On the Issues with Michele Goodwin

How Trump Made Political Violence Mainstream (with Rep. Leslie Herod)


May 30, 2023

With Guests:

  • Rep. Leslie Herod: Colorado state Representative Leslie Herod was elected in 2016 and received the highest number of votes of any candidate running in a contested election. She is the first LGBTQ African American in the General Assembly. She serves on the House Appropriations Committee and chairs the Colorado Black Democratic Legislative Caucus. Herod is an alumna of Vote Run Lead, a nonprofit that trains women to run for office—and win.

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In this Episode:

On today’s episode, we’re unpacking something that’s become increasingly—and distressingly—mainstream in the wake of the Trump presidency: political violence. This kind of violence overwhelmingly impacts women, particularly women of color. There was an unprecedented spike of threats of political violence in 2020–according to the Brennan Center, one third of poll workers surveyed said that they felt unsafe and 79 percent wanted government-provided security. This troubling trend has  continued, from the January 6 attack, to the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and so much more. Ideas that were once fringe have made their way into the mainstream.

In the face of these very real and dangerous threats, how can we support women and minority candidates—not just through their candidacies, but throughout their tenures in office and beyond?

Background reading:


00:00:05 Michele Goodwin: 

Welcome to On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine, a show where we report, rebel, and you know we tell it just like it is. On this show we listen to your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. So, join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times. On our show history matters. You this. So, we examine the past and think about the future. In this episode, we are unpacking something that’s become increasingly and distressingly mainstream and that’s political violence in the wake of the Trump years in office. 

This type of political violence we know very well and we have covered it on this show where we have interviewed election officials who’ve been in their jobs for decades and who have expressed a level of threat, a level of physical attacks that they had never seen before absolutely unprecedented and most of the election officials, those people who help at the polling places are women, those in fact who help not just only at the polling places but in the schematics behind that. 

Most of those folks are women. Over 85-86 percent of them are and whether they are Republican, Democrat, Independent, they have seen threats against their lives, but it’s not just them. We’ve also seen the threats of violence against women who are elected officials, state representatives, state senators, members of Congress. 

Since 2020 we’ve seen an unprecedented spike in threats of political violence. This we know from the Brennan Center, that a third of poll workers surveyed said that they felt unsafe and 79 percent wanted government-provided security, and the trend has only continued since January 6 and the plot to overthrow the United States government, but that wasn’t the only plot. 

The plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and there’s been so much more. These ideas that this was only fringe have now awakened into a reality where we know this is now mainstream, and in the face of these very real and very dangerous threats, credible threats, we want to explore how can we support women who are elected officials, women who are doing the work of preserving our democracy, who work as election officials and we’re concerned about them not just about those who are running for office in their candidacies, but it’s also while they are tenured and in office.

Helping us to unpack these issues is an elected official who’s experienced threats of violence herself. Representative Leslie Herod has been on our show before. We’re so pleased to have her back. She is a Colorado State Representative. She was elected in 2016 after having received more votes, the highest number of votes of any candidate running in a contested election. 

She is the first LGBTQ African American in the General Assembly in Colorado and she’s had such an incredible record as an elected official. Since 2016 she’s helped pass over 150 bills addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, homelessness amongst youth, business and the arts and civil rights protections. I couldn’t be more pleased than to have Representative Herod back with us.

Representative Herod, it is such a pleasure to be back with you again. We love you at Ms. Magazine. We celebrate the amazing work, pioneering work that you’ve been able to accomplish. So, thank you for being with me.

00:04:21 Leslie Herod: 

It’s an honor to be here. 

00:04:23 Michele Goodwin: 

In this episode we are looking at how the former president, Donald Trump, has made political violence mainstream. It’s really quite shocking to think of a former president as casting the kind of aspersions of curating the kind of narratives where people find it to be a justification for violence. How has this affected you and where you are?

