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US politicians stepping up security in increasingly acrimonious political climate

US politicians stepping up security in increasingly acrimonious political climate

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The divisive nature of American politics has seen threats against politicians rise four-fold in the last year, according to a security review following the attack on Capitol Hill.

The invasion of Congress on 6 January revealed the physical risk now posed to politicians in a polarised and acrimonious political climate – an angry mob attacking one of the most protected buildings in the world amid false claims of a stolen election.

Capitol Hill has its own police force but they were overwhelmed.

Five people died that day and elected officials were forced to flee or hide – fearing for their lives.

In the weeks that followed, a huge military and security presence surrounded the Capitol building.

Many politicians stepped up their own personal security measures – some even bought body armour or carried a firearm.

Retired Major General Linda Singh was one of those tasked with reviewing their security.

She says: “The key thing is, how can we ensure their safety but yet allow them to do what they’re hired to do? I mean, they’re elected to be out in the public and so how do we get that fine balance?”

Major General Singh explains striking that balance isn’t easy.

“I think it’s challenging because every member as you can imagine has their own view of their security,” she adds.

“So one of the things that you really have to do is to get personal with that individual to say how are we going to work this? What works for you may not work for the next person.”

Linda Singh
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Leadership and security specialist Linda Singh says she has to work with each politician individually to find out what they need

Congressional spending on private security has surged among members of both parties since the 6 January attack on Capitol Hill – Republican Liz Cheney spent $58,000 on protective measures in the first three months of this year after publicly denouncing Donald Trump for inciting the violence.

Fellow Republican senator Mitt Romney spent more than $43,000 on security after voting to impeach the former president.

US politicians don’t usually meet with members of the public without an appointment.

When they hold town halls, which is about as close as you get to a constituency surgery in America, they are allowed to expense security detail and body armour.

Liz Cheney. Pic: AP
Image:
Liz Cheney spent $58,000 on protection in the first three months of 2021 after denouncing Donald Trump. Pic: AP

But if they want protection for their homes or bodyguards when they’re out and about they have to pay for it themselves.

The most recent targeted attacks on individual members of Congress includes that on Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot at point blank range during a constituents’ meeting outside a supermarket in Arizona 10 years ago – she survived.

In 2015, Senator Clementa Pinckney, a Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate, was killed in a mass shooting at a historic black church in the state in what was thought to be a hate crime.

Two years later, a gunman opened fire on politicians during a congressional baseball match – senior republican Steve Scalise, the representative for Louisiana’s 1st congressional district and a minority whip, was the most injured.

Political spending on security in America is now roughly three times what it was two years ago, according to analysis by US investigative media.

Members of Congress regularly face threats and harassment simply trying to do their job.

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