U.S. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana speaks at an event Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
A Fort Wayne man received probation Friday for harassing and threatening Third District Congressman Jim Banks and his family.
Aaron L. Thompson, born in 1989, pleaded guilty to a Level 6 felony as well as a Class B misdemeanor following repeated threatening calls to Banks’ congressional office in April. He received suspended sentences and was placed on probation for two years and 180 days.
In an interview with the United States Capitol Police, Thompson admitted to being intoxicated and calling Banks because he disagreed with his political views. In his messages, Thompson said he owned a gun as allowed by the Constitution and told Banks to choose between himself or his daughters, according to the June 2 probable cause filing.
“Here’s the choice. Your daughters grow up without their dad or you grow old without your daughters,” Thompson allegedly said. “… boom, boom, you pick …”
Banks released a statement Friday, saying, “My family’s safety is my number one priority and threats of violence are not something I take lightly. This has significantly impacted my family and I’m grateful for the Office of the Allen County Prosecuting Attorney and local law enforcement for taking this matter seriously.”
According to the plea agreement, Thompson received a sentence of 2 years and 180 days for the felony charge of intimidation, and another 180 days for the misdemeanor charge of harassment. Both sentences were suspended in favor of placing Thompson on probation.
Under probation, Thompson is not allowed to possess or use alcohol and other unprescribed drugs. The agreement includes a special probation condition that Thompson shall not contact the Banks family or co-workers, including staff members of the Third Congressional District.
However, the special condition includes a caveat that allows Thompson to write to the congressional office on issues “related to the services provided by the Third Congressional District” and requires he provide a copy of his communication to his probation officer.
Banks opted not to run for re-election and will instead run for U.S. Senate, where he has won the Indiana Republican Party’s nod as nominee, though the primary election won’t be held until May. Banks does face a challenger in that race, who is suing the state over a law he says bars him from appearing on the GOP primary ballot.
Intimidation and harassment of Congressional representatives has increased rapidly in recent years but few are ever prosecuted, as detailed by States Newsroom earlier this year.
Out of the roughly 7,500 threats reviewed by Capitol Police in 2022, fewer than two dozen people were charged. Reports spiked in 2021 at 9,600 — more than double the 4,000 logged in 2017 — and declined to 7,501 in 2022.
Threats can include letters sent to Congressional offices, online intimidation or harassment by phone. But the legal definition leaves room for interpretation.
In terms of the 7,501 threats cataloged in 2022, only 313 were sent to local federal prosecutors.
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