Is Anti-Government Anger Fueling Violence Against Census Workers?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

Earlier this year, anti-government activists had mounted a crusade against the Census as a constitutional invasion of privacy—even threatening violence against Census takers. “I dare them to try and come throw me in jail…Pull out my wife’s shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door,” RedState blogger and CNN commentator Erick Erickson said in April.

Now, a new report from the US Census Bureau reveals that more than 113 census workers have been assaulted or attacked since April 1—a number that’s significantly higher than the last US Census ten years ago. According to the Washington Post, the incidents involved “29 threats involving a gun, four robberies and three instances of being held against their will or carjacked.” In one incident, a California woman who aimed a shotgun at a census taker on her doorstep was subsequently killed in a confrontation with police officers. In another incident, a 14-year-old carjacked and kidnapped a worker sitting in a car clearly marked with a Census Bureau sign. The Census has hired 635,000 people as temporary workers to follow up with people who didn’t send back their questionnaire by the end of April.

The report from the Census Bureau came at the request of Rep. Carolyn Mahoney (D-NY), who wanted to determine whether the attacks on Census workers were the sign of a larger trend. It’s unclear whether any of these recent threats and attacks against census workers were politically motivated. But it’s clear violent threats against public officials have escalated on the whole, with the FBI reporting a recent surge in death threats against lawmakers. And when a government worker comes calling, some US residents aren’t hesitating to bring a shotgun to the door.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend