As anger has built in some quarters over the Democrats’ passage of healthcare legislation Sunday, Internet posts urging opponents to take action may have sparked a viral spate of vandalism and other threats against members of Congress and their families.
On Tuesday, the brother of Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) discovered that the gas line connecting a propane tank to an outdoor grill at his home near Charlottesville, Va., had been severed.
Days earlier, members of conservative “tea party” groups in the area had posted his address online, urging people to “drop by” what they mistakenly believed was the congressman’s home.
The brother, Bo Perriello, has four children at home under the age of 8, according to the congressman’s office.
The incident is being investigated by the FBI, according to the congressman’s press secretary, Jessica Barba.
Rep. Perriello said in a statement that it was “too early to say anything definitive regarding political motivations behind this act,” but he urged members of Congress to “condemn threats of violence, particularly as threats to other members of Congress and their children escalate.”
Tea party officials said they did not encourage or condone attacks on Perriello’s family or property.
“We wanted people to go by and talk to their congressman,” said Nigel Coleman, who heads the Danville Tea Party. Coleman posted the address on his Facebook page after a member of the nearby Lynchburg Tea Party had posted the address on a blog.
Mark Lloyd, who heads the Lynchburg Tea Party, said the group, “condemn[s] violence,” and that the posting never appeared on the group’s official site.
“Part of the thing we try to preach and teach is obey the law, honor the Constitution,” Lloyd said.
“We’d be going against our own principles if we had people doing something outside of what’s right.”
Other acts of vandalism have occurred at Democratic offices throughout the country.
In recent days, bricks were hurled through windows of Democratic offices in three states, and some members of Congress have reported receiving death threats.
“We’ve had very serious incidents that have occurred over the last 48, 72 hours,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday.
“Anyone who feels at risk is getting attention from the proper authorities.”
Alabama blogger Mike Vanderboegh published a post Friday that railed against Congress for taking up the healthcare bill and urged readers to “break their windows.”
A brick with the words “No to Obama” and “No to Obomycare” was thrown through the window of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party headquarters in Wichita, Kan., late Friday or early Saturday.
Glass doors at the Monroe County Democratic Committee in Rochester, N.Y., were also broken by a brick. An attached note read, “Extremism in defense of liberty is not a vice,” a quote by the late Barry Goldwater, a former U.S. senator known for his libertarian views.
Bricks were also thrown through district offices of Reps. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Other Democratic legislators have reported receiving death threats, including Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, who had originally opposed the healthcare bill on the grounds that it would provide federal funding for abortions before voting for it Sunday.
“There are millions of people across the country who wish you ill,” a woman said in a voice mail to the congressman, “and all of those thoughts projected on you will materialize into something that’s not very good for you.”