SMITH: Activists take dissent in dangerous direction

http://www.app.com/story/opinion/columnists/2017/05/22/rep-chris-smith-town-hall/102003560/

Who can argue that in 2017, we face an unprecedented number of seemingly insurmountable problems both domestic and international that require wise leadership and sustained problem solving by Congress, the president — and everyone of good will.

Perhaps as in no previous time, however, we live in the age of the perpetual campaign where truth and the common good too often take a back seat to political expediency and personal gain. Enabled by distortion, hyperbole, surface appeal argument and the 24-hour, seven days a week cable news cycle, the public is increasingly ill-served and resolving tough issues has become more elusive.

While disagreements are inevitable, when we disagree and have fundamental differences, I believe that it is our duty to advance our point of view with utmost civility and respect — and always take the high road, which has become for some so-called activists the road less traveled.

In recent months, activists in my congressional district have taken dissent in an entirely different and dangerous direction — shouting obscenities at my staff, including a 17-year-old high school female intern, making threats that have been reported to the police — and even “praying that I get cancer and die.”

One aggressive male protester yelled obscenities at the women in my district office before slamming the door so hard it shook the walls. He has received a “cease and desist” letter and if he comes back will be arrested.

Consider just a few examples of emails, phone messages and postings on social media:

  • For Mother’s Day, the leader of one anti-Smith organization that frequently turns out picketers at my office, regularly calls me obscene names and phrases, demands town meetings and distorts my record, defamed and mocked the Blessed Mother with a post of a picture of Mary that reads: “Kept Her Legs Closed, Still Got Pregnant.”
  • That same group smeared Nobel Peace prize winner Mother Teresa on their Facebook account calling Mother Teresa a “sadistic religious fanatic” and a “sham.”
  • Another wrote that “My Congressman Reminds Me of my Rapist” and employs obscenities to mock Trump.

Six other people — among many examples I could cite — recently wrote:

  • “I pray that you and the orange cheeto (Trump) gets cancer and die. RIP you scumbag.”
  • “You are a disgusting piece of crap…”
  • “You are a living abortion…”
  • “Republicans…are the terrorists this nation has to fear.”
  • “I wish you could know the terror of being raped.”
  • “We’re coming after you a…h…”

And then there’s the dirty tricks. Fake twitter and Facebook accounts were created in my name, deceiving many. It took a letter from the general counsel of the House of Representatives to compel at least some “modifications” in their deceptive practices.

Dissent and criticism comes with the job. In Congress, I debate the issues and thrive on the give and take, and I respect those on the other side of an issue or on the other side of the political aisle. The attacks directed towards me — and others — are designed to degrade, demonize and distort. Ultimately, it will backfire: Americans cherish dialogue and respect.

I will continue to work tirelessly for the people. In Congress, for example, I rank second among all 435 members of the House of Representatives in the number of laws authored. I have written landmark bipartisan laws to combat human trafficking, fight terrorism, assist the homeless, boost veterans’ health care and education benefits, provide billions for autism research and services, help return abducted children, turn bone marrow and cord blood stem cells into lifesaving miracles, and much more.

I serve as co-chair of 12 caucuses — or congressional working groups — including Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Lyme Disease, heart and stroke, pro-life, combatting anti-Semitism and human trafficking.

At home, I and my amazing staff leave no stone unturned in trying to solve local problems — from individual constituent needs to assisting local organizations to local governments, strengthening and expanding missions at the Joint Base and more.

Far too often activists present themselves to the media as mere benign opponents who just want to talk. Their hate-filled posts on social media and elsewhere suggest otherwise.

Chris Smith is a Republican congressman representing the Fourth District, which includes parts of Monmouth, Ocean and Mercer counties.