'I Do Pack, and I Will Not Blink'

Article excerpt

Byline: Jon Meacham

The country is in a bad place at the moment. As Evan Thomas and Eve Conant report this week, we are seeing a disturbing number of threats against lawmakers, a grim manifestation of the inchoate political and cultural anger on the American right. It is natural to try to reassure ourselves that the talk is coming only from nuts and small-timers, but nuts and small-timers with guns (or, in the case of Oklahoma City 15 years ago next week, truck bombs) change history. Words matter, for extreme rhetoric creates a climate in which those on the fringe may threaten, or even take, extreme measures, and that way madness lies.

Here is the story of one threat, told through the words of FBI Special Agent Carolyn W. Woodbury of the bureau's Seattle office. Last week, in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington state, Woodbury detailed her investigation into Charles Alan Wilson, who is now charged with threatening to "assault and murder a United States official"--Washington Sen. Patty Murray.

Until March 22, 2010, Wilson, 63, of Selah, Wash., a city 140 miles from Seattle, had apparently been a fairly run-of-the-mill crank, an angry constituent who called Murray's Seattle office at off hours to leave what Woodbury called "harassing" voice mails. A profile in courage, he blocked his telephone number and always spoke anonymously.

On March 22--the day after Congress passed the health-care-reform bill and a day before President Obama signed it into law--Wilson took his rhetoric to a different level. At 10:23 a.m. on the 23rd, he left a message for Murray saying: "By your attempts to overtake this country with socialism, somebody's gonna get to you one way or another and blow your f--king brains out, and I hope it does happen. If I have the chance, I would do it." Five minutes after the message quoted above, there was another from Wilson: "Kill the f--king senator! Hang the f--king senator!" On another call, he said: "This great country that believes in God and guns," the caller said. "Since you've done this, there's going to be some bigger targets on your f--king back--I hope somebody kills you, and I hope somebody kills [the president]. …