Threats, vitriol aimed at women in positions of power

Mar 5, 2022, 7:59 AM | Updated: Mar 7, 2022, 7:22 am

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was one of the more high-profile targets of political violence when prosecutors say a group of men who were angry about restrictions imposed because of the pandemic plotted to kidnap the Democrat and hold a “trial” accusing her of what they called treason.

But the case didn’t surprise many women lawmakers or people who track such attacks. They say online and in-person abuse is a daily occurrence for female public officials and candidates, and it happens to women — especially women of color — at a far greater rate than it does men. In recent years, it has seemed to intensify.

Here’s a look at some of the incidents:


Wu, who has Taiwanese heritage, has faced what the city’s elected officials of color condemned as “relentless threats of violence and hateful attacks” since she took office in November. Protests have been held almost daily outside her home, some starting in the early morning hours, with drums and bullhorns, and what fellow lawmakers described as “openly racist, anti-Asian and sexist rhetoric.”


A man left a voicemail for Reynolds in early 2021 saying she should be “hung for treason” or face a “firing squad” for imposing pandemic restrictions, calling COVID-19 a “scam.” The man was later charged with harassment, and the Iowa Department of Public Safety announced a plan to erect a $400,000 wall around the GOP governor’s residence, citing “widespread and alarming” threats.


A man was charged with reckless discharge of a firearm and stalking after police said he drove by or walked toward Lightfoot’s home 15 times in a matter of days. Lightfoot is Black and gay. The 37-year-old, who police say was angry about traffic tickets, had a gun with a round in the chamber when stopped by police during one incident last month. He later returned, and authorities say he fired the weapon in an alley near Lightfoot’s house.


Acton, who advised the GOP governor at the start of the pandemic, resigned in June 2020 after facing lawsuits and protesters outside her home, some carrying guns. Acton, who is Jewish, also was confronted with antisemitic messages at demonstrations, and a lawmaker referenced her with an antisemitic slur.


The Sisolaks were accosted by two men last month who made “racist threats,” the Democratic governor said. Kathy Sisolak is of Chinese heritage and was born in Nevada. The governor said the men followed them out of a Las Vegas restaurant shouting profanities, taunts and anti-government statements.


Lawson said in December that four men confronted her in a dark parking garage as she left her office. She told police that anti-vaccine activists also stalked her at her home and followed while she took her two kids to school earlier that day.


Omar, who was born in Somalia, says she frequently receives death threats, and is harassed for her Muslim faith. She has called out former President Donald Trump and other GOP lawmakers for Islamaphobic attacks. At a news conference late last year, she played a voicemail in which she is called a jihadist, “bitch” and a traitor, and is told: “you will not live much longer.”


Benson, Michigan’s chief elections officer, said a crowd of people with guns and signs stating “Stop the Steal” showed up at her home one evening in December 2020 as she watched a movie with her 4-year-old. She said the protesters shouted obscenities into bullhorns, angry about what they incorrectly said was voter fraud leading to Trump’s loss in the 2020 election.


Foxx received multiple death threats after her office dropped charges against Jussie Smollett, who starred on the TV show “Empire” and was convicted last year of lying about being the victim of an anti-gay, racist attack. Several of the threats against Foxx, who is Black, included “racially charged language,” her office said.


Harmon denounced the constant harassment she received in a 2020 Facebook post, calling out the “rudeness, threats, sexism, stalking, body shaming, rude/threatening comments towards my children, etc.” Hours later, a man tried to force his way into her office at City Hall. He knocked a city staffer to the ground before another staffer restrained him and he was arrested.

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Threats, vitriol aimed at women in positions of power