REFORM DEBATE LEADS TO RIGHT-WING THREATS…. It certainly seems as if threats of violence from right-wing activists, targeting members of Congress, have been far more common of late. Apparently, this is not just a perceived shift — there’s been a quantifiable rise.

Anger over the health-care overhaul has led to a nearly threefold increase in recent months in the number of serious threats against members of Congress, federal law enforcement officials said.

The lawmakers reported 42 threats in the first three months of this year, compared with 15 in last three months of 2009, said Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer, who had information about threats involving both chambers. […]

Nearly all of the recent threats appear to come from opponents of the health-care overhaul, said Gainer, who also served four years as chief of the U.S. Capitol Police. And, he said, there have been “significantly more” threats against House members than against senators.

Law-enforcement officials are taking these developments seriously. Not only have there been arrests, but some congressional offices are “receiving additional equipment to help with the screening of mail,” while others are taking renewed security measures to help prevent incidents.

To be sure, there’s a difference in severity among these threats. On the one end of the spectrum we see plenty of messages from unhinged conservatives (letters, emails, voice mails) that include violent rhetoric, most of which are probably random nuts blowing off steam. On the other, we see at least one right-wing activist cutting a gas line at the Charlottesville home of Rep. Tom Perriello’s (D-Va.) brother. In between, conservative extremists have thrown bricks through windows and made specific death threats.

Obviously, this is no laughing matter. But part of me finds a certain macabre humor in the absurdity of it all — there is no modern precedent for a group of American political activists becoming this violent in response to legislation they don’t understand.

I’m not in a position to know the personal details of those responding violently to the Affordable Care Act, but given general demographic information, it’s extremely likely that most of those turning to criminal behavior to express their outrage are also likely to benefit personally from the new law.

There’s just something extraordinary about right-wing extremists reacting violently to bogus arguments.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.