In late October, Cesar Sayoc sent pipe bombs to Democratic politicians and activists, and others he perceived to be supportive of liberal causes. In fact, I was interviewed by The Washington Post to shed light on the terrible event. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the 13 bombs — that Director Christopher Wray dubs “improvised explosive devices” — were real and intended to injure or kill their target. Sayoc’s timing was likely purposeful, having sent these devices mere weeks before midterm elections.
A Threat Before the Midterm Elections
While Sayoc is now in custody, we are left to consider what could have been if these devices did detonate, and how political violence can affect our democracy. He may have been seeking to eliminate key players and frighten voters prior to contentious midterm elections already steeped in aggressive rhetoric and campaigning. His efforts were exacerbated by an attack on a synagogue that claimed 11 lives. The perpetrator expressed anti-Semitic views before and during the assault in another act of violence toward a specific group.
It’s Not a New Phenomenon
We have all seen the animosity, and in some cases, violence directed at our elected public officials in recent weeks and months, but this is not a new phenomenon. In a large feature earlier this year, The New York Times highlighted how our country’s current divisions are reflective of those in 1968. It was the summer before the 1968 presidential election that both Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated two months apart. Just a week ago, journalist Cokie Roberts echoed similar sentiments on NPR, harkening back even farther to the Civil War as the result of a disputed election.
While we would never hope to repeat these waves of violence, we are in a position to learn from the tragedies of the past and understand that it is not unprecedented to see violence prior to an election. I will also note that voter turnout in 1968 was massive; over 60 percent of the voting age population participated, despite this volatile environment. We have overcome it before and we will again.
The Essential People Behind the Scenes
To ensure the safety of your candidate, regardless of political affiliation, federal law enforcement agencies such as the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police are all working diligently within a protective intelligence function. This less-visible operation consists of programs and systems aimed at identifying and preventing individuals with the means and interest to attack a protected person from getting close enough to mount an attack and, when possible, reducing the likelihood that they would decide to mount an attack. Law enforcement is also working hard to make sure voters are equally protected and gain equal access to the polls.
Voting as a Foundation of Our Democracy
It sounds cliché, but one vote can make a difference. They can change an election. Not voting ensures that your views won’t matter to elected officials and a preferred official is not given the opportunity to perform their civic duty. We should also acknowledge that public service requires courage. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge the bravery of public officials who choose to run for office, despite any recent threats, and show them our support by having a large turnout at the midterm elections.
We owe it to ourselves – our history and our future – to vote. Too many Americans have died for this right to take it for granted and too many continue to dedicate their lives to protect the Americans we elect. They deserve your time at the ballot box.