Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, has urged Capitol Police to increase protections for Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and other progressive members of Congress, as threats against them mount.
On Monday, Thompson wrote to the Senate Sergeant at Arms Michel C. Stenger, asking him to convene an emergency meeting of the U.S. Capitol Police Board, which the sergeant at arms leads, to “re-examine the Board’s approach to analyzing the risk environment, setting thresholds for enhanced security for certain targeted Members, and evaluating threat streams with law enforcement partners in Member districts.”
Thompson wrote a follow-up letter on Thursday, in which he reiterated the need to provide additional security to four congresswomen of color — Omar, as well as Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) — who have been targeted in multiple racist attacks by President Donald Trump and his supporters over the past week.
“Earlier this week, a well-known White nationalist platform praised the President’s targeting of Rep. Omar and other Members,” Thompson wrote. “I strongly believe that the Police Board must act swiftly to address heightened threats to these and other Members of Congress.”
He requested that the board meet within 48 hours of the letter being delivered and that he receive a classified readout of the meeting no later than July 25.
Evidence supporting Thompson’s concerns was seen on the Hill on Tuesday, when U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund briefed the House Administration Committee on the number of threats made against members of Congress. According to Sund, there have been 2,502 threat assessments carried out this year so far, a figure on pace to break last year’s count of 4,894.
The cases differ in severity, and not all of them qualify as a “credible threat.” But the House sergeant at arms, Paul D. Irving, did note that as senators and representatives become more popular in the media, they will likely see a corresponding rise in threats. He added that as a result, U.S. Capitol Police will liaise with law enforcement in representatives’ home districts to improve their protection abilities.
Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Pressley have been in the spotlight this week after being attacked repeatedly by Trump in a series of racist attacks. Over the last weekend the president tweeted that the four lawmakers “should go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” a common racist trope. Days later, amid massive pushback, Trump doubled down, suggesting the women hated the United States and loved Al Qaeda, a baseless claim.
Then, during a Trump campaign rally in North Carolina on Wednesday night, Trump stood by idly as the crowd erupted into chants of “Send her back” — a reference to returning Omar to her native Somalia. The president later tried to claim that he had been unhappy with that chant, placing blame on his supporters, who had simply been repeating Trump’s initial racist comments.
Congressional Democrats have fiercely criticized Trump for his remarks, noting that his words directly raised the threat level against the four congresswomen. “It’s crystal clear to me that [Omar’s] life in in imminent danger,” Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) told Politico. “He has threatened the safety of a member of Congress. That takes this to a whole different level.”
This is hardly the first time that the congresswomen — referred to by some as “The Squad” — have had to face down threats of violence. In March, Ocasio-Cortez, perhaps the most recognizable member of the group, revealed that her office had received so many death threats that Capitol Police had trained all her staff to perform risk assessments on visitors, even if they were just dropping off Post-it notes on the door outside.