. And we need to hold those spreading lies accountable for their actions. 

We owe election officials our gratitude and our support. They are the true defenders of our democracy, in stark contrast to the people who threaten them when they don’t get their way.

The future of our democracy depends on the freedom to vote, and the freedom of elected officials to lawfully carry out their duties and to tell the truth about our elections. As Cheney so eloquently said, “remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar.” 

Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and author of “Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World.”

Joanna Lydgate is the co-founder and chief executive officer of the States United Democracy Center and previously served as chief deputy attorney general for the state of Massachusetts.