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Congressman’s shooting prompts calls for more security, joined by Utah politicians targeted by threats

First Published      Last Updated Jun 16 2017 06:34 pm

After the shooting of a congressional leader on Wednesday, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz has joined a chorus of members urging further protection for Congress outside of Washington at a time of heightened political fervor.

Chaffetz, among other Utahns, has personal experience in being targeted — at least by explicit threats of violence — apparently over political views.

A Florida man is awaiting trial for threatening to lynch the Utah Republican, one of many death threats Chaffetz has seen in recent months.

"I feel very safe and secure at the Capitol," Chaffetz said Wednesday. "We work in a fortress with literally thousands of people to protect us, but once we leave the Capitol, it's a whole different equation."

Chaffetz wants U.S. marshals to be charged with assessing threats against members of Congress and securing them in more high-profile and widely attended events.

Chaffetz was the focus of a March death threat in which a Florida man vowed in a voicemail to "hunt your a-- down, wrap a rope around your neck and hang you from a lamppost," according to court records.

Charles Zachary Howard, of Winter Park, Fla., was charged with a federal felony of threatening to injure another person and is awaiting trial.

While charging documents refer to the member as "Congressman A," Chaffetz on Wednesday confirmed for the first time that he was the recipient of the threat.

"I suggest you prepare for the battle, motherf----- and the apocalypse," Howard said, according to a probable cause statement filed in federal court.

While Howard's motivation isn't clear — he railed against the Freemasons and the KKK in his voicemail — his March 8 message to Chaffetz was left a day after the congressman's widely reported comment that Americans may have to choose between buying a new iPhone or paying for their own health care, a remark that sparked public outrage and ridicule.

Howard's attorney Mark O'Brien said in an email that his client, who was medically discharged from the Navy, suffers from a mental health illness, and, at times, his anger "boils over and presents itself in an inappropriate manner."

"This is not to downplay the fear Rep. Chaffetz and his staff must have felt after listening to the voicemail recording," O'Brien said. "However, given what occurred in Virginia earlier today, I remind everyone that each person must be judged individually. The horror of today's events are reflective only of the person who committed them. Charles must be judged on his own conduct and the mitigating circumstances of his life."

Howard has yet to enter a plea in the case, has been released from jail and is receiving mental health treatment, O'Brien added.

Chaffetz isn't alone in receiving threats on his life.

A military veteran from the East Coast who had been arrested in Utah recently, was irate and threatened Rep. Chris Stewart and his staff for not getting him out of jail, Stewart's office says. Capitol Police investigated the incident, though it appears no charges were filed.

Saratoga Springs police interviewed a woman in recent months who had been snapping photos of Rep. Mia Love's children as they played in their yard, Love said Wednesday.

Sen. Orrin Hatch was deputized as a special deputy U.S. marshal in 1993 so he could carry a gun after receiving death threats.

On Wednesday, Hatch, who is third in line for the presidency as the Senate president pro tempore and has an around-the-clock security detail, took to the Senate floor to thank by name each of the 23 agents who protect him and his wife, Elaine.

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