Garland Updates Bipartisan Group of Election Officials on Threat Status
WASHINGTON — U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland held a virtual discussion with a bipartisan group of election officials on Wednesday, providing them with an update on the threats that have been investigated and addressed in the past several weeks.
Among the updates, the Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force this past week filed its first charge for interstate threats to kill a government official.
Chad Stark, 54, was charged with one count of communicating interstate threats, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Federal prosecutors accuse Stark of posting a message on Jan. 5, 2021, that stated, “Georgia Patriots it’s time for us to take back our state from these Lawless treasonous traitors.”
According to the indictment, it goes on to urge Georgia residents to “militia up” and calls for shooting several unnamed officials as well as local and federal judges.
Prosecutors did not name the officials in documents filed in federal court in Georgia.
Stark appeared before a federal judge in Austin, Texas, later Friday for an initial appearance, but was asked to enter a plea after he asked the court to appoint him an attorney.
“The Justice Department has a responsibility not only to protect the right to vote, but also to protect those who administer our voting systems from violence and illegal threats of violence,” Garland said in announcing the arrest.
Like the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists loyal to former President Donald Trump, such activities can be tied to the repeated unproven claims by Trump and his allies that widespread fraud cost him the election.
In late November 2020, just weeks after the election, Trump himself called Georgia GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger an “enemy of the people.”
After Stark’s arrest, Raffensperger released a statement condemning threats against election workers and urging support for them “now more than ever.”
Despite Raffenspeger’s statement, the Justice Department has not confirmed whether anyone in Raffensperger’s office was a target of the threats.
Garland and his staff also brought attendees up to date on the task force’s efforts to review the more than 850 reported threats to election officials since the 2020 election.
The alarming number of threats first came to light as the result of an investigative report published by Reuters in December. In their wake, a growing number of states have introduced legislation to protect election workers.
So far three states — Vermont, Maine and Washington — are considering bills to create stricter penalties for those who threaten election workers or make it easier to file charges against those making threats.
In Maine, a new bill would place harsher penalties on individuals who “intentionally interfere by force, violence or intimidation” with someone trying to carry out their election duties.
In Washington, state senators voted to make harassing election workers a felony, with a penalty that could range as high as a five-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.
In Vermont, lawmakers are now considering legislation that would make it easier to prosecute harassers for criminal threats and to toughen penalties when they involve a public worker.
According to the Reuters report, investigators looking into the threats to date have found at least 100 of them “true threat[s],” meaning those that made them could face criminal prosecution.
During the meeting, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta provided the attending officials with updated guidance.
The same guidance was provided to officials who could not attend in a letter under the signature of Kristen Mahoney, acting director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
In it, she told state officials administering the law-enforcement grant program that they could use the funds “to deter, detect and protect against threats of violence against election workers, administrators, officials and others associated with the electoral process.”
The funds will come from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which gives state and local jurisdictions various amounts of money for public safety endeavors based on the states’ population and violent crime rate.
Before Wednesday’s meeting ended, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco committed to continuing the dialogue with the election officials, and assured them the task force will continue to work diligently to investigate threats of violence to the individuals administering free and fair elections throughout the nation.
FBI Director Christopher Wray and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division also participated in the meeting.
The Election Threats Task Force was established on July 29, 2021, and held its first meeting just weeks later.
The attorney general and department leadership first met with the bipartisan group of election officials in August 2021 following the formation of the task force.
“To protect the electoral process for all voters, we must identify threats against those responsible for administering elections, whether federal, state or local,” Deputy Attorney General Monaco said at the time.
“A threat to any election official, worker or volunteer is a threat to democracy. We will promptly and vigorously prosecute offenders to protect the rights of American voters, to punish those who engage in this criminal behavior, and to send the unmistakable message that such conduct will not be tolerated,” she said.
The Justice Department is continuing to solicit the public’s assistance in identifying and reporting suspected threats or acts of violence against election workers.
To report suspected threats or violent acts, contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324). You also may file an online complaint at: tips.fbi.gov.
Complaints submitted will be reviewed by the task force and referred for investigation or response accordingly. If someone is in imminent danger or risk of harm, members of the public are being advised to contact 911 or your local police immediately.
Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue
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