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Iowa authorities are investigating multiple threats — including one of lynching — that Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn received soon after writing an op-ed earlier this month critical of former President Donald Trump.
Wilburn, the state party's first Black chairman, wrote the opinion piece published in the Des Moines Register ahead of Trump's Oct. 9 rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. It ran online Oct. 8 and in print the following day and, in it, Wilburn accused Iowa Republicans of putting their loyalty to Trump ahead of Iowans' needs.
"The entire Republican Party of Iowa is welcoming Trump with open arms proving once again that they have completely surrendered themselves to a man who not only openly attacked the foundations of our democracy, but also has shown disdain for our Constitution, and failed to help the American people when we needed it most," Wilburn wrote.
Immediately after the op-ed was published, Wilburn, who is also a state representative from Ames and a former Iowa City mayor and council member, received three threatening messages — two left in his phone messages from a restricted number, and one left in his Legislature email's inbox. Only the first voicemail included a violent threat of lynching, but all three included explicit language, he told reporters Tuesday.
"The n-word was used multiple times," Wilburn said. "The voice mails and the email made reference to my writing about former President Trump and made specific references to my comments regarding Trump's actions on Jan. 6. This led me to believe that they had read my op-ed."
A pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6 stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to stop the counting of electoral votes and the affirmation of Democratic President Joe Biden's win.
Local authorities in Ames are investigating the threats, according to Wilburn and a law enforcement official who spoke to the Des Moines Register. Wilburn said he plans to press charges if those responsible for the threats are found.
"I know it can be challenging, difficult to sometimes find folks that are sending things either directly or through restricted accounts or anonymously," he said. "But that's what I intend to do."
Iowa Sens. Charles E. Grassley and Joni Ernst were among the elected Iowa Republicans who on Twitter condemned the threats against Wilburn, with Grassley saying "racism and violent threats are never acceptable," and Ernst saying that the perpetrators should be held accountable.
“This type of hate must never be tolerated. Whoever is responsible should be held accountable, Gov. Kim Reynolds tweeted. ”Racism of any kind is unacceptable and not who we are as Iowans.“
Wilburn said he appreciated those and other messages of support he's received, but that it should not be the norm for officials to receive hateful messages.
"If Senator Grassley is going to be more consistent with that in the future, then I think that would be important for him to do as a leader in his party," Wilburn said of Grassley's condemnation of the threats.
In his op-ed, Wilburn singled out Grassley, 88, who is running for re-election next year.
"It seems Jan. 6 is a distant memory to Grassley. Remember, he was literally pulled from the floor of the U.S. Congress by the Secret Service before the insurrectionists stormed the chamber. Yet on Saturday, Grassley will happily share the stage with Trump, showing all of us that he's turned into the typical politician he claims to despise," Wilburn wrote.
In the past year, threats against members of Congress and their staff have increased exponentially, according to a review by U.S. Capitol Police obtained by the Los Angeles Times. Additionally, across the country, health and school officials have been threatened or attacked for reasons ranging from their support for mask mandates to their interpretations of critical race theory. Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered the FBI to work with local leaders to help address the "disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence" against them.
Wilburn said he's used to receiving hateful comments because he's a public official, but he said he reported the threats he received last week because of the intensity of their nature. He said attacks against public officials are turning racial more often.
"When you add the element of race to it, it just, that's deliberate. It's intentional," he said. "There's a desire, intimidating effect that they're putting that forward."