Iowa politicians condemn racist threats against IDP chair

By: - October 19, 2021 2:36 pm

Iowa Rep. Ross Wilburn, D-Ames, shares Democrats’ legislative priorities addressing racial disparities at the Iowa Capitol on June 4, 2020. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa politicians rallied around Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn on Tuesday after he received a series of racist, threatening messages from an anonymous sender.

“At some point, we have to say enough is enough,” Wilburn told reporters Tuesday. “My hope is that my coming forward and making this report will get others to step forward and say this is unacceptable. This is not our state, this is not our country.”

Wilburn wrote an opinion column for the Des Moines Register ahead of former President Donald Trump’s Iowa rally on Oct. 9. In the column, Wilburn criticized Republicans for aligning themselves with the former president. 

After it was published, Wilburn, who is the state party’s first Black leader, said he received a threatening voicemail from a restricted number. The message “ended with a threat that included a reference to lynching.”

The next day, he received another call. This time, the caller did not make explicit threats, but used the n-word and racist stereotypes. On Oct. 11, Wilburn received an email to his legislative account with more racist language.

Wilburn said he was angry, frustrated and exhausted by the incident. He reported the messages to the Ames Police Department and said he intends to press changes if police find the caller.

“Unfortunately, these types of threats are not uncommon for myself or other people of color serving in public roles,” Wilburn said.

Iowa politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, condemned the threats on Tuesday. Several Republicans that Wilburn’s op-ed criticized by name posted on social media that political disagreements must not lead to racism or threats.

“I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the disturbing threats made against Chairman Wilburn,” U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson wrote on Twitter. “There is no place for racism or violence in our society or in our political discourse.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds concurred, tweeting that “(r)acism of any kind is unacceptable and not who we are as Iowans.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, a central figure in Wilburn’s critical op-ed, also tweeted his support for the IDP chair.

Wilburn told reporters Tuesday he appreciated Grassley’s support.

“More people need to come forward and say this is not okay, this is not our community, we don’t want to see this,” he said, and he encouraged Grassley to be “more consistent” on the issue in the future.

Wilburn and other Democrats tied the incident to a broader political climate.

“These threats are part of a disturbing trend by some people to intimidate public officials, candidates and other leaders … Instead of politicians who inflame and benefit from the politics of hate, we need leaders of both parties to stand up to these threats because Iowa is better than this,” said Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls in a statement.

Wilburn observed Tuesday that some people had become more openly prejudiced over the past few years, pointing toward contentious, angry meetings in Iowa and across the country. 

“Putting me aside, look at what’s going on at some of the public meetings that are going on and ask yourself, is that okay?” he said. “I don’t think it is, and I encourage others to step forward and say it’s not okay.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.