00:04:54 Leslie Herod: 

Yeah. You know, in Colorado we have been able to pass a lot of progressive policies and elect a lot of amazing leaders. We have a transgender law made and lawmaker and representative Brianna Titone. We have one of the largest queer caucuses that we’ve seen and the largest Black caucus that we’ve seen in the state, but that hasn’t insulated us from the political violence and attacks that have been spurred upon and heightened during the Trump administration, and we see it more now with this conversation around his reelection. 

Right now, a group of us are facing threats online, in person, law enforcement out in front of our houses because of a lie that was made up on social media that we walked out…in a big political scene walked out on a day recognizing fallen officers. We weren’t in the building. We weren’t in the chamber. We were excused for the resolution just like many people are excused for resolutions, but they decided to call us the Colorado Six and incite violence against us. 

This comes from conservative radio that ____ 00:06:02 Trump’s work if you will and the MAGA conspiracies. It comes from folks who are waiting for “direction” from and signals from Twitter and from Mastodon and other social media platforms to attack us and we…and anyone who dares to I believe be a woman of color, be a queer person, pass progressive policies with lies. Now it’s easy…it’s interesting because these types of lies can easily be debunked, right. 

You can…there’s cameras in the chamber. You can see if there was a walkout and you can see if there was a statement by us, but there wasn’t, but that doesn’t matter because the lies are so insidious that people would rather believe those lies than find the truth, and as we know lies spread quicker than the truth, and that’s what we’re seeing here in Colorado but also throughout the country. 

00:06:56 Michele Goodwin: 

So, tell us a bit more about what was…about the lie, the big lie about the Big Six and a walkout.

00:07:06 Leslie Herod: 

You know, and let me just be clear, I believe that as legislators we should be able to walk out if that’s what we choose to do, but my dad’s law enforcement. I sit in a very unique position of having a father who’s law enforcement, having a very close relationship in the work that I do with local law enforcement here in Denver.

Whether we agree or not, we all I think agree that we need to get more services to people who need them, and so, to create this lie that because we had an excused absence that morning that we had walked out was problematic, never had been asked, but then it was spread on social media and through conservative talk, and in that then we got attacks, and I will say that all of the women who were…all of the people who were not there that morning were women. A lot of us were progressive. 

There was one white woman who kind of got rolled into it just because it made sense for the lie, and the attacks are horrid. I mean, they are…they are threatening sexual violence. They are using the N word, and to my Latina counterparts, you know, “go back home, go back to your country.” There have been threats and calls to people’s children’s schools and addresses being talked about on our voicemails and that kind of stuff, and so, and it spreads quickly and it stays. 

It sticks, right, and I think that’s the most violent and dangerous part, but I think about some of my colleagues in other states I mean who are just standing up for what they believe, and the interesting thing about this is to be honest we didn’t do it, you know. So, there was no statement. 

There was no reason for the backlash, and I kind of would rather have that for things that I’ve done than things that I haven’t done, but you think about the attacks that you know Brianna Titone gets for being transgender and supporting young transgender youth. 

You think about the attacks on Zooey Zephyr, Representative, and even you know my good friend out of Nebraska, Senator Hunt who is not with a political party anymore but has stood up for trans rights and for women’s reproductive…people’s reproductive rights and the attacks that they are getting are vile, and I believe that that is extremely dangerous because…

00:09:21 Michele Goodwin: 

Well, it is.

00:09:22 Leslie Herod: 

…it’s hard to encourage people to serve in the face of this political violence and as someone who’s an advocate, right, for people like us to be in political office, it has to come with a caveat now, like be ready. They’re not just get a thicker skin. These are real violent threats and attacks against you and your family and you have to be ready for that.

00:09:43 Michele Goodwin: 

Well, you know, this threads through…through the big lie of 2020, right, that Donald Trump won the election, the reelection, which he did not and we’ve seen that for women in politics and notably many election officials as well that there have been such significant threats in the wake of preserving democracy, the legitimacy of election and of course 2024 isn’t far away. 

