ISD’s Senior Research Manager Katherine Keneally features in the The Hill commenting on the rise in threats against public officials and how this is likely to increase in the lead up to the 2024 US presidential elections. She explains how it has long been common for judges, public defenders and prosecutors to face threats from people directly involved in a case (i.e. family members of a defendent). However, in recent months, especially following Trump’s indictment in four criminal cases, threats by unrelated actors are increasing.
“What’s separate with what we’re seeing now is that people are threatening judges, prosecutors — because those individuals are now being perceived as being representative of a very politicised government,” she said.
Katherine noted the challenges the US Justice Department faces when prosecuting such threats, due to the thin line between threats and protected speech. “Because of the First Amendment, it’s very difficult to charge someone for these threats […]. I hope that we continue to see more charges, but I do not envy [the DOJ’s] position.”
Finally, she emphasised how the mainstreaming of violent or hateful rhetoric may increase the likelihood of bad actors turning their online threats into offline violence.
“Powerful individuals are helping push these extremist beliefs into the mainstream and reaching a broader audience that they likely would not have previously. […] They’re validating their causes, which is extremely dangerous.”