Trump Train ambush previewed the Capitol attack. We're suing to stop the violence: Victims

Political violence and voter intimidation are on the upswing. That’s why we’ve filed two lawsuits over the “Trump Train” I-35 ambush.

The events of Oct. 30 were a dress rehearsal for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. As we drove in the Biden-Harris campaign bus and in support cars along Interstate 35 on our way from San Antonio to Austin, Texas, a mob of Trump supporters terrorized us in an attempt to harass and intimidate us out of peacefully engaging in political activity that they didn’t like. Now we’re suing those assailants – and the law enforcement officers who ignored our pleas for help – to send a clear message: Political violence has consequences, and it must be stopped.

Throughout the Biden-Harris tour of Texas, the campaign bus was a lightning rod for President Donald Trump’s supporters. Their “Trump Train” followed us for days through Texas, with members displaying weapons, pushing, shoving, shouting death threats and even trailing us in a hearse.

We feared for our lives

On Oct. 30, the last day of early voting in Texas, we departed from Laredo for campaign events in San Antonio, San Marcos and Austin. The Trump Train met us in San Antonio, and we left the city with the help of a prearranged police escort. But the planned campaign events in San Marcos and Austin never happened. Instead, we spent the journey from San Antonio to Austin boxed in by a mob of multi-ton pickups, fearing for our lives.

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The Trump Train members had been tracking our bus and coordinating their ambush on social media. As we drove from one event to the next, they assembled in preplanned positions along I-35. Certain individuals in the Train soon converged upon the bus, waving Trump flags and Confederate flags, honking, yelling, surrounding us, and braking suddenly so that we were forced to slow down to a dangerously low speed to avoid running into the vehicles.

Biden-Harris campaign bus arrives in Abilene, Texas, on Oct. 28, 2020.
Biden-Harris campaign bus arrives in Abilene, Texas, on Oct. 28, 2020.

At the height of the ordeal, dozens of vehicles surrounded us, some as close as 3 inches to the side of our bus. Some even tried to force us off the road. We called the police in San Marcos and begged for help; none came. Around the San Marcos-Kyle city line, a driver rammed into one of our campaign staffers driving behind the bus, and then bragged about it on social media.

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This Trump Train was just one of nearly 270 incidents of voter intimidation in Texas alone during the 2020 campaign. Of course, political violence is not new in the United States. One of the laws that we’re suing under was passed by Congress 150 years ago in response to widespread violence by the Ku Klux Klan to prevent Black political participation.

A death trap for democracy

But political violence is on the rise today. From the I-35 attack, to threats of violence against poll workers and election officials, to the insurrection at the Capitol, political violence is a death trap for our democracy. Surely, most of us can agree that organized mob violence cannot decide the outcomes of our elections. But when wrongdoers face no consequences, is that agreement anything more than wishful thinking?

As former campaign workers and volunteers, we believe in everyone’s right to speak, advocate and campaign for any candidate or issue, even when we have different views. But turning one’s vehicle into a deadly weapon to threaten and attempt to silence political opponents cannot become a normal way to voice disagreement. That’s why we’re suing: to show that mobs like the one that threatened our lives will face consequences when they engage in voter intimidation.

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The Biden-Harris campaign canceled every remaining event in the bus tour. We left the scene traumatized and fearful; our pursuers left triumphant, proud and bragging on social media. When people who engage in voter intimidation and political violence are not held accountable they become emboldened, and the behavior worsens and spreads.

The events of Jan. 6 illuminate our nation’s stark choice: Ensure consequences for those who engage in political violence, or normalize that violence and watch it escalate. Our nation faces an alarming increase in political violence. We must act quickly to prevent it from killing our democracy.

Wendy Davis (@wendydavis) is a former Texas state senator. Tim Holloway was the driver of the bus. Eric Cervini (@ericcervini), an author and historian, was a campaign volunteer. David Gins (@davidmgins) was a campaign staffer who is now deputy director of operations for Vice President Kamala Harris.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump Train ambush: We feared for our lives. This is not democracy.