We’ve been covering this at Ms. Magazine. We have a “Women Saving Democracy” series, and we have been tracking many of these hostile messages and there have been thousands, some of which you’ve just mentioned, but here’s some of what we’ve picked up that have been sent to election officials, the majority of whom are women, they are of this ilk for our listeners so that they know. 

Messages like “You lied. You are a traitor. Perhaps 75 cuts and 20 bullets will soon arrive.” Here’s another. “You and your family will be killed very slowly.” Listeners, these are what women in politics, women election officials, women who are representing their states and federal government are receiving. Here’s another one. “If you send me more emails about this election, I’m going to slit your throat.”

This is what is becoming mainstream in the wake of all of the types of lies and the curation of fear and violence in the wake of 2020, that election and overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly this is what women are receiving.

00:11:40 Leslie Herod: 

Yeah. Yeah.

00:11:42 Michele Goodwin: 

So, I mean, do you see…I mean, it seems almost obvious to ask the question about the role in which gender is playing in this.

00:11:50 Leslie Herod: 

It’s clear and add that layer of we’re not believed. We’re not believed and threats against us are not as bad as we think they are, you know. Threats to slit your throat or threats of raping before they kill you, you know. Don’t worry about it. It’s not too bad. I’ll tell you, I had been receiving threats during the summer of 2020 when I worked on police accountability and did a lot of the protests. 

I had started to receive threats from this person that were pretty vile, and I sent them on to the officials and wasn’t believed or was told well, you’re working on this so we’re not going to do anything to protect you. Fast forward a few months and I receive a Google alert and my name had showed up on a court transcript, knew nothing about it. 

Apparently they went out and arrested this person not for the attacks against me but because this person started to make attacks against our Jewish governor and our Jewish Attorney General, and I say Jewish because they were vile. They were extremely, extremely terrible threats that were being launched upon them simply because they are Jewish, but because they are men, they were believed and there was literally an investigation and incarceration behind this person who was making these attacks. 

Now this person showed up in person with a weapon, which is legal in certain parts of Colorado and threatened to use it against me, and so, but that wasn’t enough. That wasn’t enough, and then to say that I’m the one that brought that person’s attention to the authorities but then was not told about the case, was not told about the other violence that he had…he had threatened and they were worried that he would perpetuate was extremely problematic to me because my name was used, which put me in danger if this person should ever get out, but additionally why wasn’t…why wasn’t there some type of investigation initially when I was the one being threatened? 

This happens a lot, you know. I think particularly of our Secretary of State, but I think you could enter any female Secretary of State’s name into this equation, she actually came to the General Assembly. She’s a Jewish woman, came to the General Assembly to ask for more security. People don’t realize that as state legislators, as local law makers, as you know folks who are not governor, we don’t have daily security, you know. 

We are not people who have folks come to our events or walk the community with us. We don’t have a security entourage, but she was getting so many terrible threats again spurred upon by the big lie, you know, the election-denying big conspiracy theories big lie and they…they refused. They refused to get her extra security, and so, we had to go in and a few of us women said no. She will get the security that she needs because these threats are very real and we know that. 

00:14:55 Michele Goodwin: 

You know, what you’re sharing with me takes me back into history as well as thinking about what’s coming forward and what you’ve been mentioning is the invisibility of the violence as it lands on black women. It’s not as if you hadn’t articulated what happened to you. It wasn’t as if you didn’t have evidence of the threats that you were receiving, but it wasn’t until your male colleagues received vile threats that then there was some action taken but not when it was happening to you, and I can’t help but think about the invisibility of black women and violence, even the lynching of black women, which many people are surprised by, right. 

They think that was men and how horrible it was that it was men but they have no idea of this history of black women, even black women while they were pregnant being lynched in this country and interestingly enough I’m thinking about the case of Mary Turner, who was pregnant and lynched in Georgia for publically criticizing lynching in Georgia you know and the things that you really just simply can’t make up. 

