The Department of Homeland Security calls domestic terrorists the most “persistent and lethal threat to the United States.” Our politics cannot be allowed to continue down the road to becoming a blood sport.

The DHS statement seems right on the money.

Americans have quietly accepted the risk of being gunned down while going to school or shopping for groceries. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, centered around Fox News, continues to promote and profit from the demonstrable lies that prompted an attack on the U.S. Capitol and the anti-vaccination tropes that threaten lives.

A case in point: Last week, a crowd that didn’t agree with the NBA’s public health restrictions stormed a basketball arena in New York City.

Of course, not all overexcited basketball fans or mentally ill shooters count as terrorists who threaten the fabric of the United States. Mostly, we think of the Boston Marathon bomber as a terrorist. The torch-bearing “Jews will not replace us” mobs that swirled through Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 count as domestic terrorists.

While they may not be as obviously violent as white supremacist marches, highly charged public meetings over mask mandates and accusations about election fraud are morphing into something that dances on the border of domestic terrorism.

Local public officials around the nation are being targeted with personal attacks previously unimaginable by anyone choosing public service.

In Brevard County, Florida, school board member Jennifer Jenkins described such harassment. Protesters shouted at her five-year-old daughter, “Watch out, your mommy hurts little kids.”

She said hate mail arrived at all hours. Child protective services investigated her after someone falsely accused her of abuse. Her front yard was vandalized. Neighbors reported seeing people brandishing weapons behind her home.

These kinds of intimidation are not limited to Florida, nor to school boards. Local election officials in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and who knows how many other states are opting out of public service after being harassed for simply doing their jobs.

This is not grassroots activism, not the noisy civil disobedience of anti-Vietnam protesters nor the public demonstrations of the Black Panthers. This is confrontation politics, the anti-government antithesis of representational democracy. When threats include family members and words drip with violence, protest becomes terrorism.

Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, should investigate and prosecute those who threaten public servants. Public officials should impose whatever security measures are necessary to keep meetings within civil boundaries.

Confronting political opponents with threats of violence is not free speech. It is nothing less than domestic terrorism.

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