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At Least Two Democrats Report Death Threats as Gun Control Takes National Stage

A chest up photo of Delegate Lee Carter in front of a blue background. He has short-cropped red hair, and is wearing a dark suit with a blue necktie, and a small round pin on his lapel.
Del. Lee Carter at a press conference in 2018 (Craig Carper/VPM News)

At least two Democrats in Virginia's General Assembly say they’ve been threatened with violence over a brewing gun control fight that has drawn national attention from conservative gun rights activists.

Right-wing gun activists have sounded increasingly dire alarms over a package of bills Democrats proposed that would impose new restrictions on firearms, often tying the bills to Democratic presidential candidate and gun control activist Michael Bloomberg. Some more extreme video bloggers and commenters have warned of a “civil war” over a proposed assault rifle ban, though Democrats have said the ban would include a grandfather clause for old weapons.

Del. Lee Carter (D-Manasas) said he began receiving threats after he filed a bill that would allow all public employees except for police to strike. Current law bars all public employees, including police, from striking.

Carter, the chamber’s only self-described socialist, said he intended the bill to allow teachers and other workers to petition for better pay and benefits. But he said it wasn’t received that way.

“There are a number of people in the right-wing echo chamber who have developed a conspiracy theory that somehow my bill is an effort to try to fire police who don't confiscate people's weapons when the National Guard comes calling,” Carter said.

Rep. Donald McEachin (VA-04) suggested to the Washington Examiner that Gov. Ralph Northam could choose to summon the National Guard if localities refused to enforce newly-enacted gun legislation. Northam hasn’t made the suggestion himself, and has denied that the state would confiscate weapons.

Carter, who maintains a fiery Twitter presence, said he had received periodic threats on social media in the past but saw an uptick over the bill.

“There has been a few that have gone from general glorification of violence and actually cross the line into seeming like it's more of a plan,” Carter said.

Carter said he reported the threats to Virginia Capitol Police.

Delegate-elect Dan Helmer (D-Fairfax) wrote in a fundraising email on Monday he, too had received threats.

“Extremists are afraid of Constitutional, common sense gun reform,” Helmer wrote in an email sent from his campaign email address. “They know they can’t win the argument, so they’ve resorted to threats.”

The email includes screenshots of Instagram comments, including one warning “You gonna get yeeted...warn your kids” and another saying “take the turncoats out to the gallows.”

At least one user on Instagram also attacked Helmer’s Jewish faith, commenting on a photo of Helmer lighting a menorah that “the goyim exists merely to serve gods [sic] chosen people.”

Helmer’s email included a plea for donations, with the freshmen delegate arguing the dollars would help “communicate and fight back against this avalanche of vitriol and hate.”

Noah Bardash, Helmer’s chief of staff, said in an email that the comments had been referred to Capitol Police.

Capitol Police spokesperson Joe Macenka declined to comment directly on specific cases but said they take all threats seriously. He said Capitol Police were preparing for planned rallies beginning at the start of the legislative session on January 8, with another slated for January 20.

“We have been in contact with various law enforcement partners throughout Central Virginia region,” Macenka said.

Over 100 Virginia localities have declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries,” according to the gun rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League. The NRA, meanwhile, is paying for billboards warning that the “Northam/Bloomberg gun confiscation plan starts Jan. 8.” 

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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