This political season is awful enough. Threats and hateful speech against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan must end.
Radical extremists are threatening Durkan at home and work.
That is as abhorrent as President Donald Trump’s divisive, incendiary rhetoric. In one sign of escalation, right-wing extremists were arrested this month for allegedly plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, a target of Trump attacks.
In Seattle, Durkan was targeted at home recently with homophobic and misogynistic messages by left-wing protesters. Individuals at earlier such protests called for her execution, according to the mayor’s office. With so many threats happening, the office created a new system to log and report them to the Seattle Police Department.
Durkan is also getting it from the right, with threats and hateful messages via email and social media, apparently prompted by Trump venom toward Seattle.
Anyone — especially elected officials — who decries violence and threats incited by Trump must also denounce this activity. It must be condemned regardless of how one feels about the performance of Durkan.
Durkan is the city’s first out lesbian mayor, a deep-blue progressive and longtime champion of police reform. As U.S. Attorney, she negotiated a decree forcing Seattle to end unconstitutional police practices and reduce force and bias.
After her federal work drew death threats, Durkan received special permission to keep her address private. That ended when City Councilmember Kshama Sawant led protesters to her house in June; protests and vandalism have continued there since.
“I used to have comfort they didn’t know where I live,” Durkan said. “I don’t have that comfort anymore.”
One would think hateful attacks on Durkan would draw rebuke from the city’s Human Rights and LGBT commissions. Seattle is usually quick to condemn hateful speech.
Instead, the commissions piled on, joining the chorus demanding she be removed from office. They accused Durkan of posing a danger to others, based on part on police missteps during protests and concerns about reform progress.
Dehumanizing political opponents and casting them as a menace is a dangerous direction for civic discourse. That can encourage violence, giving extremists justification to harm others.
Seattle is also experiencing a pattern seen in major revolutions, according to Daniel Chirot, a University of Washington professor of Russian and Eurasian studies. He researches social change and extremism, and recently published a book titled “You Say You Want a Revolution? Radical Idealism and Its Tragic Consequences.”
In such periods of change, moderates typically pursue reforms, Chirot explained. But they can be naive, thinking far-left radicals are on their side. As reforms get carried out, the far left turns against moderates and seeks to purge them.
“There aren’t carts taking people to the guillotine in Seattle and in Portland as well, but in a local way that’s exactly what’s happened,” he said. “The results are invariably catastrophic.”
In Iran’s revolution, for example, moderates ended up purged by radicals who set up a vicious dictatorship.
“The problem is that in this country, the stronger this far left is and the more it gets away with in cities like Seattle, what it does nationally is strengthen the far right,” Chirot said.
Attacks on Durkan also reflect plain old nasty politics. Among her critics are failed Socialist political candidates who may run again for city seats in 2021. A recall petition was unanimously rejected by the state Supreme Court on Oct. 8.
Moderate council members Alex Pedersen and Debora Juarez also received threats and vandalism at their homes this summer, which eventually drew a tepid rebuke from Council President M. Lorena González.
Durkan recently pledged to invest $100 million in communities of color and further reform policing. But that wasn’t enough.
The Council also fell short of “defunding.” In August, it trimmed police spending less than 10%. That was after it became apparent it has no plan for how to improve the department, ensure public safety and maintain constitutional policing.
Continuing reforms to address systemic racism are urgently needed. But that must be grounded in data, collaboration and conversations with the community and experts.
Every elected official in Seattle is committed to reforms. All must roundly denounce threats and hate speech, whether they come from the right or the left.
Meanwhile, police and the FBI should thoroughly investigate threats and hateful vandalism directed at Durkan.
These crimes aren’t just personal, they’re attacks on local government and everyone it represents.