So, where we are is that there is an election coming forward and there are a number of ongoing cases against the former president Donald Trump, which will continue to play out in the backdrop of the 2024 election season, which has really already started, and it’s something that the world is paying attention to, that the former president is a leading contender and yet he continues to mock and bully women through all of this. 

We even saw this after the recent trial in New York where he was found guilty of having sexually abused the journalist E. Jean Carroll at having committed defamation because he claimed that she lied because he claimed that it was a hoax and as he claimed that she just simply didn’t…wasn’t the type of woman that he would go for anyway, but I’m wondering how you think that these cases against him because there are also the criminal cases, how any of this is going to affect the national climate with regard to political violence? 

I mean, do you think that this will curate even more of the kind of emails and credible threats that you’ve received? And I think it’s important for our listeners to understand, you know, these are credible threats. These aren’t just kind of one…and there should be no one-offs. Like no one should be sending you any kind of vile emails, but these are credible kinds of threats that you and others have received. Representative Keeler who has been in conversation with us, she’s received at least 800 credible threats of violence, but how do you see this election cycle teasing up even more violence given the rhetoric of the former president?

00:18:00 Leslie Herod:    

You know, I think that you know I would hope that seeing the conviction, the prosecutions, you know, the actual words of people who are stepping up, speaking out, women who were saying that this happened to them and what would help, right. What’d make it so this person could never run as president of our United States of America, but that’s not the case. 

My gut tells me that that is extremely Pollyannish, right, in a land that I would like to live in, a land that I would like to call this country but it’s not. Instead, I think it will spur more political violence, almost a way to vindicate their leader and savior Donald Trump when it comes to these types of attacks, “attacks” against him. 

There’s a lot of language around she deserved it, she’s not pretty enough, she doesn’t look right. Wouldn’t she be so lucky? And those are all sexual attacks, and its sexual violence and I think that this election with Trump in the center of it will only increase that type of violence, you know, and I think that we also aren’t solely dealing with the fact that people are armed strongly and heavily in this country right now. 

People are, you know, still awakening after COVID and coming out of their basements and coming out of their homes and engaging, and so, these threats become real very quickly, and again, people feel like they’re getting signals. They feel like they’re getting messages to attack certain people and in some ways they really actually are. There are folks who are sending messages via social media, via whatever types of alert saying go attack this person, you know, go attack this institution or this group of people because they are the problem, they are the ones keeping your savior from…

00:19:51 Michele Goodwin: 

That was January 6, wasn’t it?

00:19:53 Leslie Herod: 

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

00:19:54 Michele Goodwin: 

I mean, January 6, a day of insurrection, a day of a failed coup d’état, a day in which the security forces for the former Vice President Mike Pence alerted their families that they might not be coming home, right. The seriousness of it was when you have Secret Service expressing their fear about not surviving the day and yet the former president saying that it was a beautiful day he has been quoted as saying, January 6, and that the insurrectionists there had love in their hearts, right. 

That’s the nature of how this has all been cast. I’m wondering that in the face of all of this what you have seen and what you know that other women are experiencing who are in office and trans elected officials as well, then how exactly should this be captured in a different way perhaps by media? I mean, is there…is there something that can be done that would help to shift this narrative in a way where people can take it more seriously, where it could be covered in a way that responds to the gravity of it?

00:21:11 Leslie Herod: 

Well, isn’t that interesting. I think, you know, I think about what you just said about the insurrection, and I think it’s interesting that Trump’s biggest parade and celebration that he had been craving for so long was an insurrection. It was an attack on our democracy, attack on our country. That is their…that is their coup d’état, right. That is their thing and that is a huge problem, and it’s again dangerous for our country. 

