The GOP’s silence on Kinzinger’s death threats might as well be encouragement

One message left for Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., on his office voicemail describes him as a “backstabbing son of a bitch.” Another says Kinzinger, an Air Force pilot who flew in Iraq and is a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, is “going to swing for f—ing treason, you communist f—.”

On July 5, Kinzinger, one of only two Republicans serving on the bipartisan Jan. 6 House committee, which meets again Tuesday, released a compilation of the threats he’s received, including those directed at his wife and newborn child.

Despite multiple examples of GOP leaders’ decrying threats to conservatives presumed to be loyal to Trump, they’ve been silent in response to threats against Kinzinger.

These messages are an appropriate prelude to Tuesday’s hearing, which is expected to focus on the extremist violence supporters of former President Donald Trump waged at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

And as the voicemails make clear, Kinzinger was being subjected to such vile, profanity-laced threats because of his work on the Jan. 6 committee and because of his criticism of Trump. The threats, he said when he released them, “are unhinged and all too common.”

Despite multiple examples of GOP leaders’ decrying threats to conservatives presumed to be loyal to Trump, they’ve been silent in response to threats against Kinzinger, who is also one of only 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack.

Given that these threats appear to be coming from the GOP base, that silence from Republican leadership is, at best, a tolerance of threatened violence. At worst, it’s an approval of such.

The House Jan. 6 committee holds its seventh public hearing on Tuesday, July 12, at 10 a.m. ET. Get expert analysis in real time on our live blog:

Threats have also been phoned into the home where Kinzinger lives with his wife and newborn child: “We know where your family is, and we’re going to get you, you little c—sucker.” Another man threatened, “Gonna get your wife, gonna get your kids.”

A female caller indicated that she had prayed “if it be God’s will, that you suffer,” and a male caller expressed his hope that someone would kill “your nasty mom and your nasty wife.”

July 12, 202210:00

Those calls followed a threatening handwritten letter addressed to Kinzinger’s wife that arrived at their home last month. The letter writer accused the representative of having “broken his oath” and predicted that while “it might take time,” Kinzinger “will be executed.” The writer, who claimed to be Christian, then warned that she and her child would “be joining Adam in hell, too!”

The cascade of violent threats against a fellow Republican has been met with a deafening — and dangerous — silence by the GOP.

We know that when Republican leaders are concerned for a person’s safety, they speak loudly. When an armed man reportedly plotting to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was arrested near the justice’s home last month, Kevin McCarthy of California, the top-ranking Republican in the House, rushed to the House floor and demanded protection for Kavanaugh. McCarthy made the same plea on Fox News and repeatedly on Twitter. He pressed for legislation to protect justices and demanded that President Joe Biden and the Justice Department take more steps to safeguard Kavanaugh — “Now,” he tweeted, “Before it’s too late.”

A recent CBS poll finds that a majority of Republicans view the attack as either an act of “patriotism” or an act “defending freedom.”

I can’t find a single tweet from McCarthy responding to the deadly threats against Kinzinger or any from Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-ranking Republican in the House. But in 2018, a year after he was the target of political violence, the same Scalise denounced threats against Kavanaugh and his family during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Scalise tweeted then: “These vile threats against Judge Kavanaugh’s family are unacceptable. No one should be threatened, and we cannot accept violent threats as normal parts of our political discourse. This has to stop.”

And Elise Stefanik of New York, the third-ranking Republican in the House, was all too quick to go on Fox News to demand that Kavanaugh be protected from threats of violence.

But when a Republican colleague who criticized Trump is the target, there are no Republican speeches on the House floor denouncing the threats, no Republican television appearances, not even a tweet.

June 8, 202202:11

Before Jan. 6, 2021, such silence from GOP leaders might have been overlooked. But we live in a new world. That attack was a violent effort to keep Trump in power after he lost the election, yet a recent CBS News poll finds that a majority of Republicans view the attack as either an act of “patriotism” or an act “defending freedom.” The results of that poll are as bone-chilling as the threats to Kinzinger and his family.

Today’s GOP isn’t the political party we once knew. As experts note, it’s becoming more similar to authoritarian ruling parties in Hungary and Turkey. GOP leaders’ remaining silent after death threats are made against their political rivals should therefore be viewed as one more step toward embracing fascism, in which violence is viewed as an acceptable tool to acquire and retain political power.

In his tweet releasing the voicemails, Kinzinger wrote that “the darkness has reached new lows.” He’s correct about that. But history warns us that things can get much darker if the GOP continues down this path.