This week’s confrontation that ended with FBI agents fatally shooting a 74-year-old Utah man who threatened to assassinate President Joe Biden was just the latest example of how violent rhetoric has created a more perilous political environment across the US.Six days earlier, a 52-year-old Texas man was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for threatening to kill Arizona election workers. Four days before that, prosecutors charged a 56-year-old Michigan woman for lying to buy guns for her mentally ill adult son, who threatened to use them against Biden and that state’s Democratic governor.

Threats against public officials have been steadily climbing in recent years, creating new challenges for law enforcement, civil rights and the health of American democracy.

The Capitol Police last year reported that they investigated more than double the number of threats against members of Congress as they did four years earlier. Driven by former President Donald Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him, threats against election workers have exploded, with one in six reporting threats against them and many seasoned election administrators leaving the job or considering it.“It’s definitely increased in the last five years,” said Jake Spano, mayor in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park and a board member of the National League of Cities, which issued a report in 2021 finding that 81% of local elected officials reported receiving threats and 87% saw the problem worsening.

Officials in Spano’s town got deluged in 2018, when Trump tweeted critically about its city council’s decision to stop saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of its meetings.“The lasting impact of Donald Trump’s presidency is that he made it clear that the norms of how we treat each other no longer apply,” said Spano, a Democrat.The threats are not simply an issue of coarsening of the national discourse. Experts warn they can be precursors of political violence

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