House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday condemned vandalism and threats against members of Congress who voted to overhaul the U.S. health care system. Republicans joined in, telling people to calm down and saying they too were being targeted in an increasingly venomous political atmosphere.
"I don't want this to be a distraction" to the work of Congress, Pelosi said. But she also asserted that such violence and threats of reprisal have "no place in a civil debate in our country" and must be rejected.
Her sentiments were echoed minutes later by House Republican leader John Boehner, who said that while many are angry over the health care measure, "threats and violence should not be part of a political debate."
At least four Democratic offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas were struck and at least 10 members of Congress have reported some sort of threats, including obscenity-laced phone messages, congressional leaders have said. No arrests have been reported.
The House's No. 3 Republican, Eric Cantor of Virginia, said at a brief news conference Thursday that someone fired a bullet through a window of his campaign office in Richmond this week and he has received threatening e-mails.
Responding to Democrats who have accused Republicans of being too slow to condemn the attacks against lawmakers, he stressed that security threats are not a partisan issue. "To use such threats as political weapons is reprehensible," he said.
The shots were fired into the offices of two Republican political strategists who are longtime advisers to Cantor. The building in downtown Richmond has no markings that link it to Cantor or to political activity.
The actions against Democrats have included racial slurs thrown at black lawmakers, e-mail and phone death threats and bricks thrown through regional office windows.
Ohio Rep. John Boccieri, one of eight Democrats who switched to "yes" on the most recent House vote, said he had received threats. "Having flown missions in and out of Afghanistan, I know what it's like to be in harm's way. But I never imagined serving in Congress could feel the same," said Boccieri, a major in the Air Force reserve. He did not elaborate on the threats.
E-mails sent to Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla., another member who switcher her vote, urged her to commit suicide and said she and her family should rot in hell. Another called her a "two-timing, backstabbing whore."
Rep. Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat and chairwoman of an influential House committee, said someone had left her a voice mail that used the word "snipers."
On the Republican side, the office of Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio released a tape of a profanity-laced phone message in which the caller said Republicans were racists and, referring to an accident two years ago when Schmidt was hit by a car while jogging, said, "you should have broke your back, b... ."
Some of the anger spilled over in a flood of threat-filled phone and fax messages to the office of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. Stupak vowed to oppose the health care package unless given greater assurance that it would not allow federal funding of elective abortions. He voted in favor after the administration agreed.
Stupak's office released some of the messages, declining further comment.
"I hope you bleed ... (get) cancer and die," one male caller told the congressman between curses.
A fax with the title "Defecating on Stupak" carried a picture of a gallows with "Bart (SS) Stupak" on it and a noose attached. It was captioned, "All Baby Killers come to unseemly ends Either by the hand of man or by the hand of God."
And in Virginia, someone cut a propane line leading to a grill at the Charlottesville home of Rep. Tom Perriello's brother after the address was posted online by activists angry about the health care overhaul. Perriello also said a threatening letter was sent to his brother's house.
Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer told The Associated Press Thursday that there was "no evidence that annoying, harassing or threatening telephone calls or emails are coordinated. Regrettably though, bloggers and twitters seem to feed off each other, leaving little room for creativity."
At the news conference, Pelosi said it is "important for us to be able to express ourselves freely, not to diminish that in any way, but also to hit a standard that says some of the actions ... must be rejected."
But the California Democrat also said she did not "subscribe to the theory that these acts sprang from the comments of my colleagues."
The vandalism and threats surprised a researcher at a think tank that monitors extremist groups.
"I think it is astounding that we are seeing this wave of vigilantism," said Mark Potok of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.
This program aired on March 25, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.