Threats against judges have skyrocketed in the Trump era and experts fear the worst

  • The number of recorded threats against judges and other officials nearly doubled at the start of the Trump era.
  • Federal judges involved in cases related to the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago have faced threats.
  • The attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband underscored the threat that public figures face.

During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump took an unusual approach in defending his namesake “university” against allegations of fraud.

Rather than defer to his attorneys or reserve his public rhetoric for the former Trump University students behind the class action lawsuit, Trump took issue with the character of the federal judge presiding over the case.

“I have a judge who hates Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater,” Trump said of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was appointed in 2012 to the federal trial court in San Diego. A month later, as Trump called for the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border, the future president noted the Mexican heritage of the Indiana-born judge to question whether he could rule impartially in the Trump University case.

The remarks set the tone for what legal experts saw as Trump’s politicization of the federal justice system. Trump would go on to win elections, and during his four years in the White House, federal judges and other officials under the protection of the US Marshals Service would face a remarkable increase in threats, according to government data reviewed by Insider.

Between fiscal years 2016 and 2018, the total number of reported threats nearly doubled, from 2,357 to 4,542, according to a report by the US Marshals Service. The total has remained above 4,000 every year since, according to the annual report for fiscal year 2021 – the last year for which data is available.

In a statement to Insider, a Trump spokesperson blamed the trend on the media and liberals.

“The trend is due, almost entirely, to a divisive media that frames every decision made by a Republican-appointed judge in partisan terms, while failing to do so for decisions made by Democratic-appointed judges,” he said. said spokesperson, Taylor Budowich. in an email. “It is also due to radical left activists who threaten the lives of judges in an attempt to influence the court, such as after the Roe v. Wade draft decision was leaked. The media and the left have a disgusting and reckless disregard for the America’s Security Judge [sic].”

The violent assault on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, on Friday underscored the issue of threats to public officials and their families. Prior to his arrest, the man accused of attacking Pelosi with a hammer posted memes and conspiracy theories on Facebook about COVID-19 vaccines, the 2020 election and the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

In an interview, former judge John Jones attributed the increase in threats against judges to a “road rage society”, in which public figures do not limit their criticism to points of disagreement but go further to attack the character of their perceived opponents.

“It’s completely irresponsible. It’s like public figure malpractice, because we’re dealing with a very volatile public at this point,” Jones, a George W. Bush appointee, told Insider. “I’m sickened that we can’t moderate some of this rhetoric. It’s literally gotten so toxic now that I think we’re going to hurt or kill someone.”

Jones, now president of Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, wrote an op-ed in August – headlined: ‘I’m Afraid a Judge Will Be Killed’ – after a federal justice of the peace was threatened for signing a warrant of search. allowing the FBI to search Trump’s estate and private club at Mar-a-Lago in South Florida.

Following the FBI raid, Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhardt faced a wave of anti-Semitic attacks and online threats, some of which targeted the synagogue where he serves on the board.

“He and judges like him signed up for work that involves risk, but they didn’t sign up to be killed,” Jones wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A month later, a Texas woman was arrested for leaving threatening voicemail messages for Judge Aileen Cannon, the Trump appointee who is presiding over the former president’s legal challenges to the FBI’s seizure of thousands of files from Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort town. residence in Palm Beach, Florida. In those voicemails, the woman threatened to have Cannon murdered in front of his family for “helping” the former president, according to court documents.

The case came just months after the arrest in June of a man who showed up outside Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s home with a gun, knife and zip ties. In court papers charging the man with attempting to kill Kavanaugh, prosecutors said the man told police he was upset about a draft lead notice showing the Supreme Court was on the hook. undo point Roe vs. Wadethe landmark case that established a constitutional right to abortion.

Weeks before the man’s arrest, Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered 24-hour protection for Supreme Court justices in response to the leaked draft notice. But, as the threats against federal judges in South Florida have shown, the trend extends to lower courts.

Just last week, a grand jury indicted a Pennsylvania man for sending a letter to Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Jan. 6 Committee, that contained what appeared to be white powder. A message in the letter alluded to anthrax and included threats to kill Thompson, his family, President Joe Biden and US District Court Judge Robert D. Mariani for the Intermediate District of Pennsylvania.

This year, at least three packages containing suspicious white powder arrived at the federal courthouse in Washington, DC, according to people familiar with the incidents and local officials. Hazmat teams responded each time and determined that the packages – reminiscent of anthrax threats sent after the September 11 attacks – did not contain a dangerous substance.

The last of those packages arrived in August and went into Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s chambers – a rare offense that has angered judges and courthouse staff, according to people familiar with the incident. The substance in the package turned out to be baby powder, a spokesperson for the Washington, DC Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services told Insider.

A month earlier, shortly after 11:15 p.m. on July 21, police attended the home of Judge Emmet Sullivan, who was due to preside over a plea hearing the next day in a high-profile lawsuit stemming from the attack on the 6 January against the Capitol. In a scam call, known as ‘swatting’, an unknown caller impersonated Sullivan and told police someone had arrived at the judge’s home with a weapon, people close to him say of the incident and a police report.

Officers arrived to find Sullivan “safe and secure,” according to the police report. Bloomberg first reported on the “swatting” incident.

Kollar-Kotelly, a 25-year veteran of the federal trial court in Washington, DC, declined to comment, as did Sullivan.

The US Marshals Service said it does not comment on specific incidents. But in a statement to Insider, a spokesperson acknowledged “high-profile cases often generate heightened attention, including threats.” He declined to give a broader assessment of the increase in threats against judges and other Marshals Service beneficiaries.

“The security of our federal justice system is the cornerstone of our nation’s democracy, and Marshals take that responsibility very seriously,” the spokesperson said. “Federal judges make tough decisions based on the rule of law in large part because marshals ensure they can make those decisions without fear, intimidation or retaliation.”

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