Here Are the Threats Terrorizing Election Workers

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Here Are the Threats Terrorizing Election Workers

Incendiary rhetoric by President Trump and his followers is fueling a wave of threats against election workers. Some have received death threats and images of nooses and been told “You’re a traitor.”

Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

By

WASHINGTON — In his urgent demand on Monday that President Trump condemn his angry supporters who are threatening workers and officials overseeing the 2020 vote, a Georgia elections official focused on an animated image of a hanging noose that had been sent to a young voting-machine technician.

“It’s just wrong,” the official, Gabriel Sterling, a Republican, said at a news conference. “I can’t begin to explain the level of anger I have over this.”

But the technician in Georgia is not alone. Far from it.

Across the nation, election officials and their staff have been bombarded this month with emails, telephone calls and letters brimming with menace and threats of violence, the result of their service in a presidential election in which the defeated candidates’s most ardent followers have refused to accept the results.

The noose may be approaching meme status among the recipients of the abuse. Amber McReynolds, the head of the National Vote at Home Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes voting by mail, said she had experienced a spike in online threats since Election Day, when Mr. Trump ratcheted up false claims that fraudulent mail votes had cost him the election. One serial harasser on Twitter, she said, has been especially venomous.

“He sent me a picture of a noose and said ‘You’re a traitor to the American people,’” she said. “All because I run a nonprofit that tries to make voting by mail easier and more secure.”

“I personally have gotten 10 or 12 of those — emails with the nooses, images of people who have been hung,” said the chief election official of one Western state, who refused to be named for fear of drawing even more threats. “They don’t reference anything you’re doing wrong. They’re just, ‘This election was stolen. We know you had something to do with it. We’re going to come for you.’”

That official, like some others, said the threats had been sent not just to high-ranking officials whose profiles have been raised by news media interviews, but to comparatively unknown members of their staffs.

“It’s just wrong,” Gabriel Sterling, a Georgia elections official, said of the threats. “I can’t begin to explain the level of anger I have over this.”
Credit…Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

They are the poisonous fallout of an election in which Mr. Trump has stoked baseless claims of election fraud on a daily basis, his lawyers have peddled conspiracy theories and supporters have called for extralegal actions with the goal of keeping Mr. Trump in power. The president’s own attorney general, William P. Barr, said on Tuesday that the Justice Department had found no evidence of fraud on a scale that could have overturned the results in an election that Mr. Trump lost by a 306 to 232 margin in the Electoral College and almost seven million votes.

Officials in some states refused to confirm threats against their election workers, worrying that acknowledging them would only make the problem worse. But published reports and interviews indicate that officials in battleground states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada and Arizona also have been threatened, as well as election officers in less contested states like Virginia and Kentucky.

In Philadelphia, an aide to a Republican city commissioner was bombarded with abuse shortly after the Nov. 3 vote after a Trump supporter, the former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, singled him out at a broadcast news conference. Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, said last month that she and her family received “utterly abhorrent” death threats after former Vice President Joseph R. Biden won the state’s electoral votes.

And in Phoenix, Adrian Fontes, who supervises elections across Maricopa County, said he and his staff had been threatened in “plenty of instances” in recent weeks. “It’s just not right,” said Mr. Fontes, a Democrat. “And frankly, it’s un-American.”

Not all the threats came from supporters of the president. In Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reported, the Republican chairwoman of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers was pelted with emails containing photos of dead women and threats against her daughter after she initially refused to certify the results of the election last month.

But Mr. Trump and his supporters have unleashed an attack on the election results and procedures with few if any parallels in recent history. Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s recently pardoned former national security adviser, on Wednesday called on the president to declare martial law and order a new election overseen by the military.

Joseph DiGenova, a former United States attorney who is a lawyer for the Trump campaign, was disavowed even by the White House after he said on Monday that Christopher Krebs, the federal cybersecurity official who deemed the November election the most secure in history, should be “taken out at dawn and shot.”

The language reflects the increasingly out-of-bounds rhetoric by some supporters of the president. Steve Bannon, the campaign strategist who briefly served as a Trump adviser, said last month that the F.B.I. director, Christopher Wray, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, perhaps the most trusted federal scientist on coronavirus issues, should be beheaded and their heads placed on pikes outside the White House.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Krebs, hours after his assurance that the election had been secure. Mr. DiGenova later told The Washington Post that his comments were “hyperbole in political discourse.” Mr. Krebs suggested on CNN that he would take legal action against Mr. DiGenova for the statement.

The Trump campaign has responded to charges that it is fomenting violence with a muted denial. A campaign spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, in response to Mr. Sterling’s remarks, said Tuesday that the campaign denounced violence and threats “if that has happened.” The campaign’s primary focus, he said, was on documenting voter fraud.

Mr. Trump has only doubled down on his fraud claims since Mr. Sterling, a voting systems manager in the office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of Georgia, warned that “someone’s going to get killed” if the incendiary rhetoric surrounding Mr. Trump’s accusations did not abate.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump unleashed a 46-minute video full of wild accusations of fraud and tweeted: “Rigged Election. Show signatures and envelopes. Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia.”

Excepting a handful of officials like Mr. Sterling and Mr. Raffensperger, prominent Republicans have said little or nothing about the violent threats that have terrorized election officers across the country. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, has declined requests for comment on Mr. Sterling’s statement.

David J. Becker, the director of the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research, a nonpartisan group that seeks to improve election administration, said he knew of election officials and their families in a half-dozen states who had been forced to ask for police protection and even move out of their homes because of violent threats.

“These threats are frightening,” he said. “These threats often go into areas related to race or sex or anti-Semitism. More than once they specifically refer to gun violence.”

“These people are public servants,” he added. “Disturbing is not a word that comes close to what they are experiencing right now.”

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