A man who threatened to kill two Republican senators in response to their support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination was sentenced to 18 months in prison Monday.
The man, 76-year-old Ronald DeRisi, left expletive-laden voice mails on the of Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.. He accused Kavanaugh of being a “sexual predator” and threatened to assault and murder the Republicans for their support of his nomination.
“Nine millimeter, side of the head,” he said in one of the voice mails, according to court documents.
According to The New York Times, DeRisi made the threatening calls in the days leading up to the Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote last September. Despite the threats, both senators offered their support to the embattled nominee, helping to secure his confirmation.
Police later executed a search warrant on DeRisi’s home, where they located a 9mm handgun and a BB gun. DeRisi forfeited both weapons to the federal government as part of the sentence.
DeRisi plead guilty to threatening to assault and murder the senators in February. Threatening to kill a U.S. official is a federal crime, carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Peter Brill, a lawyer who represented DeRisi in the past, has said that the man suffered from dementia and other health problems.
U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue, who helped prosecute the case against DeRisi, said in a statement Monday that violence has no place in American politics.
“Our political process allows for vigorous debate, but not destruction,” Donoghue said. “Threatening to harm or kill elected officials because one disagrees with their public positions goes far beyond the scope of the First Amendment and will not be tolerated.”
Ronald DeRisi: outlier or symptom?
Kavanaugh’s circus-like confirmation hearings highlighted the increasing partisan polarization of American life. Both left and right presented the other side as a physical threat.
In that climate, tidings of political violence have gone increasingly mainstream. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Barnard College, told NPR last year that the risk factors for civil war are already here.
“I already think we’ve seen some pretty dangerous signs, the most important of which is the demonization of opponents,” Berman said. “The second step is seeing people as unable to be dealt with or compromised with, and that can fairly easily slip into more extreme kinds of behavior.”
Even coverage of political violence has become partisan.
Major news outlets have tended to focus on right-wing violence, while downplaying similar incidents on the left. See the blanket coverage of the Covington teens’ confrontation in January versus the blip made by the Colorado school shooting in May.