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Congressman's shooting prompts calls for more security, joined by Utah politicians targeted by threats

Published June 15, 2017 6:16 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After the shooting of a congressional leader on Wednesday, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz has joined a chorus of members urging further protection for Congress outside of Washington at a time of heightened political fervor.

Chaffetz, among other Utahns, has personal experience in being targeted — at least by explicit threats of violence — apparently over political views.

A Florida man is awaiting trial for threatening to lynch the Utah Republican, one of many death threats Chaffetz has seen in recent months.



"I feel very safe and secure at the Capitol," Chaffetz said Wednesday. "We work in a fortress with literally thousands of people to protect us, but once we leave the Capitol, it's a whole different equation."

Chaffetz wants U.S. marshals to be charged with assessing threats against members of Congress and securing them in more high-profile and widely attended events.

Chaffetz was the focus of a March death threat in which a Florida man vowed in a voicemail to "hunt your a— down, wrap a rope around your neck and hang you from a lamppost," according to court records.

Charles Zachary Howard, of Winter Park, Fla., was charged with a federal felony of threatening to injure another person and is awaiting trial.

While charging documents refer to the member as "Congressman A," Chaffetz on Wednesday confirmed for the first time that he was the recipient of the threat.

"I suggest you prepare for the battle, motherf——- and the apocalypse," Howard said, according to a probable cause statement filed in federal court.

While Howard's motivation isn't clear — he railed against the Freemasons and the KKK in his voicemail — his March 8 message to Chaffetz was left a day after the congressman's widely reported comment that Americans may have to choose between buying a new iPhone or paying for their own health care, a remark that sparked public outrage and ridicule.

Howard's attorney Mark O'Brien said in an email that his client, who was medically discharged from the Navy, suffers from a mental health illness, and, at times, his anger "boils over and presents itself in an inappropriate manner."

"This is not to downplay the fear Rep. Chaffetz and his staff must have felt after listening to the voicemail recording," O'Brien said. "However, given what occurred in Virginia earlier today, I remind everyone that each person must be judged individually. The horror of today's events are reflective only of the person who committed them. Charles must be judged on his own conduct and the mitigating circumstances of his life."

Howard has yet to enter a plea in the case, has been released from jail and is receiving mental health treatment, O'Brien added.

Chaffetz isn't alone in receiving threats on his life.

A military veteran from the East Coast who had been arrested in Utah recently, was irate and threatened Rep. Chris Stewart and his staff for not getting him out of jail, Stewart's office says. Capitol Police investigated the incident, though it appears no charges were filed.

Saratoga Springs police interviewed a woman in recent months who had been snapping photos of Rep. Mia Love's children as they played in their yard, Love said Wednesday.

Sen. Orrin Hatch was deputized as a special deputy U.S. marshal in 1993 so he could carry a gun after receiving death threats.

On Wednesday, Hatch, who is third in line for the presidency as the Senate president pro tempore and has an around-the-clock security detail, took to the Senate floor to thank by name each of the 23 agents who protect him and his wife, Elaine.

"These men and women are like family to me," Hatch said. "Over the past two and a half years, I've built a special bond with each of them."

Love — who is friends with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the congressman who was shot in the hip during Wednesday's melee and remains in critical condition — agrees with Chaffetz that there needs to be a new level of protection for members of Congress.

"What is happening right now is incredibly scary," Love said in an interview. "I've had people put my address on Twitter, on Facebook, telling other people to come after me, to watch my back because I'm going to be in a coffin. I'm safer in the Capitol than I am in my house."

Love paid for a security system, including cameras at her home.

She added that members are being targeted and that security needs to extend beyond Capitol Hill, beyond the top leaders of the House and Senate.

"It is absolutely ridiculous that I have to be around a member of leadership to be safe and do my job," she said.

Stewart said he hadn't thought much of needing more security until Wednesday's shooting.

"Today kind of changes things," he said, noting that he's unsure what would be the best approach to ensuring the safety of members of Congress in public.

"The reality is there are 435 of us and 100 senators, and how do you protect that many people?" the Republican said. "I mostly feel safe. I think there are only a few times when I feel danger. But when you listen to some of the political rhetoric, maybe that needs to be looked at it."

Stewart, like the rest of Utah's federal delegation and Gov. Gary Herbert, expressed sympathy for the Scalise's family and for the other four people — a congressional staffer, a lobbyist and the two Capitol Police officers who were also injured.

Without Scalise's detail, there could have been several members of Congress killed or injured.

"It could have been a very, very different story," Stewart said.

Love, too, heralded the officers who would not have been at the Republican members' practice for the congressional baseball game if not for Scalise's presence.

"I want to be very clear that if it weren't for Steve Scalise and his detail, the other members of Congress would have been sitting ducks," Love said.

Despite Wednesday's shooting, the annual baseball game, which pits Republican members of Congress against their Democratic counterparts to raise money for charity, will go on.

To show unity and support, Love and Stewart said they'd attend.

tburr@sltrib.com

 

 

 

 

 

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