As politicians everywhere have called for tolerance amid a wave of violence ahead of the midterm elections, Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo took political civility to new heights on Thursday by standing beside the man who just last week threatened to kill him.
A week after the FBI arrested a teenager from Homestead for saying he would kill Curbelo, the lawmaker and his 19-year-old constituent held a joint press conference during which Curbelo publicly forgave the man, saying he had fallen “into the trap of violent political speech and hateful expression” festering in the country’s political landscape and had no intention of carrying out his threat.
Curbelo, who is running for reelection in Florida’s 26th Congressional district, said the man, Pierre Alejandro Verges-Castro, had apologized for threatening him on Twitter and that he didn’t want the incident to “ruin” Verges-Castro’s life.
“I’m pretty sure he had no idea how serious what he had done was,” Curbelo said. “He does now. I’m grateful to him for being willing to not just learn a lesson himself, but to stand with me here today and to share what has been a difficult experience.”
Verges-Castro, who was registered to vote as an independent in 2016, drew condemnation from the lawmaker after tweeting out, “I will kill Carlos Curbelo,” on Oct. 24, the same day authorities intercepted several suspected mailbombs sent out to prominent Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump. A South Florida man, who is a supporter of Trump, has since been arrested for allegedly mailing the explosive devices.
After meeting for the first time on Wednesday, Curbelo and Verges-Castro appeared together at the Homestead Police Department before gathered media. Curbelo said he did not seek to press charges, but Verges-Castro remained silent during the appearance, citing his ongoing criminal case.
Verges-Castro did not have an attorney present, so his representative in Congress spoke for him.
“I’m going to take some question,” Curbelo said. “Pierre still has an open case with the State Attorney so he will not be speaking today. But once his case is resolved, I’m sure he will have plenty to say.”
Curbelo said the situation should be seen as a learning moment, and as an opportunity to mend political divisions and practice civility and unity.
“What Pierre did is very serious. My wife in particular was disconcerted,” Curbelo said. “We have two young daughters and like any family, we worry about our safety and security, especially in light of all the acts of violence we are seeing throughout our country.
He said Verges-Castro apologized for the threat and “has learned a lesson from this experience.”
“During our conversation, I asked Pierre what led him to express himself in such a hateful way. He mentioned some issues he had in his past. He also mentioned the toxic political culture of our times,” Curbelo said. “While none of this excuses what Pierre did, putting his actions in context makes them easier to understand. We simply cannot continue down this path.”
Curbelo lamented the vilification of opposing politicians in public discourse and in political advertising.
“Let us be respectful and sober in our conversations, our debates, and especially in our social media interactions. Let us reject the voices that seek to divide and conquer, those who put personal and political gain before the good of the country. Let us again be a confident, happy, trusting people and a beacon for all in the world who believe in freedom and democracy,” he said.
“And as for Pierre, I wish him the best. He made a mistake, and his life shouldn’t be ruined because of it. I truly believe in second chances. I am hopeful Pierre will become a model citizen who is now in a unique position to be a part of the force for healing that our community and our country so desperately need. “