An armed reopen protest held April 16 in Texas is shown in a screen capture from KTBC Fox 7 Austin.

Last weekend, state Rep. Mike Connolly – one of a handful of democratic socialist politicians in Massachusetts – got a death threat on Facebook. Law enforcement is investigating.

The threat followed Connolly posting an open letter May 15, now signed by 11 other lawmakers, calling on the governor to keep the state’s stay-at-home advisory in place until June 1 instead of easing restrictions as he did Monday. Late Saturday, a person identifying himself as a Cambridge resident responded with the image of a rifle, telling Connolly to “rethink your letter [or] we will show up at your house.”

“It’s been a sad situation, and it gave me the chills to be threatened with gun violence,” Connolly said. “I am doing okay and plan to continue advocating for the health, safety and well-being of all of our Cambridge and Somerville constituents.”

I’ll just say that we, the people of Greater Boston and Massachusetts and America, need to proceed very very carefully at this juncture. We need to think deeply about where we’re at and where we’re going as a society.

If we are going to remain a democracy, we do not want to allow extremists to start assassinating political figures they disagree with.

We do not want to go to that place. Such violence will merely beget more violence in response – which is what is generally intended by people that commit it. Racists want to start a “race war.” The ultra right – with their well-documented obsession with firearms – wants to back the left into a shooting war they assume they’ll win.

Which is funny. Because, sorry folks, it’s just not that hard to use a gun. If racists can use them, people of color and anti-racist whites can use them. And if the hard right can use them, the left can do the same.

That road leads to civil war. Particularly in the difficult times we now find ourselves in. A time of pandemic and mounting crises of global warming, mass migration, infrastructure collapse and food shortages.

I want to strongly encourage readers to stay on the political road instead. The road of discussion and debate. The road of compromise – where sometimes one faction holds sway and sometimes other factions do. The road which often sucks for millions of people. But which is better than the alternative: war of all against all. The road to a bloodbath in which politics is submerged in a yearslong chain of escalating atrocities … from which no faction emerges with clean hands. While our nation becomes a graveyard.

So I say this to both the hard right of nascent fascists and the (supposedly) hard left of would-be “tankies” (neo-Stalinists who plan to “send in the tanks” against democratic uprisings after taking power): Neither the “night of the rope” nor the return of the gulag system can be allowed to happen if we’re going to survive as not just a nation, but as a civilization.

To everyone else I say: If you know of anyone who’s building a private arsenal and talking loudly about taking violent action against some person or group, you need to – at the very least – tell some trusted friends and think about how to talk such people down. I’m not saying to run to the cops. I know “snitches get stitches” and, more importantly, that law enforcement can create more problems than it solves – especially in working-class communities and communities of color.

If you and your crew are sure the person or group in question is going to go off and start shooting, you’re probably going to end up calling 911. But see if there’s a way to defuse the situation before it gets to that point. And, if not, think about talking to journalists like me first. Shining the light of the media on these problems has a nice way of making people operating in the shadows stop what they’re doing. At least for a time.

You can reach me at [email protected]. And if you don’t want to talk to me, there are plenty of journalists out there who you can easily contact by email or social media.

Just know that death threats are not acceptable in a democracy and that it’s up to all of us to walk potential perps back from the precipice of “propaganda of the deed” if we want to avoid a near-future internecine conflict that would make the Civil War look like a schoolyard spat.

A version of this story appeared originally on DigBoston.


Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston and executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism; his Apparent Horizon column – recipient of 2018 and 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Awards – is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism’s Pandemic Democracy Project. Pramas is a Cambridge resident.