by Kellen Squire
Honestly, I’m surprised it took as long as it did for one of these stories to happen.
Yesterday, while knocking on doors in rural western Albemarle county, I noticed a man keeping an eye on me as I approached one of his neighbors. I was pretty conspicuous and hard to miss – with my now-standard floppy sun hat and long-sleeved UV shirt, and clipboard festooned with stickers from past campaigns I’ve volunteered for (Tim Kaine for Senate, Sam Rasoul for Lieutenant Governor, Josh Throneburg for Congress) on the back.
As I finished chatting with his neighbor, I glanced at my list – and sure enough, that house was on it. A woman was listed as a “Strong Democrat,” living at that location. I hesitated; there was a bad vibe from the way the guy was watching me, and I considered passing him by entirely. But I steeled myself and started down his driveway. As I did, he stood up straighter, pointed to a small “No Trespassing” sign in his yard that hadn’t been evident from the road…and patted a holster on his hip.
I turned immediately around and walked off. No comment, no protest, not a single word – just turned and walked away.
People don’t want to talk to politicians sometimes, and that’s just fine. People like their privacy. I absolutely respect that. But this wasn’t that. This was demonstrative. He wanted me to know he had a gun. And thankfully it was my turf, and not one of our brand-new field interns. In the best of times, this kind of behavior would be asinine beyond all belief.
But this isn’t the best of times. Just a few short days ago, Congressman Gerry Connolly had two of his staffers hospitalized after someone went into his office and attacked them with a baseball bat, striking them in the head. We hear story after story of people ending up in wrong driveways, ringing the wrong doorbell on accident, and being shot at. Murdered. And it seems like each and everyone one of those stories makes the news- and then is promptly forgotten.
Forgotten doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Forgotten doesn’t mean those threats aren’t still coming. And I think we need to talk about that openly. We need to talk about the source of it, the implications of it. Because it’s truly stochastic terrorism. It is intimidation meant to serve a political purpose.
During my political career, I’ve had:
- One of the Governor’s political appointees openly attack/cyberbully my kids and family, and tell the newspaper I “deserved” it
- Had threats of violence made against me
- Been threatened for my role in treating victims of the Unite the Right Nazi attack in Charlottesville
- Had vile comments, threats, and purposeful misgendering comments be made towards my trans kid
- Had someone go down my donor list, find their phone numbers, and call them angrily in regards to the abortion care I provide as an ER Nurse
- Had my home address doxxed
- Had my employer called with threats to fire me
- Had someone call our campaign line, leave a message with the name, school, and teacher of one of my kids, and hang up the phone
- Had our volunteers “escorted” out of a neighborhood with the implicit threat of violence
I’ve been loathe to speak about a lot of these things publicly – and, in fact, some of the worst things are still omitted from the list above – so as not to cause excess worry by my family or our volunteers, encourage copycat attempts, or let them think they were “getting to me.”
I’ve forwarded evidence of these things as I’ve been able. Obviously, the Governor’s appointee bragged openly about what he did to the media. I gave several journalists a copy of a recording one of our donors made of the call they got, since it was made by someone local with a reputation for such behavior. I forwarded the threatening voicemails and emails as we’ve needed to. I made sure our local party leaders, other politicians, and grassroots supporters knew what was happening as well- flag residences like the one above, etc- so they could prepare and protect themselves.
But we need to be more open about these things. It’s gone far past “growing a thick skin.” I’m an ER Nurse – I’ve had to place myself between a domestic abuser and their battered spouse. I’ve had to take care of a drunk driver while their victims laid in other ER rooms and the morgue. I’ve had to take care of honest-to-God, swastika-tattooed Nazis and the good people who organized protests against them. I’ve got “thick skin”. At some point, we have to stop saying “just ignore it” and start grappling with the implications of what comes after all of this behavior.
Because that’s the real danger here. If all that were it, if they were isolated incidents, an “overzealous staffer”, someone “having a bad day”, then whatever. But they’re not. They’re people who know they can’t win any other way. If they could make a positive case for themselves, if they were willing to work hard, they’d do that instead. But they know they can’t. So they race straight to the bottom.
It’s why we need to talk about this. We need to talk about it now, openly and publicly. Large portions of this country are increasingly paranoid, happy to intimidate, and frankly, willing to use violence against those who wish them no harm. And that’s not a bug- this new environment is a feature of the feedback loop of Fox News, Newsmax, social media algorithms, dying local news, and so on and so on.
They want people intimidated. They want people scared. They want us to have to worry about knocking doors or getting killed. They want good people to contemplate running for office, and see examples like that, and go “I’m not doing that! I’m not putting my family through that!” And, not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m a white guy with a Southern accent. If this is going on for me, it is so much worse for people who don’t share my complexion or gender- which, again, is the point.
We need folks in office and in the halls of power who get that. Who are willing to legislate and use the bully pulpit against it. Willing to organize everywhere to combat it.
I have a really, really bad feeling things are going to get worse with this kind of thing before they get better. But we need to have an open and frank conversation about exactly that.