The number of hateful and threatening messages leveled at the Seattle City Council escalated in the last year as its members weighed in on police protests, endeavored to the reform the Seattle Police Department, endured the madness of the 2020 election cycle, and responded to the mob of right-wing insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol in D.C.
As per usual, the women on the council have felt the brunt of this hate. What's different about this year compared to years past, however, is how specific and detailed those messages have become. And of all the other members, Councilmember Kshama Sawant has received the greatest volume of threats, and also the most specific ones.
In the most recent high-profile incident, last month Councilmember Sawant reported a city employee for sending her death threats. Just last week, the Seattle Police Department arrested 2018's Seattle Firefighter of the Year, Andrew Finseth, in connection to those threats. (You might also recognize Finseth from his appearances on the cover of SFD's sexy calendars in 2004 and 2005.)
According to police records, Finseth allegedly used another firefighter's email address to send four threatening emails to the council member. After Sawant reported the threats to SPD, the cops traced the email logins back to Finseth's home address in Shoreline and also back to his church in Everett. In one email, Finseth allegedly told Sawant "to try jumping headfirst off the top floor of your building. I'll even come push you."
Finseth was due in court Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.
Sawant called for the investigation into the threatening emails in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. In a January letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, and the local firefighters union, Sawant said she believed the threats should "be taken seriously" because of "the current political context with an emboldened right-wing nationally."
But the emails Finseth allegedly wrote are not the only threats Sawant received this year, according to the 109 pages of hateful messages Sawant's office sent to The Stranger.
Sawant staffer Jonathan Rosenblum said in an email that the Sawant hate differed from the usual hate women on the council received because of the "volume and level of misogyny, xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, coupled with threats... to kill Kshama and the frequent association of these messages with the ultra-right/fascist elements."
That said, the level of misogyny, xenophobia, racism, and threats in messages sent to other council members has been pretty high in the past, according to previous reporting from Erica Barnett at Publicola.
A Facebook user who listed his job as a former patrolman in the Memphis Police Department told Sawant in a message that he would like to see her "run out of city hall," and added that she had "no place in AMERICA." Other people slipped into her DMs to call her a "commie pinko bitch," a "dingbat bitch," an "incredible piece of garbage," and, a "sand n*****."
"Just remember," one woman said over Facebook, "you are the minority here. Always will be that way."
One man told her to "suck a moose cock," and then told her to "suck a giant horse cock."
The death threats are numerous. First, there are the death threats from Facebook. Most of these were sent by people using their normal Facebook accounts, their full names and profile pictures attached to their messages:
"Fuck you, you goddamn cunt!" One message read, "You need to hang by your fucking neck until your sorry ass tits fall off!"
In reference to Sawant's calls to defund the police, one Facebooker user wrote, "Please let me catch you on the street without your police protection. You have dis-serviced the people you represent, with your own racist views. You should be flogged."
Another hateful message ended with, "we are coming for YOU."
"The only thing you are gonna see is you swinging from the gallows and left till your corpse rots you disgusting third-world pig," one man wrote. "You have no idea what's coming your way commie retards." He included three laughing-crying emojis.
A man from New Hampshire called Sawant a "fucking cunt" and said he hoped she and her whole family died "in a fiery car wreck real slow" and that it was "only a matter of time before we find you." He kept going. "It looks like you need a good dose of led [sic] to straighten your sorry ass out. It's only a matter of time before you get assassinated, cunt."
The email messages are just as bad. A slew of particularly racist emails came from a local boat dealer and a local landscape designer, according to the company emails both men used.
In December, an emailer who used the subject line "You Un-American Low Life Scum" told Sawant to "go back where you came from you fucking piece of shit" and ended with "may you and your family die a horrible fucking death."
"Do everyone around you a favor and end your life," read a different email. "Seriously, you are a worthless human being. Suicide is legal up there. Please, please kill yourself."
An emailer who put "suck me, smelly Indian!" in the subject line said that "the ghost" was coming for Sawant and that she would be turned "to compost" and that she "will feed the grass."
Still more emailers said they hoped Sawant would go blind, die in a fire, die of anal cancer, or be killed by people who opposed her ideology.
"Die in a fire surrounded by your colleagues," one email to Sawant said, targeting the rest of the city council, "you ignorant cunt."
As Publicola's earlier reporting shows, the women on the Seattle City Council are no strangers to hate mail. There was that time in 2019 when a frequent public commenter blew a gasket about the councilwomen not paying attention to him. That incident turned their inboxes into cesspools. And then, back in 2017, the women on the council voted against a street vacation for a new Seattle arena. You can imagine how that went.
But the sentiment coming from the women on the council is that the hate is getting worse, and that they are seeing, as Councilmember Morales put it during the council's morning briefing last month, a "dangerous escalation of expression that goes way beyond free speech."
At that briefing, Morales said someone mailed her husband pornographic images with her face on them. She shared that story in the context of the threats Sawant received, illustrating that they weren't isolated events.
"We understand that those of us who are called to public service will be targets of all manner of divisiveness and hate," Morales said at the time. "But when council members have their windows broken, their parents accosted, and when actual violence is threatened, that crosses a line."
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said she and her staff have been the subject of sexually violent and physically violent threats for years. She is worried that society is "accepting violence as an act of governance." Over in the executive's office, Mayor Jenny Durkan received death threats as well, enough to warrant her own extra private security detail of North Precinct SPD cops stationed outside her mansion.
"Being an elected official means you must meet with and try to understand where those who disagree with you are coming from," Mosqueda said in a statement to The Stranger, "but it must not mean subjecting yourself or your staff to harassment and intimidation. Especially now, in the wake of Jan 6th, we must take every threat seriously and stand in unison against physical or verbal assaults."