Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told The New York Times the country has seen an “erosion of any boundaries” that now enables political violence.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if a senator or House member were killed,” Collins told the newspaper. “What started with abusive phone calls is now translating into active threats of violence and real violence.”
Angry calls to lawmakers’ offices are nothing new in Washington, but Collins is one of many elected officials who experienced an inundation of violent threats in recent months amid an increasingly divisive political environment.
An unknown visitor recently smashed a storm window at her home in Bangor, Maine, the Times reported. Others have visited her home to peacefully protest, although Collins still called the police on at least one occasion.
“There’s been a sea change in that we now see this constant escalation and erosion of any boundaries of what is acceptable behavior, and it has crossed over into actual violence,” Collins told the Times.
The most notable recent violence occurred when rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with some coming within feet of the Senate chamber while lawmakers remained inside.
The attack is just one example, however, of a ballooning number of menacing threats against sitting members of Congress.
The U.S. Capitol Police launched 9,625 threat investigations in 2021, a staggering number compared to the 3,939 the agency launched in 2017.
The elevated threat environment has led to new funding for security and changes in some lawmakers’ behaviors.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), for example, took his congressional license plate off his car following the Jan. 6 riot.
“I used to be proud to display the plate, had No. 1 on my plate for the 1st District — North Carolina 1,” he said. “Used to be a time when people would pull up beside me at the stoplight and give me the thumbs up. But now it’s different.”
Some have tied comments from lawmakers themselves to recent threats.
Over the weekend, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said that “Democrats want Republicans dead, and they have already started the killings” while appearing at a campaign rally in Michigan. The day prior, former President Trump said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had a “death wish” after voting with Democrats on a bill that funds the government through mid-December.
In June, authorities arrested an armed man near Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home after he allegedly made death threats.
Republicans at the time accused Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) of prompting the incident when he previously warned that Kavanaugh would “pay the price” if he rolled back abortion rights.