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The letter came to the home of Brenda Sheridan, a Loudoun County, Virginia school board member, addressed to one of her adult children. It threatened to kill them both unless she left the board.
“It is too bad that your mother is an ugly communist whore,” said the hand-scrawled note, which the family read just after Christmas. “If she doesn’t quit or resign before the end of the year, we will kill her, but first, we will kill you!”
School board members across the United States have endured a rash of terroristic threats and hostile messages ignited by roiling controversies over policies on curtailing the coronavirus, bathroom access for transgender students and the teaching of America’s racial history.
Reuters documented the intimidation through contacts and interviews with 33 board members across 15 states and a review of threatening and harassing messages obtained from the officials or through public records requests. The news organization found more than 220 such messages in this sampling of districts. School officials or parents in 15 different counties received or witnessed threats they considered serious enough to report to police.
While school controversies are traditionally local, these threats often come from people out of state with no connection to the districts involved. They are part of a rising national wave of threats to public officials – including election officials and members of Congress – citing an array of grievances, often underpinned by apocalyptic conspiracy theories alleging “treason” or “tyranny.”
About half the hostile messages documented by Reuters were sent to Sheridan, former chair of the Loudoun County, Virginia, school board, amid controversies over coronavirus protections, anti-racism efforts and bathroom policy. Twenty-two messages sent to Sheridan or the entire board included death threats or said members should be or would be killed.
In June, she received a threat saying: “Brenda, I am going to gut you like the fat f‑‑‑ing pig you are when I find you.”
The message, like the letter to her home, also threatened her children. Reuters agreed not to publish any personal details about Sheridan’s family members, at her request, because of her continuing safety concerns.
Board members in Pennsylvania’s Pennsbury school district received racist and anti-Semitic emails from around the country from people angry over the district’s diversity efforts. One said: “This why hitler threw you c‑‑ts in a gas chamber.”
In Dublin, Ohio, an anonymous letter sent to the board president vowed that officials would “pay dearly” for supporting education programs on race and mask mandates to stop the coronavirus. “You have become our enemies and you will be removed one way or the other,” it said.
School officials reported the messages to law enforcement in those three cases, as in many others documented by Reuters. No one has been arrested for sending these threatening messages, though a few people have been arrested for unruly or threatening behavior at board meetings.