I think is there a way that media can be better about this? Absolutely. I think this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot honestly. When these big lies come up, the initial reaction of mainstream media and I would even say, you know, left of center media is to ignore it. It’s to say we didn’t spread that lie. We didn’t do that as opposed to debunking it immediately. They see it too. They are in these circles. They are in these spaces. They are on social media. 

They are looking for these types of conversations and instead of shutting it down or reporting or supporting or letting folks know that these are credible, that this is really happening, they choose to step out and say I’m not going to be involved in that conversation. I think that’s just as dangerous because then you have again predominantly women and queer folks out there alone where they’re not believed, where there’s no validation for their stories and where mainstream media’s refusing to report on the attacks against us. 

Now there was…you know, there was one theory where don’t get involved, don’t spread the lie because if you do, you’ll put them under more risk. I’m not seeing that play out. What I’m seeing is it’s spreading through these particular circles of folks who actually want to do harm, and so, I believe that the mainstream media needs to come in and tell the real story more frequently and in depth and have conversations with folks who are receiving these attacks. 

Now, I’m not like our good senator that you just mentioned who saves all of those messages, who catalogs those attacks. Let me tell you why. I mean, I have young transgender, queer people of color as my aides and my staff. They go through emails. They go through phone records, and I have no desire to put them through this listening of the hateful messages and rhetoric that come through on a regular basis. 

You know, I tell them delete and now I’ve had to recently stop and say forward to this special inbox so that they can be cataloged by State Patrol but I don’t…I feel very protective…I don’t believe that these folks who are looking at it and aspiring for a career in politics should have to hear the things that are lobbed at us every single day in that way. I would love to protect them. Maybe that’s not right either. You know, but we have to start doing things differently, and mainstream media has a role here. 

They have a role to play. If we knew that media would cover this, we would happily forward these messages. We have so many. You only need 2 or 3 to get the impact like what you just read, but they’re not. They’re staying out of it until unfortunately it’s too late, it’s too insidious or they’ll report on it once someone is hurt, once an action has been taken.

00:24:23 Michele Goodwin: 

It’s really heartbreaking, and it reminds me of a term that was popularized by Patricia Williams. She’s a professor who is at Northeastern University Law School and she wrote this book The Alchemy of Race and Rights, a brilliant book, when she was at the University of Wisconsin, really integrating in many ways the law school many years ago. She wrote about spirit murder. 

It’s a way in which you can experience discrimination, people paying limited or no attention to it while you suffer in the wake of what people should all be outraged by and put an end to and it murders the spirit, and it seems to me that that’s what you’re saying about your staffers, you know, not wanting them to see all of that kind of vile commentary, wanting them to have hope and confidence and being in an elected space, the potential to become an elected official and that it shouldn’t come with that kind of weight baggage and threat to their own personhood.

00:25:32 Leslie Herod: 

Absolutely, and I recently read that book as well and some of the subsequent pieces on spirit murder so I could help my colleagues understand the attacks against us and what they do to us, especially my first year colleagues who, you know, did not know really, I think didn’t even know the impact to themselves, you know, facing it and the spirit murder that happens and it’s not only happening through these attacks, but it’s the kind of ripple effects, you know, that go into communities of color, that even go into queer spaces, our spaces where folks are like well, is that really real or did you do something or you know that kind of questioning because we’ve all experienced some level of it and then it becomes this internalized situation where folks don’t believe it, folks don’t act on it and then you don’t talk about it anymore because you feel like you’re not going to get the response that you need until then you become a shadow of yourself.

00:26:27 Michele Goodwin: 


00:26:28 Leslie Herod: 

That is something that we have to take care of each other around and what I will say is no matter if you agree or disagree on one issue or two issues we as women, as black folks, as queer people, as BIPOC folks have to come together more and say that we are experiencing this together and we will support each other. 

Now for me it’s important that we look at anti-burnout differently because it’s actually you know it’s really coming back from that spirit murder, how to deal with that spirit murder, which is very different than kind of your typical every day I’m burned out from this work. 

