Last week, Democrat Kim Weaver announced in a Facebook post that she was dropping out of the 2018 race for Iowa’s 4th congressional district seat—a seat currently held by white supremacist Rep. Steve King, who recently tweeted that U.S. civilization cannot be restored with “someone else’s babies.” In the post, Weaver, who’d also run against King in 2016, cited a number of pressures: her mother’s health, the risk of losing her own health insurance if she were to begin campaigning full-time, and, most prominently, “alarming acts of intimidation, including death threats,” which she said began during her 2016 campaign.
Weaver’s announcement has prompted an outcry. Death threats and harassment are an increasingly visible issue for women in public service (and women in general), and here was a concrete, brutal demonstration of its silencing potential. Hillary Clinton—who New Hampshire Rep. Al Baldasaro repeatedly recommended be “shot in a firing squad for treason,” and of whom a topless effigy was hung from a crane in Oregon last year—called Weaver earlier this week to offer support. “She was just very sweet, she wanted to let me know that she was so sorry about what I was going through,” Weaver recalled in an interview with Jezebel.
A 2016 study found that women lawmakers around the world encounter sexism, harassment and threats at an overwhelming volume; 44 percent said they were subject to “threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction.” After introducing a bill to combat “swatting”—in which a heavy police response is called to a victim’s house, a practice that has resulted in victims getting shot—Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark was actually swatted herself, while former FEC commissioner Ann Ravel was subjected to a gigantic wave of harassing, threatening trolls after a Republican commissioner criticized her views on Fox News in 2015. (They haven’t let up since. “You may have seen that they’re now calling me ‘George Soros’ whore’ because he apparently is a funder for New America which awarded me a $30,000 fellowship!” Ravel told Jezebel in an email.)
When I reached Weaver on the phone this week, she was recovering from a bout of colitis. “The [doctor] asked, ‘So do you have a lot of stress in your life?’ I’m like...” she broke out laughing.
Weaver’s situation is a bit more complex than some headlines suggest. In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Weaver, an employee of Iowa’s Office of Long-Term Care Ombudsman, supplemented her withdrawal explanation with the jarring allegation that she’d been told state lawmakers had cut the office’s budget by 12 percent in retaliation for her candidacy, a claim which lawmakers and Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman Deanna Clingan-Fischer later disputed to the Register. Clingan-Fischer told the Register that she had been questioned multiple times by lawmakers about how Weaver was balancing her job with her campaign duties, and that she had received open-records requests about Weaver’s employment; she said she had told Weaver this, but hadn’t connected it to the budget issue. Clingan-Fischer cited reasons including lower-than-expected state revenues for the reduced budget.
“I have no idea what her motivation was for telling me, and now she’s denying it, because of course there are some pretty big ethical considerations there on the part of the legislators,” Weaver told Jezebel. She said she hasn’t filed an ethics complaint because she’s still trying to figure out which legislator was involved.
She had told the Register that she’d received intimidating phone calls and emails, and that someone had put a “For Sale” sign in her yard; she later told the Register that a friend in Germany had relayed threats against her on a Nazi message board (when I asked if she had a screenshot, Weaver said she hadn’t been able to get one yet from her friend). In our conversation, she mentioned a tweet from an account that at the time was called “Easy Bake Jew,” which read “Just wait till the end of the rope, when traitors like you get what you deserve.”
“Nobody can follow up on that, but that sounds like a death threat to me,” she said. Otherwise, she said, it was “just mostly name-calling, things like ‘watch your back,’ stuff like that. That’s the problem, it’s nothing that anybody can really investigate, but all of it really adds up.” She also recalled an email that had referred to her as a “cunt,” and said that someone had stuck Steve King bumper stickers in her mailbox. As a single woman living alone in Sheldon, Iowa, a town that mostly supported a racist fringe politician, she said she was particularly nervous about the idea of people trespassing on her property.
“Some people think that some of the threats I received, or the things that I perceived as a threat, are minor,” she acknowledged. But, she said, she’d been sexually assaulted by a boyfriend in college, and had had experiences with the local police that made her feel like they might not take her seriously under more serious circumstances. “So, you know, it’s maybe a little bit more sensitive to me,” she said.
“When I called about the [“For Sale”] yard sign,” Weaver recalled, “the police officer came and gave me this lecture like, ‘Oh, you’re a politician, you’re in the public eye.’ And I said you know what, he had to go onto my private property, isn’t that trespassing? ‘Oh yeah that’s right, I guess that would be,’ [he said]. And I said I want it fingerprinted, and he was like oh, I don’t know if I can get anything off it, picks it up with his bare hands, and threw it into the back of his squad car and then tells me that they got two partially deteriorated prints on it or something.”
(Jezebel reached out to the Sheldon Police Department for comment, and will update if they respond.)
Weaver suggested that the primary impetus for her withdrawal was feeling like her candidacy was too divisive amongst Democrats. “If I were to drop out now, it would give us time to find somebody who would be able to run,” she explained.
She told the Register that instances of intimidation had increased after the publication had published a story in April about her somewhat unflattering history as an internet psychic, which noted that Weaver had “performed a tarot card reading to reassure a distraught woman that her missing husband was not dead.” A BuzzFeed report published Friday quoted several Democratic operatives who expressed relief that she was dropping out, including former Iowa state Senate legislator Al Sturgeon, who’d also spoken out against her candidacy in an April op-ed, citing her 2016 performance.
“For somebody like that to come out and say I’m not a viable candidate, I mean, it hurt,” Weaver said, noting a 1986 indecent exposure indictment against Sturgeon. “I just felt like it’s an uphill enough climb here without dividing the Democrats.”
Weaver also took issue with the Register’s story about her psychic activities. The story “made it sound like I took advantage of this woman whose husband was missing and presumed dead,” she told Jezebel, “when in fact I never took a single penny from the woman and talked to her on my own time and helped her find some resources and support.”
The dominant narrative of Weaver’s withdrawal has centered around threats that, disturbing as they are, seem fairly mild compared to what many women in the public eye deal with. But what does it mean about our current state of affairs that property trespassing and threatening messages from Hitler fans are considered a baseline offense, something women in public ought to expect, and put up with? And isn’t it fairly incredible that so many of us do?
“When I called [King] a racist, I had these white supremacy-type people tweeting that I was anti-white,” Weaver recalled. She plans on moving out of the district to Des Moines, to be closer to family.
“Some of those people are a little unhinged, I think, and that’s also part of a whole concern about the safety issue. I’m taking on a guy who has some bad hombres who support him, and it’s just—it just got to be too much.”