Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has taken the brunt of the abuse from conservatives aiming to denounce any progressive policies. Since taking office in 2019, Ocasio-Cortez has been subjected to regular verbal attacks from US President Donald Trump, insults from fellow representatives, and dismissive comments like CNN host Chris Cuomo calling her 2018 primary win “a fluke.” She’s been called everything from a “wack job” to a “fucking bitch,” but only recently did she admit that she gets regular death threats, too.
In a Vanity Fair cover story, Ocasio Cortez — who is the youngest woman to have ever been elected into Congress — details how she has faced the near-constant threat of danger. According to Vanity Fair, one of her first death threats came barely one month into her first term representing New York’s 14th District. A Coast Guard lieutenant and self-proclaimed white nationalist was arrested hoarding a stockpile of guns with a plot to kill Ocasio-Cortez, vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and others. At the same time, the freshman congresswoman's basic rights to privacy were not respected when a right-wing outlet published paparazzi photos revealing her home address. Only after her office complained did the publication blur her address.
But it’s not just Ocasio-Cortez — many connected to the freshman lawmaker have received death threats for their affiliation with her. The abuse has spread to her mother, her young brother, the designer of AOC’s campaign posters, and even her former dean at Boston University. After a while, she and her office noticed a recurring trend – Trump insults her and her offices are immediately flooded with calls, voicemails, and emails echoing his hate. “I used to wake up in the morning and literally get a stack of pictures that were forwarded by Capitol police or FBI. Like, ‘These are the people who want to kill you today,’” Ocasio-Cortez told Vanity Fair.
In the cover story, Ocasio-Cortez credited her close friendships with some of her fellow first-year representatives like Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib for unconditionally supporting and encouraging her in these low moments. “There have been many times, especially in the first six months, where I felt like I couldn’t do this, like I didn’t know if I was going to be able to run for reelection,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “There was a time where the volume of threats had gotten so high that I didn’t even know if I was going to live to my next term.”
She also credits a conversation with another close friend for shifting her perspective on why she is receiving threats like this in the first place. “It’s to get you to destroy yourself so that they don’t have to destroy you,” she said, recounting the advice that helped her reach a turning point. From then on, she would valid her feelings and tell herself that it wasn’t too much to handle.
So when Florida Representative Ted Yoho randomly accosted her on the Capitol steps in July, his words may have caught her off guard, but they didn’t faze her. He called her “disgusting” and “out of your freaking mind” for suggesting that the spike in New York City’s crime was influenced by poverty and unemployment exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. She responded by telling Yoho that he was being “rude,” according to a reporter who overheard the conversation. As Yoho continued down the steps, he was also heard calling Ocasio-Cortez a “fucking bitch.”
This exchange captures one of the major underlying themes in the threats levied against Ocasio-Cortez: she challenges toxic white masculinity. By simply being an intelligent and qualified woman of colour who dares to care about people and fighting for their right to a better life, she destabilises and unnerves anyone who doesn’t question why our government isn’t actually representative of the people living in the United States. And lest anyone forget: It's not like Ted Yoho is pulling Vanity Fair cover photos anytime soon.