Iowa Democratic Party chair reports lynching threat after writing op-ed critical of Donald Trump

IA Rep. Ross Wilburn, D-Ames, speaks to the press during a news conference announcing a proposal from Democratic law makers to address police misconduct on Thursday, June 4, 2020, outside of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

DES MOINES – Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn received multiple threats, including one of lynching, after he penned an opinion piece critical of former President Donald Trump, he told the Des Moines Register.

Wilburn, a state representative from Ames, is the first Black chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.

Although he’s become accustomed to hateful comments as an elected official and party leader, “it's important for people to know that this is not normal and it’s not OK,” Wilburn said in an interview.

Ames Police Cmdr. Jason Tuttle confirmed his department is investigating the threats, and Story County Attorney Tim Meals said his office has also been made aware of the incidents.

Wilburn authored an opinion piece titled “Iowa Republicans put loyalty to Trump over helping Iowans,” which the Des Moines Register published on its website Oct. 8 and on its print opinion page Oct. 9. The piece was timed ahead of Trump’s rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines Oct. 9. It was the former president's first trip back to the state since he lost the election and a mob of his supporters swarmed the U.S. Capitol in January.

After the essay's publication, Wilburn said he received two threatening phone messages and one threatening email to his legislative email address, which all made reference to what he wrote in the article.

“The voicemails include very explicit language. Every other word was the ‘n-word,’” he said.

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Wilburn said he could not share more details about the contents of the calls because the investigation is pending. But he said he was compelled to report these instances of harassment, though he has received others, because of the “intensity” of the language.

“What stood out this time was the language that was used — specifically, the very direct statement about lynching,” he said. “And I get angry about that — that people feel that they can come in and make you feel less than human, subhuman, with that type of reference to lynching. There's the history behind that and trying to intimidate Blacks, intimidate African Americans.”

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann expressed support for Wilburn in a statement Tuesday.

"I strongly condemn the racist threats made toward Chairman Wilburn," he said. "We can have a spirited debate on issues and candidates without threats of violence. I am pleased the authorities are looking into this and hope those responsible are held accountable for their actions."

Wilburn said he plans to press charges if the person or people responsible are caught, “so that folks know that there are consequences for that type of behavior.”

Iowa Democratic Party spokesperson Erin Moynihan said staff members have been notified of the threats, and security adjustments are being made for Wilburn while he travels and for staff who work in the party's Des Moines office.

Wilburn said that in addition to his own security, he thought it was important to report the threats to set an example for others.

“I'm concerned about this type of escalation of comments, including violent references, that are happening, even down to some of the school board meetings and elections that are coming up,” he said. “... If anyone's ever subject to these types of threatening actions, I encourage them to don't just sit by and take it. Report it.”

People in public office have long been subjected to occasional outbursts of anger and even threats. But in recent years, reports of threats of violence against some elected officials have increased. A September Los Angeles Times report said that the U.S. Capitol Police had recorded more than 4,000 threats to members of Congress already this year, and “if that pace continues, total threats this year will double those in 2020.” Investigations into the threats rarely lead to arrests, in part because it is hard to identify suspects, a Reuters report on threats to election officials found.

Wilburn said he understands that there is passion and anger in politics. But he said he believes Trump has been an escalating force for those tensions.

“I don't think there's any question that he was a catalyst during his administration and since then, for how hateful rhetoric can translate into serious threats against people of color,” Wilburn said.

Wilburn said that racism isn’t always as overt as a lynching threat, but he hopes Iowans will take notice that it still exists.

“I just hate to see that type of hate existing in the country, and particularly here in Iowa,” he said.

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.

— Ames Tribune reporter Isabella Rosario contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa Democratic chair reports lynching threat after op-ed about Trump