Federal marshals have declined a request from newly confirmed US Attorney Rachael Rollins for a full-time security detail, rejecting her arguments that recent threats show she could be in danger, according to two people with direct knowledge of the security discussions.
Rollins, the first Black woman to serve as US attorney for Massachusetts, has said threats against her have grown more vicious since her Senate confirmation vote earlier this month during which Republicans attacked her as a dangerous, pro-criminal prosecutor. A blatantly racist e-mail sent to the Suffolk district attorney’s office on Dec. 9 warned that “SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE IS PLOTTING TO PUT ONE IN YOUR FACE OR HEAD!!!
“You’ll probably die ... I don’t have the (nerve) to outright kill someone ... but keep going and you will find one (who does have the nerve) ... I hope,” said the e-mail, which Rollins turned over to the US Marshals Service for investigation.
But the Marshals Service, which protects federal officials, declined to provide Rollins with a security detail after investigating the threats, the two people said. One author of a threatening e-mail apologized, the two people said, and marshals concluded Rollins was at low risk.
A spokesman for the Marshals Service, Drew J. Wade, declined to comment, referring a reporter to agency fact sheets saying the agency protects more than 30,000 federal officials. More than 4,000 threats have been reported so far in 2021, the agency says.
Marshals do not routinely provide security to federal officials but do offer extensive protection for those deemed to face serious threats. For example, the marshals provided extensive around-the-clock protection for then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos after she was heckled and blocked by protesters in 2017, according to published reports.
Rollins, who has served as Suffolk district attorney since 2019, has had a dedicated Boston Police executive protection unit, whose members drive her and provide security. She also has the use of a car. As US attorney, she is not entitled to protection, a car, or a driver. She is also taking a pay cut — from $191,000 to $172,500.
Rollins declined to comment on her disagreement with the marshals, but she has spoken publicly about the threats against her.
“A lot of people don’t recognize [that] as women and as women of color, and particularly as a Black woman, the level of racist, hate-filled death threats that we receive,” Rollins said in a recent appearance on GBH’s “Greater Boston,” she said.
She has not yet been sworn in as US attorney, but told staffers on Thursday that she expects to start her new job in early January.
Rollins has been controversial, leading efforts to investigate police misconduct in past convictions and moving to invalidate thousands of drug convictions obtained by evidence analyzed in the scandal-plagued, now-closed Hinton Lab in Jamaica Plain. Rollins has also declared that she would generally not prosecute what she considers low-level crimes.
She was confirmed by the Senate on Dec. 8 on a 51-50 vote, with all Republicans voting against her and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the decisive tie-breaking vote.
Two former US attorneys for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz and Michael Sullivan, said they rarely had security details, but understand why Rollins’s situation may be different.
“I think times have changed,” said Ortiz, who served as US attorney from 2009 to 2017. “Our country has become more divided. She did not have an easy confirmation process and is perceived as a controversial individual. She may be more of a target for individuals who don’t agree with her policies and don’t accept the new position that she’s in.”
Ortiz said she wasn’t provided security even after the uproar over the suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, whom her office had charged with illegally downloading millions of documents from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer.
Swartz’s death prompted more than 50,000 people to sign a White House petition calling for her ouster.
While there is no blanket policy for providing a security detail to US attorneys, Ortiz said, any threats need to be taken seriously and looked into.
“You don’t want to see a situation occur,” she said.
Michael Sullivan, who served as US attorney from 2001 to 2009, said the kind of generalized threats received by Rollins are the most dangerous.
“Threats that just materialize because of the public nature of the job — you don’t know where they’re coming from,” Sullivan explained. “When I was in the US attorney’s office, the ones that gave the marshals and the FBI the most concern were those — from people who were fixated on you.”
Sullivan said the rancorous Senate debate over Rollins, in which Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton claimed that she “wants to destroy the criminal justice system from within,” gave her a much higher profile than most US attorneys.
“It’s very unusual for a US attorney to get that level of attention,” said Sullivan. ”When it generates that type of hate mail, you’d expect the FBI and marshals to be concerned.”
On Thursday, Rollins came under attack on the Senate floor once again.
Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, in a speech attacking what he called President Biden’s “war on police,” called her “the face of the rogue prosecutor movement.
“The result has been chaos and carnage from coast to coast,” he said. “As the district attorney in Boston Rachael Rollins announced she would not prosecute 15 different crimes. Laws on the books. She would not prosecute 15 different crimes, including shoplifting, trespassing, and resisting arrest.
“Rachael Rollins is supposed to be a prosecutor, Her job is to enforce the law. Instead she has nullified the law,” Barrasso said.
In her appearance on “Greater Boston,” Rollins said she is eager to take over the duties of US attorney next month, but warned she has limits.
“I want to do this important work,” she continued. “But being a mother and a guardian to my nieces is far more important than being a DA or a US attorney. So the trickle-down effect of hate is potentially violence, and we have to be better than that.”
Ortiz said that, despite the job’s challenges, Rollins should savor the new role.
“The US attorney is not even the highest paid employee of the office,” she said. “But it’s the most incredible and fabulous job that one can have. It’s an honor and a privilege. She’ll have tremendous opportunity to do justice in that position.”
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.