Growing support for political violence raises alarms

Just hours after his arrest last month near the home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a 26-year-old California man carrying a Glock 17 pistol, burglary tools and zip ties told an FBI agent what had inspired his cross-country trip to assassinate the conservative Supreme Court justice. 

The suspect, who has pleaded not guilty and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, said he was upset about the leaked draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed two teachers and 19 children. According to court records, the suspect believed Kavanaugh would vote to further loosen gun laws, and said that killing the justice before turning the gun on himself would give his life purpose. 

The chilling incident is among a series of violent threats recently that have targeted political figures and comes amid a shifting landscape in which the share of partisans who think violence is sometimes justified to achieve political ends has grown significantly. 

“The idea that violence is legitimate for political purposes has moved into the mainstream,” said Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago. “It’s still a minority. … But if you’ve got 10 percent or 15 percent of a community that believes that violence is acceptable for some political causes, that just encourages more violence for those causes.” 

A rash of recent violent threats against U.S. lawmakers has raised new concerns about the safety of political figures, particularly after the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe illustrated in the starkest possible terms the stakes of a heightened threat environment. And the Jan. 6 coup attempt served to remind Americans that the U.S. is not immune from the kind of political violence that is relatively common in some parts of the world.

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