In Arizona, a stay-at-home dad and part-time Lyft driver threatened the state’s top election official that if she were convicted of treason, she would be hanged. A child treatment facility employee in Utah alerted Colorado’s election chief that he knew where she lived and was watching her while she slept.
In Vermont, a guy claiming to be a construction worker threatened staff at the state election office and Dominion Voting Systems that they were going to die.
“This might be a good time to put a f‑‑‑‑‑‑ pistol in your f‑‑‑‑‑‑ mouth and pull the trigger,” the man shouted at Vermont officials in a thick New England accent last December. “Your days are f‑‑‑‑‑‑ numbered.”
The three of them had a lot in common. They all presented themselves as Americans battling a plot to deprive Donald Trump of the 2020 presidential election. They are frequent visitors to far-right websites that promote Trump’s stolen-election lies. And no one has been charged with a crime as a result of the law enforcement authorities that have been informed of their threats.
They were among nine persons who told Reuters in interviews that they threatened or left unpleasant messages for poll workers. They are responsible for over two dozen abusive messages to six election officials in four states in total. According to four legal experts who read their texts, seven made clear threats that would place a reasonable person in fear of physical injury or death, which is the U.S. federal bar for criminal prosecution.
These instances provide a unique look at how ordinary individuals with ordinary occupations and lifestyles were politicized to the point of intimidating public authorities. They are part of a larger campaign of terror directed towards frontline workers in American democracy, which has been documented this year. According to legal experts, approximately 800 threatening texts were sent to election authorities in 12 states, with more than 100 of them warranting punishment.
The investigation of the threats also reveals law enforcement’s inertia in reacting to this remarkable attack on the nation’s election apparatus. After widespread intimidation was initially reported in June, the US Department of Justice formed a task force to examine threats against election personnel and said that such instances would be rigorously pursued. However, law enforcement has made nearly no arrests and obtained no convictions.
They did not investigate in numerous situations. Officials said that some texts were too difficult to track down. Other cases were complicated by America’s patchwork of state laws covering criminal threats, which give differing amounts of free speech protection and make municipal authorities in certain areas hesitant to pursue such cases. According to legal analysts, the United States Supreme Court has not established a precise definition of a criminal threat, which adds to the uncertainty.
There was an endeavor to identify and comprehend the individuals responsible for the assaults on election workers. Reporters obtained phone numbers and email addresses for two dozen of the people who threatened workers after submitting public-records requests and interviewing dozens of election officials in 12 states.
They were able to speak with nine of them. They all acknowledged to being the source of the threats or other nasty texts. Eight of them did so publicly, identifying themselves by name.
Six of the seven incidents that legal academics felt may be prosecuted were referred to law enforcement authorities by election officials. The folks who made the threats said they never received a response from police.
All nine harassers examined said they had done nothing wrong. When warned that their communications had terrified authorities or prompted security concerns, just two expressed contrition. The seven others were unapologetic, with several claiming that the threatening letters were justified.
Ross Miller, a Georgia real-estate mogul, informed an official in the Atlanta region that if he didn’t handle voting fraud, he’d be tarred and feathered, hanged, or fired. Miller said in an interview that he will continue to make similar calls “until they do something.” He added: “We can’t have another election until they fix what happened in the last one
The harassers stated sentiments similar to those expressed by rioters who stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, attempting to prevent Democrat Joe Biden from being certified as president. Almost all of those who threatened viewed the nation devolving into a battle between good and evil – “patriots” vs “communists.” They mirrored hardline beliefs espoused by QAnon, a group of illogical conspiracy theories that often paint Trump as a savior figure and Democrats as villains. Some speculated that they were prepared for civil war. Six of the people were in their 50s or older, and all but two were males.
They are a component of a broader national phenomena. State and local governments oversee federal elections in the United States. However, the persons who threatened are targeting personnel in other jurisdictions: seven of the nine harassed officials are from other states. Some targeted election officials in areas where Trump was defeated by large percentages, such as Colorado — or even Vermont, where Biden defeated Trump by 35 percentage points.
“These people firmly believe in the ‘Big Lie’ that the former president legitimately won the election,” said Chris Krebs, who ran the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security. Krebs was fired by Trump last year for declaring that the 2020 election had been conducted fairly. By terrorizing election officials, he said, they’re effectively acting as Trump’s “foot soldiers.”
Representative John Sarbanes, a Democrat from Maryland, sponsored legislation in June to make intimidating, threatening, or harassing an election worker a federal criminal.
“I think we’re on a dangerous path,” Sarbanes said last week when told the threats were continuing with little law enforcement intervention. “We want there to be some effective and sustained push back on this kind of harassment.”
Only one of the nine harassers questioned refused to identify himself: the individual threatening Vermont authorities. Before reporters began questioning him, law enforcement authorities opted not to investigate, as many other agencies have done in comparable incidents around the country.
According to an internal police email acquired via a public-records request, he left three messages with the secretary of state’s office between Nov. 22 and Dec. 1 from a number that state police considered “essentially untraceable.” In one message, the speaker described himself as a Vermont resident.
According to emails and prosecution documents, police did not pursue a case because he did not threaten a particular individual or indicate an impending intention to act. According to conversations with state authorities, a law enforcement source, and an examination of internal police correspondence, state police never interacted with the caller.
In September, reporters attempted to contact him using an untraceable phone number. He confessed threatening Vermont authorities and outlined his ideas in five discussions lasting more than three hours over four days.
He quickly became upset, sending reporters 137 SMS and voicemails in the previous month, threatening them and explaining his election conspiracy beliefs.
On Oct. 17, the individual called the secretary of state’s office again, using the same phone number as in the previous threats. He was more direct this time. Addressing state employees and mentioning the two journalists by name, he promised that everything will be “popped” shortly.
“You guys are a bunch of f‑‑‑‑‑‑ clowns, and all you dirty c‑‑‑suckers are about to get f‑‑‑‑‑‑ popped,” he said. “I f‑‑‑‑‑‑ guarantee it.”
The message was transferred to state police, who refused to investigate once again. According to agency spokesman Adam Silverman, the message did not represent a “unambiguous reference to gun violence,” adding that the word “popped” – common American slang for “shot” – “is unclear and nonspecific, and could be a reference to someone being arrested.”
Legal experts, on the other hand, did not view it that way. According to Fred Schauer, a law expert at the University of Virginia, the letter certainly constituted a criminal threat under federal law by threatening particular persons with gun violence. “There’s certainly an intent to put people in fear,” Schauer said.
According to two local law enforcement officials, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation into the October threat when Vermont authorities were questioned about it.
The FBI refuses to confirm or deny any inquiry into that threat or others mentioned in this article. The agency said in a statement that it takes such activities seriously and works with other law enforcement agencies “to identify and stop any potential threats to public safety” and “investigate any and all federal violations to the fullest.”