© 2022 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Iowa Democratic Party Chair reports racist threats on voicemail

Ross Wilburn
David Pitt
AP File
Rep. Ross Wilburn, D-Ames, opens a press conference at the Iowa State Capitol on June 4, 2020, in Des Moines. Authorities are investigating threatening messages directed at Wilburn after The Des Moines Register published an editorial from Wilburn that criticized former President Trump.

Authorities are investigating threatening messages directed at Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn after The Des Moines Register published an editorial from Wilburn that criticized former President Donald Trump.

Wilburn said he received two threatening voicemail messages and an email with racist language that referred to his editorial. Wilburn, who is Black, said the first voicemail message referred to lynching.

“Unfortunately, these types of threats are not uncommon for myself or other people of color serving in public roles,” Wilburn said late Tuesday morning during an online news conference.

Wilburn, the former mayor of Iowa City and a current state representative, said it seems as if over the past few years there has been an increase in the intensity of comments meant to intimidate public officials.

“I don’t want to see it become the norm, but it’s trending that way,” Wilburn said, “so that makes me sad, to see that happen.”

Wilburn told reporters he’s experienced a range of emotions, including anger and exhaustion, as well as a sense of numbness over these recent threats. “More people need to come forward and say: ‘This is not okay. This is not our community. We don’t want to see this,'” Wilburn said.

Wilburn intends to press charges if investigators find those responsible. Wilburn said he made his report to police, in part, to encourage other public officials — like school board members — who have been threatened with violence to do the same.

“Look at what’s going on at some of the public meetings that are going on and ask yourself: ‘Is that okay?’ And I don’t think it is,” Wilburn said. “I’m encouraging others to step forward and say: ‘It’s not okay.'”

Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann issued a written statement this morning, strongly condemning the racist threats made toward Wilburn and adding that he hopes those responsible are held accountable. Kaufmann said Iowans “can have a spirited debate” about issues and candidates “without threats of violence.”

This spring, a permanent security fence was installed around the governor’s mansion in Des Moines after what the Iowa Department of Public Safety described as repeated threats against Gov. Kim Reynolds.

In September, the U.S. Capitol Police reported threats against federal lawmakers have doubled since last year.

This report was republished from Radio Iowa.