An alert was issued by the Department of Homeland Security last Friday warning of possible attacks “throughout the election cycle” aimed at, among others, political figures, election officials, political rallies, political party representatives and racial and religious minorities. The warning came on the same day that a man broke into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home looking for her; he has now been charged with attempted murder for attacking Pelosi’s husband, Paul.

Mindful of both the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection and the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, I asked cybersecurity scholar Richard Forno at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County how the U.S. got to a point where violence was a growing part of political life.

Forno takes the long view in his story today, starting with how, in the late 1980s, “the Federal Communications Commission’s Fairness Doctrine required traditional licensed broadcasters to offer competing viewpoints on controversial public issues.” But these rules did not apply to cable or satellite providers, he writes, “and the subsequent rise of cable news channels in the 1990s led to highly partisan programming that helped divide American society in the ensuing decades.” Forno skillfully charts how that division adopted various forms over the years, arriving at the menacing tenor of today’s politics.

Also today:

Naomi Schalit

Senior Editor, Politics + Society

A member of the National Guard patrols the U.S. Capitol on March 4, 2021. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Political violence in America isn’t going away anytime soon

Richard Forno, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

The rise in contemporary right-wing political extremism – and violence – can be traced back to events in the 1990s.

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