The following editorial appeared in The Baltimore Sun.
A 42-year-old Frederick, Maryland, man is now in the national spotlight for behavior that can best be described as monstrous. In an act captured on a doorbell security camera, he is alleged to have recently delivered a letter threatening to beat presidential nominee Joe Biden and rape his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, telling the homeowners who had posted a Biden-Harris sign that he and his ilk “are the ones with those scary guns” and that there were plans to come after those who supported the Democratic ticket. James Dale Reed was arrested in the incident last week and is being held without bail on charges filed by the U.S. Secret Service.
Lest anyone think this was an uncommon act or derangement unique to supporters of President Donald Trump, a 50-year-old Kingsville, Maryland, man is currently in home detention for firing his shotgun in the direction of two Trump supporters in a pickup. Why? Apparently because they honked at him from their truck adorned with a “Trump 2020” sign as he was installing a “Black Lives Matter” sign on his property. The alleged shooter, Douglas Kuhn, denies the claims against him, but his attorney told the judge presiding over his case that “if the allegations are true,” his actions were “an aberration of character,” given that he has no prior criminal history.
We are unaware whether anyone is keeping an accurate count of politically motivated criminal behavior stemming from the 2020 election and how it compares to years past, but it feels like an epidemic. We have bemoaned before the general coarsening of political discourse in recent years, the polarization of viewpoints, the tribal behavior that requires the opposition to always be seen as evil and corrupt, and the treatment of facts as irrelevant. And while sophomoric behavior has long been a staple of election season (yard sign theft, for example, is surely as old as the invention of yard signs), this is something different. It’s one thing to counter a neighbor’s Biden-Harris sign with a Trump-Pence sign of one’s own, it’s another to scrawl “JOE AND THE HOE” on a Biden-Harris sign near the intersection of Charles Street and the Baltimore Beltway in Towson, Maryland, as some vandal recently did.
Whatever inner demons haunt such perpetrators -- perhaps some mental illness aggravated by the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic -- let’s not so easily excuse sociopathy. In the Frederick incident, the perpetrator was already known to the Secret Service, having threatened someone under their protection in 2014. Sorry, but we can’t laugh off this as the work of the lunatic fringe or perhaps the heirs to the Richard Nixon reelection campaign’s dirty tricks squad. It’s simply not that difficult to make a distinction between those who vigorously promote ideas and candidates and those who seek to use threats of violence to curtail democracy. U.S. Attorney for Maryland Robert Hur vigorously condemned the actions Reed is accused of committing and pledged to go after anyone who “seeks to harass or dissuade Americans from exercising their right to vote.” We would hope that everyone from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on down to local prosecutors and police make similar public statements. This is one issue that should unite the rational and the patriotic regardless of whether there is an “R” or “D” or “I” attached to their names.
When the dust finally settles after Nov. 3, there’s going to have to be some serious soul-searching in this country. Politics may not be “beanbag,” as the century-old aphorism goes, but it’s not supposed to involve felonious behavior either. Threatening violence and attempting to intimidate voters are intolerable behaviors that represent nothing short of an attack on this nation’s core principles. We are better than this, as the late Rep. Elijah Cummings would say, but are we? These latest signs suggest otherwise.