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Welcome to WNC CONFIDENTIAL, a new Carolina Public Press feature about official secrets and public disclosures — all from, about or relating to the mountain region. Every other Thursday, we’ll give you the key to recent revelations and put hard-to-find records at your fingertips.
Investigation records reveal more about threats against U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler
Earlier this year, Western North Carolina’s U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler (D) made national news when he and a set of other lawmakers vowed to carry a concealed weapon more often, The Washington Post reported, following the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
“You never think something like this will happen, but then it does,” Shuler said, according to Politico. “After the elections, I let my guard down. Now I know I need to have [my gun] on me. We’re going to need to do a much better job of with security at these events.”
Carolina Public Press has obtained, via MuckRock.com and a Freedom of Information Act request, records that go into greater detail about the threats levied against the Western North Carolina congressman.
The reports show threats against Shuler were investigated twice in 2009 and 2010.
In 2009, a Swain County man was charged after he threatened to kill Shuler. It was among those cited as an example of the 300 percent increase in threats against lawmakers, according to the Senate sergeant at arms, as reported by Politico.com.
The FBI investigator’s report says the 70-year-old caller was thought to be mentally ill and had assaulted his wife in the months before calling Shuler’s office and threatening to kill the congressman. “I voted for you, Heath,” the caller said, according to Asheville Police Department reports included in the release. “If I find you voted for this stimulus package, I’m gonna kill you, simple as that.”
The records show that the man’s mental competency was evaluated for months before a hearing was held, and he was still being held in jail almost a year after making the threat. He was eventually found incompetent to stand trial, no longer a threat to himself or others, and was released.
- Click here to view the investigation report from 2010, which also includes reports on death threats against other U.S. lawmakers. [PDF, page 100]
In the report dated Nov. 1, 2010, a caller again threatened Shuler. A digital recording of the call was provided to the FBI by e-mail. In it, the caller, who left a voice mail message, “complained about the lack of jobs in North Carolina, called Congressman Shuler names such as ‘c— s—’ and ‘f—-,’ and threatened to [expletive deleted] his wife.”
The report shows that law enforcement officials from Buncombe and McDowell counties, along with U.S. Capitol Police, investigated. The caller was identified as a McDowell County resident. No charges were filed, and the case was closed.
No physical harm to the congressman, his family or staff is known to have occurred as a result of these investigated threats. It appears that it is rare for threats to result in an actual physical attack. The Congressional Research Service’s report [PDF] issued after the Tuscon, Ariz. shooting says, “Since 1789, available information from official and private sources suggests that there have been at least 21 instances of attacks involving 24 members (of Congress) who were targeted by assailants.” That is of the 12,013 people who have served in Congress since 1789, it continues.