A Floyd county man told me to “go to hell” in three posts on Facebook Friday. An anonymous caller with his Caller ID blocked warned me that “you better go out armed” when I’m away from home.
Moderators of the two groups where the guy with anger management problems issued his advice that I go someplace hot and run by those with pitchforks dealt with his actions and I forwarded the phone threat to authorities who handle such matters.
As a reporter, I try to cover the facts of an issue and present those facts without bias or partisanship. As a columnist and blogger, I write opinions but try to provide links to the sources of information that helped me reach conclusions that drove that opinion.
These folks who suggested I go “down there”, and others who have complaints, have every right to express their opinion and anger at what I write or cover as a journalist who covers news and writes opinions on two websites on a regular basis and other publications from time to time.
Threats usually amount to nothing more than just someone mouthing off. Sometimes, they are more.
When I reported and shot photos at The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, in the late 1970s though the early 80s, one threat became real when a girlfriend was driving my sports car and the brakes failed. Police found the lines cut. She wasn’t hurt and insurance fixed the car.
Someone slashed tires on one of our cars during our time in Illinois and rocks crashed through two windows at our townhouse. Both attacks came after letters from readers angry about a column I wrote about the death of John Lennon, referring to him as a “burned out rock star.”
In Germany in 1997, an angry protestor slugged me because he didn’t like having his picture taken. I still use the “temporary bridge” created by an Air Force dentist to fill the gap from two missing lower front teeth.
In Washington, DC, in 1988, an angry man slashed my leg with a straight razor just off Pennsylvania Avenue. I went to the ER so a doctor could stitch up the leg. The man with the razor went to jail.
Uncontrollable anger — verbal, physical and/or deadly — is increasing around our country, be it spouted by the president who insults media and opponents from the podium or in tweets on Twitter, from protestors in the streets or those with guns who kill in churches, synagogues and bars.
In Thousand Oaks, California, 28-year-old Ian Long killed 12 people at the Boderline Bar & Grill Wednesday with his Glock 45-caliber semi-automatic handgun with an extended magazine. The former Marine who served in combat in Afghanistan as a machine gunner shot and killed a security guard at the entrance to the popular nightspot and then went into the bar to methodically killed another 11 without saying a word to anyone. Police later found Long dead afterwards from a self-inflicted wound. A week ago in Pittsburgh, a gunman walked into a synagogue, armed with an AR-15 assault style semi-automatic and three handguns, killed 11, wounded others and faces 29 counts, including hate crime violations.
Are these things that only happen far away? No. Seung-Hui Cho used Glock 19 and Walther P22 semi-automatic pistols to kill 33, including himself, at Virginia Tech in nearby Blacksburg on Aug. 16, 2007: One of the deadliest mass shootings in American history.
Those of us who work in media aren’t immune to threats, violence or death.
Jarrod Ramos of Annapolis, MD, walked into the newsroom of that town’s Capital Gazette on June 28 and opened fire with a shotgun, killing five staff members and wounding two others.
Roanoke Times columnist Dan Casey, a friend and colleague, worked for the Gazette earlier in his career and knew most of the victims. Like me, he gets threats. At a recent lunch, we wondered if we should worry.
“Looks like we have more than just the president to worry about,” he said. We laughed.
Yet others say Donald Trump’s tone adds to the harshness of criticism and the threats of violence in today’s America.
Trump calls those of us who report the news “enemies of the people.” He encourages his followers at rallies to “kick their ass” or take violent action against anyone who disagrees with them or him.
If we are doing our jobs, we will always be someone’s enemy.