One caller says the Congress member should be lynched. Another leaves a voicemail promising, “You’ll be hanging from a tree.” Others used the n-word against him multiple times in the same message.
About two weeks ago, Rep. Al Green (D-TX) took to the floor of the House of Representatives and became the first House Democrat to formally request charges leading to the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Green, who did not have a written speech prepared for the occasion, spoke for five minutes and 26 seconds before being cut off by the presiding officer.
“This is not something I wanted to do. It’s not something I looked forward to doing,” Green said in a wide-ranging interview in his office on Wednesday. “But when I put it all together on paper, it sure looked like he committed an obstruction of justice. So I felt like I had to go forward.”
Since then, hundreds of calls, emails, and letters have flooded in, with dozens containing racial slurs or death threats. (Green’s staff has made three of the worst ones public here.) Aides say they have received far more feedback over Green’s impeachment speech alone than they have in the rest of this congressional term. Green has been in contact with the FBI for his safety.
But despite the racist backlash, Green was also greeted by a deluge of callers voicing their support from across the country and the globe. His profile in the media has risen quickly. For the first time in his career, strangers are recognizing and thanking him in public. Even as threats of lynching reach his office, Green said, his cry for Trump’s impeachment will only grow louder.
Shortly after the invective-laden voicemails began pouring into his office, Green conferred with his staff in Washington. They made a decision to publish the audio online, he said, in part because he didn’t expect the public to believe the racism of the calls otherwise.
“It’d be very difficult to capture the vulgarity and the sense of the person’s sincerity without the actual recording,” Green said. “I don’t have the vocabulary that would allow me to express what I heard. And I thought I had to expose to the public that these things really do occur.”
One caller chimed in to say, “Fuck him [Green]. Make America Great Again. Don’t mess with my president.”
The Conservative Review accused Green of having an “imbecilic” case of “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Even Senate Democrats have almost uniformly resisted the approximately 20 House Democrats who have called for impeachment — with several telling me in interviews that doing so is too early and reeks of partisanship.
Green disputes that. “I have tried staying in my lane most of my time here,” the Congress member, first elected to the House in 2004 and regarded as a House backbencher, told me. “I spend a lot of my time here trying to mind my own business.”
But Green said he is not intimidated. “This is not the first time I’ve been threatened,” he said. He notes that while he was serving as president of the Houston NAACP in the 1990s, someone burned a cross in front of his house.
“When you hear people say that [in these recordings] they want to murder you, that’s what lynching is. That sends a powerful message. No matter your station in life, there are people who believe that if you’re a person of color, you can be intimidated with the threat of lynching.”
“Hey, Al! Don’t stop!”
Green stressed that the “dastardly” barrage of racist threats is a small fraction of the mostly positive reception he’s received. Supporters have left encouraging messages from not just all over the country but also England, Canada, Australia, and even China and Japan. A Republican in Texas who supports Trump offered Green his home as refuge until the threats subside. A woman from Minnesota called Green’s office to say “how proud” his speech had made her.
Even the routine of walking around the Capitol has changed. House Democrats have started stopping Green in the halls to congratulate him on the speech. Meanwhile, at least five different House Republicans have called to offer their support and voice their rejection of the racist slurs and death threats, Green said.
Perhaps the strangest new development for Green has been being recognized out in public. At the terminal on a flight, someone called his name out and shouted, “We’ve got your back!” Before another flight, according to Green, someone else called out to him. “Hey, Al! Don’t stop!” the man said.
Green says he has no plans to let up. He is currently working on filing articles of impeachment, which he’s expected to file after the current House recess. Citing the 1868 impeachment of Andrew Johnson, Green argues it’s clear that Trump obstructed justice — and that the Constitution provides the grounds for his removal.
“The Constitution gave me the right to go through the front door, but I had to go through the back door. The Constitution gave me the right to drink from any water fountain, but there was a colored water fountain set aside just for me. The Constitution said I should be able to sit anywhere on the bus, but there was a place reserved for me in the back of the bus,” Green said.
“But for the proper reading of the Constitution in Brown v. Board of Education, I may not be here. I would not be a member of Congress. I may not be a lawyer. But for the proper reading of the Constitution.”