Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lives in constant fear of violence and threats on her life. She’s been singled out from the start of her career when she was voted into Congress during the 2018 midterm elections. The threats have only gotten worse.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Rise to Fame in Politics Has a Toll
AOC immediately garnered tons of attention when she was elected to the House of Representatives. She’s intelligent and well-spoken. She’s beautiful. And most of all, she knows how to wield the word as a sword. In other words, she’s extremely strategic about her social media usage. As such, her Twitter following exploded from 49,000 before the 2018 midterms to 13.4 million followers today in 2022.
But being an outspoken female, and a woman of color at that, in the age of rising threats of political violence, has its downsides. Yes, AOC is very popular. But she also can’t go many places, if any, by herself anymore. Speaking to CNN’s Chris Wallace, AOC said that her life has
“I’ve felt that my life has been in danger since the moment that I won my primary election in 2018,” said AOC. “It became especially intensified when I was first brought into Congress in 2019.”
Asked for how often she considers her safety, she elaborated that it’s a constant feeling and thought.
“It means, when I wake up in the morning, I hesitate to walk my dog,” AOC told Wallace. “It means when I come home, I have to ask my fiancée to come out to where my car is to walk me just from my car to my front door…” She added that “it is a general disposition where you kind of feel like there’s almost a static electricity around you… You’re looking around, your head is just on a swivel.”
AOC Feels Emboldened to Stand Up for Her Beliefs Due to the Threats
Ironically, the threats against AOC may have had the opposite effect of what those who made the threats intended. AOC said that the continuous fear helped propel her into being even more “robust and urgent” because of the realization that she may not live to see another day.
“I think the way that I live with it has evolved over time,” said AOC. “But I actually believe that it very much shaped my political decisions. Because I started to feel, even in 2019, that it was possible that I may not see the end of the year. I really felt that way. And so, it impacted how I navigated politically, because I said I don’t know if I have time. So, I need to be as robust and urgent as possible. To say what I need to say. Because I don’t want to take the time I have for granted.”
In a Time Magazine profile on AOC, the publication noted that the Congresswoman’s office got a visitor every 10 minutes back in 2019. Every time there was a knock, the staffers would “stiffen” in fear. Due to all the death threats her office was receiving, the Capitol Police started performing risk assessments on each and every visitor, even the fans.
AOC told Time that she missed the normalcy of going out in public and not being watched.
“I can’t go anywhere in public and just be a person without a lot of people watching everything I do,” she said.
Death Threats Against AOC
In the winter of 2021, the Department of Justice charged a man named Garrett Miller with 5 criminal charges, including making death threats against AOC. He’d tweeted “assassinate AOC” after storming the Capitol. Later, he posted that he was going to kill a Capitol Officer by “hug[ging] his neck with a nice rope.”
Another man, Paul Hoeffer, was sentenced to 18 months in prison this past spring after making threats on AOC and Nancy Pelosi’s lives. He had made phone calls to both of their offices in 2019 and 2020.
And making matters worse, AOC has received a death threat from a coworker. Last November, Representative Paul Gosar tweeted an animated video for everyone to watch. It showed him killing AOC and President Biden with swords. “Any anime fans out there?” he wrote.
AOC tweeted about the incident, saying “So while I was en route to Glasgow, a creepy member I work with who fundraises for Neo-Nazi groups shared a fantasy video of him killing me And he’ll face no consequences bc @GOPLeader cheers him on with excuses.”
Costs for Security Are Exorbitant for Members of Congress
According to The New York Times, AOC is “one of the most-threatened members of the House,” yet she had to wait for 2.5 years to receive additional Capitol Police security. The Times reports that she has spent over $120,000 on security since 2021, most of which is private security. AOC attributed the wait to being less senior than other members. Additionally, she said that being a woman of color and a minority meant that on average you had less resources to pay for private security.
“You are now extra tasked with providing and coming up with your own financial resources for your own safety,” said AOC.
While the House sergeant-at-arms recently allocated an additional $10,000 per member to secure their houses, AOC said that it wasn’t enough.
“It just feels like money was thrown at the situation,” she said. “I just don’t know how seriously people are going to take this unless someone gets hurt.”
That sentiment rings eerily accurate. Just a couple of weeks ago, a man broke into Nancy Pelosi’s house and attacked her husband, Paul, with a hammer. He was yelling, “Where is Nancy? Where are you, Nancy?” The attacker’s calls echoed those of the January Insurrectionists, “Where are you, Nancy? We’re looking for you Nancy! Oh, Nancy! Where are you, Nancy?”
According to The New York Times, historians are warning of the menacing and threatening way in which people are now communicating. That is likely to affect real-life safety, as violence becomes more mainstream. They’ve pinpointed a rise in violent rhetoric to right around the time that Donald Trump was elected.