Today We Got Death Threats

My daughter called me, frantic, this afternoon. Someone had left a message on the landline answering machine, directed at my wife. He named her and promised to rape her, murder her, and do the same to her husband and to “any children you’ve got.” “You’re a fuckin’ pussy,” he said.  “You’re a fuckin’ bitch,” he said. “I’m gonna come all the way over to [our address] and put an axe in your head. Know what I mean?” In he next call, he said “Pussy, pussy, pussy, pussy!” And he laughed. He named a number of our family: parents, in-laws, step-parents. He said he lived in Ohio. He named our address and said he might pay us a visit.

From his comments, we put together the likely story. He’d seen my wife in some anti-Trump protest photo with her pink pussy hat. Then he’d googled her, got to one of those sites that aggregate public records, and made his call. His words were slurred, his rendering of our street address haltingly pronounced, as if read off a screen. He said he’d slice us if he saw us.

We called LAPD and a tech-savvy nephew. They said what you might expect: if he hid his phone number (of course he did) and we didn’t recognize his voice (of course we didn’t), there isn’t much they could do besides take a report.

This isn’t the first time, exactly. My daughter got death threats on a social network she used back in middle school. The school administration, as helpless as the police, figured it was another student, one who wanted to inflict as much pain as she could inflict anonymously. My daughter has a web site of her own now, which continues to attract occasional abuse, including threats of rape, violence, and death. The technical term for such terrorism is “spam.”

A couple of days ago in this blog, I mentioned that the Southern Poverty Law Center tallies hate crimes. It’s an approximate number, based on incidents reported and an estimate of those that go unreported. I’ll be calling them tomorrow morning, so that our little brush with intimidation can join the rest of the statistics.

Although undoubtedly motivated by hate (my wife, like me, is anti-Trump) and undoubtedly a crime (as is every verbal threat of murder), this species of hate crime is now so endemic in the United States as to seem, to some of the people I’ve talked to, almost normal, like getting your identity stolen or your car jacked. Y’know: shit happens.

Growing up in the 60s, another era of intense political conflict, I remember no one who received such threats. Yet, though he’s given cover to a nation of terror-mongers, this started well before Donald Trump.

The United States has long been a rough neighborhood for some of our neighbors. Now it’s a rough neighborhood for all of us. In too many communities, we have abandoned self-control and self-respect.

Maybe Game of Thrones has it right. Winter is coming.

There are 2 comments

  1. Melissa Sokol

    I am so very sorry. I wonder if there could not be a nonprofit who searches out these fools and arrests them. I know there is often a problem with law enforcement accross states. They just don’t work together. I think its a cop out to say there is nothing they can do. In this day and age they can make records and find patterns much more easily. What if the victims are all on the same website. I wonder how to generate enough advocacy and fund to stop this kind of thing.

    Like

    1. leftwritecentaur

      I can be critical of the police at times, but I don’t agree that their response is a cop-out. I see LAPD and the FBI as agencies practicing triage. There are tens of thousands of threats annually, not to mention vandalism and actual assaults. Neither the FBI nor LAPD have the staffing to follow up on all but a fraction of these threats. They can only deal with only the most serious, immediate, and actionable threats. The fact that this guy called neighbors and relatives may make it reach the threshhold for investigation, but I’m not sure.

      Budgets for investigating domestic terrorist threats have been cut (see this story in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/08/21/i-warned-of-right-wing-violence-in-2009-it-caused-an-uproar-i-was-right/?hpid=hp_hp-cards_hp-posteverything%3Ahomepage%2Fcard&utm_term=.8873b4a0b373 ). Attention focuses on international threats. In L.A., there’s been an uptick in a historically low murder rate: police investigatory resources are poured more into actual crimes than into threats.

      The Southern Poverty Law Center (https://www.splcenter.org) does keep a database of violent political groups, and that’s where I’ve filed a report. However, the SPLC estimates there are around 250,000 “hate crimes” a year (I put this into quotes, because the category includes everything from face-to-face racial slurs all the way to murder). No NGO has the resources to investigate every one of these claims.

      I of course share your frustration with the system. The fragmentation of authority in the US – fifty states, 3000+ counties, and 17,000+ law enforcement agencies (I checked!) does make for a woefully inefficient system, and one which wastes resources prodigiously. That fragmentation is probably baked in: I can’t see Americans ever trusting law enforcement so much that they demand a national police.

      Anyway – thanks for your supportive response!

      Like

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