Two cops in Gretna, Louisiana have apparently joined the litany of people threatening to murder Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). They have since been fired.
Charlie Rispoli, who has been on the force for almost fifteen years, called Ocasio-Cortez a “vile idiot” on Facebook and said she “needs a round, and I don’t mean the kind she used to serve” in an apparent call to have her shot, reports The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Officer Angelo Varisco, who “liked” the post on Facebook, was fired along with Rispoli.
“I will tell you this: This will not go unchecked,” said Police Chief Arthur Lawson. “I’m not going to take this lightly and this will be dealt with on our end. It’s not something we want someone that’s affiliated with our department to make these types of statements. That’s not going to happen.”
Lawson called it “a sad day” for Gretna, adding that the cops’ conduct on social media was an “embarrassment” to the police department.
Despite the firing of the two cops, and the fact that Lawson called the post “disturbing,” no charges have yet been filed. Lawson said he does not think the post constitutes an actual threat, but that it likely violates the department’s social media policy. To be clear, threatening someone’s life on social media is a crime under 18 U.S.C. § 875, which states that using interstate communications (like Facebook) to threaten someone’s life is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Rispoli is far from the only person who wants Ocasio-Cortez dead. Reviewing the most serious threats against her is part of the Congresswoman’s morning routine. In her comment on this latest threat, she drew attention to Trump’s racist attacks on herself and her young progressive women of color colleagues collectively called “the Squad.”
“This is Trump’s goal when he uses targeted language & threatens elected officials who don’t agree w/ his political agenda. It’s authoritarian behavior,” she tweeted. “The President is sowing violence. He’s creating an environment where people can get hurt & he claims plausible deniability.”
This is Trump’s goal when he uses targeted language & threatens elected officials who don’t agree w/ his political agenda. It’s authoritarian behavior.
The President is sowing violence. He’s creating an environment where people can get hurt & he claims plausible deniability. https://t.co/GuYKPGzSLm
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 22, 2019
The alleged threat posted by Rispoli was in response to a facetious story posted on inflammatory junk news site Taters Gonna Tate that falsely reported Ocasio-Cortez saying soldiers are overpaid. The tone of Rispoli’s comments suggest he did not realize the story — marked as satire by Facebook and debunked by Snopes — was untrue. In this way, Rispoli’s story is reflective of other false narratives that nevertheless gain traction in hardline right-wing groups, like the QAnon or Pizzagate conspiracy theories, or the kind of false narratives peddled by Alex Jones’ InfoWars.
There are often real costs to this kind of disinformation. Even if Rispoli’s apparent threat is not a serious one, a North Carolina man who believed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory raided a popular pizzeria to save fictional children in 2016. No one was harmed, but property was damaged. Similarly, the conspiracy theories InfoWars promotes about the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting have led to families being threatened.
This exists in the context of an overall high-water mark for right-wing domestic terrorism.
Rispoli’s remarks also come on the heels of a June report that linked 1,500 police officers in eight police departments nationwide to racist and violent activity on Facebook. And the increasingly common “white supremacist cop” story is likely part of a coordinated effort. As Grit Post previously reported, a heavily-redacted 2006 FBI bulletin cautioned that white supremacists intentionally joined law enforcement to both gather intelligence on communities of color and disrupt investigation into actions of white identity extremists.
The dramatic, aggressive stance of Rispoli against a progressive Congresswoman of color may not necessarily be racially motivated, but even so it does show that right-wing extremism in police departments across America continues to thrive.
(Featured image: Wikimedia Commons and Facebook)
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.