Former CD1 candidate Saira Rao is leaving Colorado indefinitely following threats over a tweet

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U.S. House candidate Saira Rao speaks as protesters gathered outside of the GEO private immigrant detention facility in Aurora to speak out against child separations in immigration cases, June 14, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

What began as a tweet former congressional candidate Saira Rao said was criticizing white supremacy has ballooned into a series of threats against Rao and her family that are prompting her to leave Colorado indefinitely.

Rao said Monday she will be leaving Denver on Tuesday, citing concerns about her children’s safety after of a barrage of threats stemming from her tweet saying people should give up on white people. In the tweet, she shared a New York Times opinion piece titled, "Should I Give Up On White People?" She added: "Short and long answer: YES."

Rao, who is Indian-American, unsuccessfully challenged incumbent U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in the 1st Congressional District in the primary last month. She plans on spending Monday night with friends before leaving.

“It feels really, really hateful right now,” said Rao, an attorney turned children’s book publisher. “Everyone knows what my kids look like. I just can’t take that risk.”

She said she felt more afraid for children than for her own safety, adding, “This is a cause that I will die for. I am not going to be silent.”

Since her tweet was posted last week, Rao said she has received “vile” comments and indirect death threats from people telling her to “go drown in the Ganges” and suggesting they use her for “target practice.” She said threats have been made on her campaign Facebook page and emailed to her campaign website. She has reported the threats to Denver Police and the FBI.

Rao pointed out she shared the opinion piece “as a private citizen.”

She believes the tweet gained traction after state Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who is white, retweeted her message and said he disagreed with her. Rosenthal tagged Colorado Politics, where a reporter then wrote a story published July 6.

After that, the story was picked up by national outlets including the left-leaning The Root and the right-leaning Breitbart News on July 7. Though she had been receiving comments following her tweet, Rao said the comments intensified after national outlets picked up the story. Her tweet had received more than 300 responses by Monday evening.

She said the reaction to her tweet is essentially proving her point about the need to, “dismantle white supremacy,” which she said is a task white people must undertake.

“I am just disgusted. More than scared, I feel absolutely disgusted,” Rao said.

She has received supportive messages from Democratic attorney general candidate Phil Weiser's campaign and state Rep. Joe Salazar. DeGette's campaign spokesperson provide a statement to Denverite on Monday: “The Congresswoman abhors violence and condemns in the strongest terms possible any such threats.”

Rao said Colorado Democratic Party chairwoman Morgan Carroll emailed her on Monday asking her about security.

“I am not feeling particularly supported. ... I think what all of this has shown is that white supremacy runs very deep in both parties,” Rao said. “... With some respects, I think what the silence shows is they think I deserve this, that I brought this onto myself.”

Rao had previously detailed some of the ways she felt the party had treated her like a second-class citizen.

She told Denverite in May that she felt Democrats in Denver were putting up institutional roadblocks as she challenged DeGette for the party’s nomination, and has expressed disappointment with a party she said has lost touch with minority voters. She said what’s happening now isn’t different than what she had experienced.

“This is the logical conclusion,” Rao said. “This is what they do to us, putting us in our place.”

She doesn’t think she’s acting like a sore loser, as some people criticizing her tweet are suggesting. She accepts she lost the primary but said she won in other ways.

“I see myself as a proud winner,” Rao said. “In terms of being a sore loser, that’s impossible, because I see myself as a proud winner.”

She said she’s especially proud of the “coalition” she said her campaign helped create that included people from underrepresented communities, including African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and young people.

She’s no longer interested in the Democratic Party, adding many of her friends have recently switched to being unaffiliated and said she’s been too busy “packing up” to consider whether she will be leaving the party for good.

She added that she will continue to, “fight against oppression,” but wouldn’t say whether she intends to run for office again, only that she’s unsure what form her “fight” will take in the future. She said she doesn’t have plans to leave the state permanently.

“I am not moving. I remain a proud Coloradan. I love this town and the people in it,” Rao said. “I refuse to be silenced by the small minority of hate mongers.”

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