Threats of violence and other biting messages have been sent to local school officials around the United States by anonymous harassers fuelled by rage over culture-war concerns. In a sample of districts, Reuters documented 220 instances of such harassment.
This story contains offensive language in the text, photos, and audio clips.
Brenda Sheridan, a Loudoun County, Virginia school board member, received a letter addressed to one of her adult children at her house. Unless she left the board, it threatened to kill them both.
“It is too bad that your mother is an ugly communist whore,” said the hand-scrawled note, which the family read just after Christmas. “If she doesn’t quit or resign before the end of the year, we will kill her, but first, we will kill you!”
Terroristic threats and hateful communications have been directed at school board members across the United States as a result of seething conflicts over rules on preventing the spread of the coronavirus, bathroom access for transgender kids, and the teaching of America’s racial past.
Via contacts and conversations with 33 board members from 15 states, as well as an examination of threatening and abusive texts received from authorities or through public records requests, Reuters documented the intimidation. In this sample of districts, the news organization discovered over 220 similar messages. In 15 separate counties, school administrators or parents received or observed threats that they deemed severe enough to notify to authorities.
While school issues are often local, these threats are sometimes made by persons from out of state who have no ties to the districts in question. They’re part of a growing nationwide surge of threats against public officials, including election officials and members of Congress, citing a variety of complaints, many of which are based on apocalyptic conspiracy theories accusing them of “treason” or “tyranny.”
Sheridan, the former head of the Loudoun County, Virginia, school board, received almost half of the abusive comments as per mentioned by Reuters, which came during conflicts over coronavirus safeguards, anti-racism initiatives, and bathroom policy. Death threats or statements that members should or will be killed were contained in twenty-two communications written to Sheridan or the entire board.
She got a threat in June, which stated: “Brenda, I am going to gut you like the fat f‑‑‑ing pig you are when I find you.”
Like the letter to her house, the message also threatened her children. At Sheridan’s request, Reuters decided not to publish any personal information about her family members due to her ongoing safety fears.
People disgruntled with the district’s diversity efforts sent racist and anti-Semitic emails to board members of the Pennsbury school district in Pennsylvania. One said: “This why hitler threw you c‑‑ts in a gas chamber.”
An anonymous letter submitted to the board president in Dublin, Ohio, said that authorities would “pay dearly” for supporting racial education programs and concealing rules to combat the coronavirus. “You have become our enemies and you will be removed one way or the other,” it mentioned.
In all three incidents, as well as many others detailed by Reuters, school authorities reported the communications to law police. Although a few people have been jailed for rowdy or threatening behavior at board meetings, no one has been arrested for sending these threatening texts.
In one report, Jennifer Jenkins, a school board member in Brevard County, Florida, received threats and intimidation after endorsing a district mask mandate. Someone then filed a fraudulent allegation against her with the Florida Department of Children and Families, stating that she had harmed her daughter. Police in Satellite Beach, Florida, found the claim to be incorrect and attempted, but failed, to identify the person who submitted the bogus complaint.
Jenkins told Reuters that she has put surveillance cameras at her residence, which has been the site of many anti-mask rallies. She still feels unsafe from time to time, fearful that the threats would become violent.
“All it takes,” she said, “is one psychotic fringe loony toon.”