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Rep. Jayapal on Recent Death Threat & Gun Violence Epidemic: Take Away Tools of Violent Racists

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We speak with Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, after a man was arrested on suspicion of hate crime after neighbors said he allegedly pointed a gun at her home and threatened to kill her. He was found outside of her home last Saturday night with a .40-caliber handgun yelling “Go back to India. I’m going to kill you,” and has since been released from jail as prosecutors say they lack evidence to bring a hate crime case against him, though his weapons have been seized. Jayapal is the first Indian American woman to serve in the House of Representatives. “We need to take away the tools from people who just find it too easy these days to express their hatred, their white supremacy, their racism in violent ways,” says Japayal, who blames the violence against her in part on former President Trump’s boosting of right-wing extremism.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we spent the rest of the hour with Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which represents some 40% of House Democrats.

Last week, a 48-year-old man was arrested in Seattle on suspicion of a hate crime after he allegedly threatened to kill Congressmember Jayapal. She is the first Indian American congresswoman to serve in the House of Representatives. Officers found the man outside her home Saturday night with a .40-caliber handgun holstered on his waist. A neighbor reportedly overheard the man yell, “Go back to India. I’m going to kill you,” and said the man drove by Jayapal’s house three times that same night.

NEIGHBOR: She’s a public figure, and somebody who’s out here screaming and yelling and cursing and, you know, “kill you” and “go back to where you came from” and, you know, those kind of things, and walking onto her property, you know, not OK.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, the man accused of threatening to kill Congressmember Jayapal was released from jail. King County prosecutors said they have not ruled out filing a criminal case but claim they currently lack evidence to prove a hate crime was committed. They did seize the man’s weapons through an extreme risk protection order. This comes as House Democrats are still trying to push through an assault weapons ban, after last month’s modest bipartisan gun deal. Congressmember Jayapal says the violence she and others have faced stems from the actions of former President Donald Trump, and joins us now.

Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, welcome back to Democracy Now! We are horrified that this has happened to you. How are you doing? Can you tell us more about what’s happened? And are you concerned that he is out?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Amy, it’s always good to be with you.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks, I’m not going to lie. You know, I said to somebody the other day, “I’m OK, and I’m not OK,” because I think this is the extreme violence that we’re seeing across the country. It is not an accident that it targeted me, as an immigrant woman of color who’s been very prominent and on the frontlines of fighting against white supremacy and for racial justice, against the extreme MAGA, you know, people that are out there.

And I do think that it is very much — it’s not that racism and white supremacy haven’t existed throughout the history of our country — of course they have. But when you have somebody in the White House using the most powerful bully pulpit of the land, actually using the tools of government to foment, to condone, to fuel, to encourage, to ask for extreme violence, whether it’s through legislative tools like a Muslim ban or whether it’s through rallies and, you know, yelling for people to beat somebody up at a rally, or whether it’s with his own language and rhetoric targeting people, otherizing people, and then, of course, the ultimate big lie and the coup attempt and the relationships that he clearly sought and had with groups like Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, we can’t separate the violence that we’re seeing — that I saw at my home — from all of that.

And so, the investigation is ongoing. I do believe that the prosecutor will be able to file charges. I certainly hope so. And I’m glad that we have extreme risk protection orders in Washington state, and we were at least able to get the Glock that the man had on him at the time, as well as another gun that he had access to in the place he was staying. And so, at least we’ve got those guns. But he is still out there. And yes, I fear for my safety and my family’s safety. And, unfortunately, it’s taking a lot of time for me to simply coordinate making sure that I’m safe at home.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Congresswoman, I wanted to ask you — it’s been about a year and a half now since the January 6th insurrection. We’ve heard numerous reports of continued acts of intimidation at all levels of government against election officials, at school board meetings across the country. Is it your sense that this neofascist or white supremacist movement is continuing to gather steam, or has it been set back by the investigations and the continued —

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: It is — Juan, it is —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — attempts to hold those responsible for January 6th?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: It is absolutely continuing to gather steam. Unfortunately, this kind of hate, extremist violence is very difficult — and I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m not saying we should stop working towards this, but it is difficult to roll back once unleashed. And I think it is really important that our law enforcement agencies focus on this as the number one threat in our country.

I sit on the Judiciary Committee with my friend Jamie Raskin, who you just had on, and we have had a number of hearings with the FBI about the threat of extremist, MAGA, right-wing violence in this country, about white supremacy, and really pushing the Department of Justice and the FBI and our other law enforcement agencies to make sure they are taking this as seriously as they need to be. But remember that these agencies had a different president for four years, and many of the people that he instilled are still there. Many of the people that have been, you know, unleashed are still out there.

And so, I think we have to be clear and vigilant, and I know that I am encouraging all of my colleagues in the House to make sure that their security is up, as well. And listen, let me just be clear. I have been an activist, as you know, for 20 years. I have attended many protests. I have had people protesting me. I think those are different things than extreme violence, where somebody is stalking an elected official, not because of a particular vote, but because of where she comes from and a general political ideology that is extremely violent, and, of course, with a gun. So we need to take away the tools from people who just find it too easy these days to express their hatred, their white supremacy, their racism in violent ways. I think Dr. King said it best when he said that morality cannot be regulated, but behavior can be legislated.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, a lot has changed. Even Fox News viewers, they did a poll, and they overwhelmingly are for more gun control. Now, this issue of an assault weapons ban and also 18-year-olds not getting these guns, what’s the House doing about this? And does it matter if — or do you think that the Senate, the climate has just changed?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Well, I think we have passed a number of very strong gun reform bills. And today we will be marking up — in fact, that’s where I’m going to go right after I get off with you — we will be marking up an assault weapons ban. I think it’s the first time that this is being marked up since it was, you know, essentially allowed to expire. And it is a really important, very popular policy across the country, supported by independents, Republicans and Democrats, because nobody believes that you need to have a weapon that can fire a hundred rounds, you know, so many rounds that you can kill multiple dozens of people within just minutes. And that’s what we’ve seen happening, of course, in Uvalde, as well as in shootings across the country. And the United States is really the only country that has allowed these mass shootings to happen, and then we still do nothing about it. So, we will pass the assault weapons ban, I believe, on the floor of the House. It’s going to be — you know, we’re going to have to really push hard all the way to the end, but that’s what the Progressive Caucus has prioritized, the assault weapons ban, for a long time. We will get it to the floor. We will pass it.

But I want to be clear to anybody that’s listening that we need to look at the structural failure of the Senate. And that is the filibuster, the idea that 40 senators, 40% of that body, can block any bill from coming to the floor — not just for a vote, but for debate. And that is a Jim Crow legacy. It has always been used to stop civil rights. It is not required in the Constitution. We can and must eliminate the filibuster, because the inaction of the Senate has created a vacuum, and into that vacuum has stepped an extreme right-wing Republican-controlled Supreme Court that is hell-bent on literally taking away settled rights, in some cases, as with Roe, that have been settled for more than half a century.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Jayapal —

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: And it’s not going to stop with that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break for 20 seconds, then take up this issue of what we now are living in, a post-Roe America. We’re speaking with Washington Congressmember Pramila Jayapal.

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Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Jayapal on Her Own Abortion & Why Biden Must Protect Right to Choose

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