Senate sergeant-at-arms: Political rhetoric drove increase in threats against lawmakers in 2020

Senate sergeant-at-arms: Political rhetoric drove increase in threats against lawmakers in 2020
© Greg Nash

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Karen Gibson said during an interview with CNN aired on Sunday that political rhetoric is a "key driver" behind the rise in "anger" toward political figures that drove an uptick in threats against lawmakers last year.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Pamela Brown asked Gibson if she had seen an uptick in threats against members of Congress since the Jan. 6 insurrection. Gibson was appointed to sergeant-at-arms after her predecessor, Michael C. Stenger, resigned in January following the deadly Capitol riot.

"I would not say since the insurrection, but certainly in 2020 it began to go up considerably and it has remained heightened for a number of members. It is not since Jan. 6, it certainly predated Jan. 6," Gibson responded.

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Brown questioned what role political rhetoric played in this uptick.

"I think political rhetoric is a key driver of some of the anger that Americans feel across the political spectrum towards elected officials," Gibson said, agreeing with Brown that this form of political rhetoric that incites anger is ongoing.

"It certainly keeps things interesting and it means that there are continued threats unfortunately against a number of elected officials," Gibson said. "Because some Americans choose to respond in that way."

Gibson added that all people have a right to express their political opinions, anger and frustration toward elected officials, but "not in a violent way."

"That's enshrined in our Constitution and part of what I've sworn to uphold and defend. I think what concerns me is a group of Americans that have fallen for some conspiracy theories and just some whacked-out ideas that are not based in fact," Gibson said. "I say tongue-in-cheek now that we have a vaccine for COVID I think we need to work on one for disinformation. But I am concerned about people who just cannot separate fact from fiction."

According to Gibson, U.S. Capitol Police are "far more attuned" to potential threats to the Capitol like the Jan. 6 riot, saying, "we would be ready," if another insurrection occurred.