By Maxim Lott, ,
Published July 27, 2018
Republican Rep. Jason Lewis told Fox News he has contacted the police over threats to him and even his daughters in the wake of reports about controversial statements he made as a radio show host.
"It was serious enough for my office to alert the Capitol Police," Lewis told Fox News.
The Minnesota congressman said his daughters were threatened in sick messages received by his office. It marks the latest in a wave of threats against not just Republican lawmakers themselves but their families.
'It's becoming very, very dangerous for members of Congress and our families.'
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., also revealed threats against his daughters this month, telling Todd Starnes that “some of the stuff that has been said has been quite sick” and the number of threats has increased dramatically since the last election.
Total reported threats against congressmen doubled from 2016 to 2017, according to the House Sergeant at Arms.
In Florida last month, a man was arrested after allegedly telling the staffers of Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., that, “if you are going to separate kids at the border, I’m going to kill his kids." The arrested man reportedly had called the congressman's office 478 times.
Agency heads' families are another target. In June, a man was arrested and charged for threatening to kill FCC commissioner Ajit Pai's family after he ended "net neutrality" regulations. "I will find your children and I will kill them," a man wrote.
The threats against Lewis came after multiple news reports about comments Lewis made while a radio show host, in particular comments he made in 2012 in response to Rush Limbaugh calling activist Sandra Fluke a "slut." Lewis had openly wondered on his radio show whether the word "slut" could still be appropriate to use in some cases, such as regarding Madonna.
He has faced condemnation from state Democrats for the comments. Party Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement that Lewis is "unfit for office."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was asked about the comments at his press conference Thursday, and made clear he doesn't support them.
At the same time, the fellow Midwesterner said he knew Lewis to be a "shock jock" in his radio days -- but considers the congressman to be an "extremely conscientious man, a very hardworking, a very effective member of Congress" now.
Lewis' campaign has said Lewis was just being provocative. Lewis told Fox News he was trying to have a conversation about social norms around modesty.
He and others say the current threats, however, are linked to a hostile political environment that has escalated differences into increasingly personal battles. Lewis said "unstable people" are being instigated by "new rhetoric from the left."
"It's becoming very, very dangerous for members of Congress and our families ... the new thing is that, 'you're a bad person because you said something.’ It's not even about actions anymore. They're defining speech as a character flaw," Lewis said.
Asked about Lewis' case, Capitol Police said they could not comment on specifics.
Lewis noted that one report mentioned his comments responding to the question of how his daughters would react to his discussion of the word "slut." The threat "came a day after that CNN article," Lewis said, adding that he believes "that's why the [threat] mentioned my daughters."
Democrats, though, have also faced recent threats, likewise blaming the rhetoric on the other side.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has received death threats and told Axios that the right-wing's "reckless hyperbole is just so destructive of our democracy."
Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., have received death threats as well. In Waters' case, the threats were serious enough that she had to cancel multiple planned speeches. Waters received the threats after she came under fire for encouraging supporters to harass Trump administration officials at restaurants and elsewhere.
Democratic Party leaders condemned Waters' statement on that, and Waters maintains that she advocates non-violent confrontations only. Waters' office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Lewis said Republicans face the most serious security threats in the current environment, including when a Bernie Sanders supporter opened fire last summer on Republican lawmakers practicing baseball. (Years earlier, in 2011, then-Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, in an assassination attempt.)
"I don't think Waters should get threats either, but show me the Democrat member of Congress who's been assaulted, driven off the road, or had their homes visited. It's not even close to being equal," Lewis told Fox News.