Clip: Defeated GOP candidate arrested in latest case of alarming political violence

Jan. 20, 2023 AT 8:43 p.m. EST

A former GOP New Mexico state House candidate was charged with multiple counts in connection with shootings at the Albuquerque homes of four Democratic elected officials. The news comes as officials revealed that U.S. Capitol Police investigated 7,501 threats against members of Congress last year.

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Yamiche Alcindor: On Wednesday, Solomon Pena, a former GOP New Mexico statehouse candidate, was charged with multiple counts in connection with shootings at the Albuquerque homes of four Democratic-elected officials. Pena allegedly hired four men to conduct the shootings in December and January. This news comes as officials revealed that last year, the U.S. Capitol police investigated 7,501 threats against members of Congress.

So, Nia, what do you make of Pena being charged, the idea of that we're even -- we've gotten here, that there's all that scary video of him showing up to his opponents' houses and making threats, what do you make of all this?

Nia-Malika Henderson: Yes. Listen, there has been a tenfold increase in threats against lawmakers going back to 2016. Many people sort of tie this to the rise of Trump, the rise of Trumpism and the kind of rhetorical violence we have heard from him over these many years.

Susan Collins, of course, the senator from Maine, in October, said she would not be surprised if at some point a lawmaker was assassinated. We saw, of course, what happened with Nancy Pelosi's husband. They were looking for her. They ended up attacking her husband.

And so, unfortunately, this isn't a surprise to anyone. Lawmakers talk about the threats they've received, the increased need for security, and, listen, the need also to tamp down the violent rhetoric and the conspiracy theories. And some of this and grows out of this kind of election denialism. This particular gentleman, for instance, thought that he didn't lose and he was sort of going on a rampage as a result of it.

So, we are in very, very difficult times. I think if you are a lawmaker, you were used to kind of nasty phone calls at some point if you were an elected official, but now, the threat has gotten so much worse and lawmakers are very nervous about this. And some of this stuff has been visited upon them, lawmakers in Congress and, of course, across the nation as well.

And you hope that at some point some of the rhetoric is tamped down on. And it isn't really both sides, right? It is more on the right at this point. And you talk to folks at the FBI, you talk to folks in law enforcement, there is real concern. But it used to be sort of there was a threat from outside the country's borders, but now there is a threat from within. So, you see these incidents happening. And, listen, lawmakers are not surprised at these kinds of incidents and they are certainly nervous and scared and stepping up security as much as they can.

Yamiche Alcindor: And a quick follow-up, Nia. I mean, Pena lost by 48 points, 48 points. This is not a close race. I wonder how that makes governing and how that also impacts voters the American people, voters when you think I want a government that governing but also you have people who are going to follow Pena and say, well, he never conceded, this is maybe a rightful thing that he should have done, not shooting a people but at least contesting the election that was clearly lost by him.

Nia-Malika Henderson: Yes. Listen, I mean, exhibit A is Donald Trump, right? I mean, I think he has set the example for this, of this idea that you can clearly lose an election but you can also spread a lie that it was a rigged election and that people were out to get you and their votes that weren't counted or Italy changed votes from Trump to Biden, whatever these sort of conspiracy theories are. You don't know how they're going to land on unstable, criminal elements of the country. And you sort of saw that mix with this particular gentleman.

And, again, there isn't any sense from what I can tell that lawmakers, particularly on the right, and sort of the chattering classes on the right, are interested in sort of tamping down the rhetoric. There is this rhetoric around there being enemies on the other side and people who aren't following the rule of law and conducting elections in the way that they should.

Listen, I think we are glad there were not many election deniers that came out of the 2022 cycle that people sort of conceded and walked away, but this, of course, was a different instance and you hope that this is something, that going forward, doesn't happen more frequently. But, again, there is a lot of fear among lawmakers that this is going to become much more routine.

Yamiche Alcindor: And, Weijia, I mean, we covered the Trump administration. She said Trump, and I literally had to flashback to you in the rose garden with all of those wild times. I wonder what you make of what Nia is saying here.

Weijia Jiang: Well, I think it's not just lawmakers, but President Biden has issued this warning himself. It was his closing message right before the midterm elections that there is a real threat to democracy, and he got criticized for that, especially by Republicans who said he has no idea what voters really care about, he is out of touch but it ended up being a winning message. And then after that, even though we didn't see, of course, what we saw on January 6th, the president continues to issue warnings that there could be a repeat of that or even worse.

And so I think that is the message they are trying to portray, to let people know, that it is not just something that seems like it couldn't happen because it is happening.

Yamiche Alcindor: And in the last 30 seconds here, Lisa, I'll go to you, because, obviously, you came face-to-face with this when you covered January 6.

Lisa Desjardins: So, at the Capitol, there's still a lot of raw fear and real fear. I know members of Congress who have moved their house in the last four months because of threats. They've moved to an entire new house. I also want to say it's not just here in Washington. This week, I noticed that the chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, in his annual address, said his judges need more security because they are under threat. So, it is bubbling down.

Yamiche Alcindor: Definitely. Well, we'll have to leave it there for now, but a lively conversation and definitely important topics. Thank you to our panel for joining us and for sharing your reporting.

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