Our burnout particularly and specifically as elected officials who are getting these attacks is not about your typical burnout. It’s about our lives, you know. It’s about can we continue to survive in this way? Is it healthy? No. Spoiler alert, it is not to worry that someone is going to murder you simply for speaking up about your views. 

The goal is to silence you, right? And a lot of us are very strong-willed and we’re not going to be silenced, but there’s still a toll that’s taken on us when these threats are happening on such a regular basis. It’s almost like you just can’t breathe, and so, working together to get that breath back but to do it in a way that we are doing it together provides that strength that we need to get through this. 

There was no movement that happened in this country or in this world that happened by one person alone. It was always folks together fighting for an issue or fighting for change or fighting for just the right to survive together, and so, we can’t let them break us apart in a way that we’re isolating folks and too scared to receive any blowback if we speak up, step out, and come together against these attacks. Spirit murder is very real, and it is definitely a tool that’s being used to silence progressive voices.

00:28:17 Michele Goodwin: 

With that we’ve come to this time in our show where we ask about silver linings, and it’s something that we’ve done since the very beginning. What’s the sort of hope that one can see, and I take it seriously, although my heart is also heavy as well because it says so much about the vulnerability of our democracy, the efforts to dismantle it when domestic politics become domestic violence.

00:28:52 Leslie Herod: 


00:28:53 Michele Goodwin: 

But that said, I’m wondering what you see as a silver lining going forward in the fight that…in the work that you’re doing and in the fight that you have been leading in Colorado for equality for all people because I know that your work is the work that has lifted up everybody, including the men in the state, the hetero men in your state. There’s been so much. Yes.

00:29:20 Leslie Herod: 

Yeah. You know, I think there is a silver lining. I believe strongly that there are so many folks who are…they don’t know what’s going on. They kind of stay in their homes, in their bubbles. They’re definitely not working on politics and political activism in a way that we are and just don’t know what’s happening and when they see it, it’s become so insidious that they actually do care. 

They don’t want to associate with folks who act in that way. It does spur them to go a different direction and say this is not about two parties or this is not about conservative versus progressive. It’s about who we are as people and are we okay with this violence against folks, and I believe and know that that will result and continue to result in that change and again the support that we all need to get through and do this work. 

You know, I know that us speaking out and saying what’s happening to us but also us speaking out on these issues, particularly around the attacks on trans youth is making a difference. It is keeping trans youth alive. You know, they are coming to us for support. 

They are seeing us speak out and speak for them and even in the face of initial loss or not winning or not, you know, passing a bill or a bill passing that is harmful, they know that there are people who are fighting for them and that’s something that they hadn’t seen before maybe, and so, that is the silver lining is that we are fighting, we are fighting together and our numbers are growing, and so, I’m extremely encouraged and inspired by the work being done across the country, knowing that it will yield better outcomes for us all.

00:31:03 Michele Goodwin: 

Representative Leslie Herod, thank you so very much for joining us again at Ms. Magazine for our “On the Issues” podcast. Thank you so much.

00:31:11 Leslie Herod: 

Thanks for having me. 

00:31:13 Michele Goodwin: 

Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine. I want to thank each of you for tuning in for the full story and engaging with us. We hope you’ll join us again for our next episode where you know we’ll be reporting, rebelling and telling it just like it is. 

For more information about what we discussed today, head to MsMagazine.com and be sure to subscribe and if you believe as we do that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed and that rebuilding America and being unbought and unbossed and reclaiming our time are important, then be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine on Apple Podcast, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Google Podcast, Stitcher, wherever it is that you receive your podcast. 

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Email us at ontheissues@msmagazine.com. We do read our mail. This has been your host Michele Goodwin reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is. On the Issues with Michele Goodwin is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Michele Goodwin and Kathy Spillar are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal, Oliver Haug, and also Allison Whelan. Our social media content producer is Sophia Panigrahi. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Natalie Holland and music by Chris J. Lee.