As a public servant of 20 years, I’m incredibly disheartened to see good people stepping down from public service because of the impacts that threats — very real threats — have on their sense of security, on their families, on their ability to serve their communities and fulfill their duties.
But I completely understand their decisions.
I understand because I’ve watched city staff process mail containing violent threats parroting the language and name-calling employed by local conflict profiteers and the factions they’ve radicalized. It’s painful to see concern and fear on the faces of staff who, while so committed to serving the city they love, have been exposed to escalating cruelty for nearly two years.
I understand the decision to leave public office because I still feel intensely the fear, frustration, and helplessness of watching my two children quietly take in news of thwarted threats against me and learning that they, too, were being targeted and tracked online. A parent’s dearest wish is to keep their kids safe and sound and far away from the worst the world has to offer. I cannot forget those moments, cannot forget their faces, cannot forget their courage.
I understand the decision to leave public office because just weeks after the first of several family briefings and as people carrying torches stood just twenty feet from our living room window, I sat on our basement stairs to be sure my brave, supportive kids wouldn’t see my face. Because, in that moment, I knew masking my fear from them was impossible.
I’ve talked with women leaders — too many of them — across the country about the impact threats are having on them, their families, on the decision to continue to serve the communities they love. I’ve decided, with my family, that we won’t back down, and that I’ll continue to serve this city I love, to encourage our kids to find careers of service, to support my staff in their own callings to serve their city.
We won’t let the threats designed to terrify and silence us win.
But I will tell you that these threats are real and grave. Based on information obtained by our police department, a dedicated security detail has been added to City Hall. I now have that detail with me most days. While I appreciate their service and have come to count them as close members of my team, I miss the days when I could run to the drugstore without someone tailing me and knowing what I’m shopping for. I miss the freedom, privacy, and ease of movement I once took for granted. I no longer run the trails alone before daybreak as I’ve done for 24 years. I don’t walk alone to work or hop on my bike whenever I like. Because of security concerns, I can’t disclose travel plans ahead of time, and you may have noticed I share a great deal less online about my family.
As many people who have experienced targeted threats will understand, it’s not easy to talk about. In the summer of 2020, we had angry militia-affiliated crowds at our family home every Sunday evening. I didn’t want to call attention to it. I felt the same when they returned with torches and pitchforks in November. But there were threats that went far beyond standing on our front walk.
It’s incredibly difficult to talk about the more sinister thwarted plots and serious threats I’ve received because it makes it more real, as if it’s happening all over again — and as I write this, I once again see the briefings, the photos of perpetrators and evidence, my kids’ faces, my husband’s fear.
And yet it’s also important that we start to tell our stories; that public servants know they aren’t alone in their experience; that our residents know this is happening; to focus on our shared values; to find ways to rise to our better selves; to help right political discourse; to help us get back as a city, state, and nation to our long-held mores of civic engagement, disagreement, and self-government.
For this is the very bedrock of our nation’s unique and powerful experiment in democracy: we come together, we share differences in civil ways, we roll up our sleeves to perfect our communities, to create opportunity for our kids and grandkids. We’ve done this for nearly 250 years, and we cannot let rising extremism and threats of political violence keep us from doing this for the next 250 years.
My heart goes out to everyone who has been hurt, strained, and impacted by the events of the past two years. Whether you are a school board member or a family member, an elected official, or an everyday resident: I know we have been tested in ways great and small.
But it’s my belief in our community, in each of us, that strengthens my resolve. I won’t let bullying tactics, however serious, keep me from doing the job Boiseans elected me to do. And I will never stand for tactics meant to hurt and bully others. Our community is strong, welcoming, committed to each other, and resilient. I’m proud — and grateful — as ever to be your mayor.
— Lauren McLean is the mayor of Boise.