Former U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn is newly on the campaign trail, running for Maryland’s 3rd congressional district seat. As he meets voters, he said the events of Jan. 6, 2021, are never far from his or their minds.
“I think it’s important to saturate Congress with truth tellers now,” he told a voter recently.
Dunn was a U.S. Capitol Police officer on Jan. 6. He resigned in December 2023 to launch his campaign.
“I don’t think we have the luxury to stand back and hope that everything works out,” Dunn told the News4 I-Team. “Democracy, I think, is under attack.”
There are signs he could be. too. Dunn showed the I-Team a social media threat he received shortly after announcing his campaign, warning him he “should have died” on Jan. 6.
“Do you try to reason with a person like that, or do you just continue to stay motivated and fight?” Dunn asked out loud. “This is what’s at stake, people that believe that political violence is acceptable.”
He’s far from the only one suggesting that’s so.
“2024 is the big year. It’s a federal election,” said Dr. Garen Wintemute of University of California Davis as he explained his latest research into political violence to the I-Team.
Wintemute is an emergency room physician who’s studied political violence for years. His most recent work — surveying more than 8,600 Americans — shows just how widespread the support is for political violence. A third of them said violence can usually or always be justified.
Wintemute is concerned what that could mean this election year.
“I think there are lots of people who are determined that if they can have their way, that election will have a particular outcome regardless of what the vote is. And they’re willing to use armed force to make that outcome come to pass,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a next two years without violent rhetoric. To be honest, I think that’s a given, because it’s worked before. So, the people who have used it before are going to use it again. They’re using it now, and it works.”
Wintemute’s research shows it’s not just support for actual violence but support for people who condone it — even for anti-democratic leaders. Nineteen percent of respondents agreed that “having a strong leader for America is more important than a democracy.”
Wintemute said that number jumped to 31% for self-identified MAGA supporters.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Rachel Carroll Rivas echoed Wintemute’s work, telling the I-Team, “We know that these groups are organizing.”
“There is a hard right, anti-democratic, often white nationalist movement that is laying the groundwork to capture power and control in this country once again, or even for some of them for the first time in a way that I don’t even think we fully can understand. They are preparing and ready and on every front,” said Carroll Rivas, who’s studied the anti-government movement for almost 20 years.
“In 2022, it felt like a pause,” she said. “At the second half of 2023, we see sort of a reformation and eyes on building towards 2024 and 2025 and the opportunity for a hard right to recapture the power of government, to push for authoritarian rule or to use violence again.”
A just released report from U.S. Capitol Police shows 8,008 threats in 2023 against members of Congress and those the USCP protect. It is up 7% from 2022. U.S. Capitol Police Assistant Chief Ashan Benedict warned, “This is going to be a very busy year for our special agents.”
The Brennan Center for Justice surveyed local and state elected officials and reported in late January, “More than 40% of state legislators experienced threats or attacks within the past three years, and more than 18% of local officeholders experienced threats or attacks within the past year-and-a-half. The numbers balloon to 89% of state legislators and 52% of local officeholders when less severe forms of abuse — insults or harassment such as stalking — are included.””
A separate Brennan study asked election workers about threats. Sixty percent of those surveyed were very or somewhat worried about the “safety of your colleagues and/or staff including other election officials and election workers.”
Reported by Ted Oberg, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.