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The Justice Department on Friday arrested a Texas man and charged him with threatening election and other government officials in Georgia, in the first case brought by a task force formed over the summer to combat such threats, according to court records and a department spokesman.
In an indictment, prosecutors alleged that Chad Christopher Stark posted a message on Craigslist on Jan. 5, 2021, saying it was “time to kill” an elections official, whose name is not included in the court documents.
“Georgia Patriots it’s time for us to take back our state from these Lawless treasonous traitors. It’s time to invoke our Second Amendment right it’s time to put a bullet in the treasonous Chinese [Official A]. Then we work our way down to [Official B] the local and federal corrupt judges,” Stark wrote, according to the indictment.
Georgia officials, in particular, were targeted by a flood of hostile messages after officials there refused to back then-President Donald Trump’s bogus claims of election fraud. Trump himself called Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) the “enemy of the people”, and famously urged Raffensperger in a phone call to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat, while Raffensperger and his office’s general counsel rejected Trump’s assertions that the election was rigged.
Georgia, though, was hardly an anomaly. Election officials across the country have warned about an ongoing barrage of criticism and personal attacks, which are prompting some staffers to leave. A study by the Brennan Center released in June found that 1 in 3 election officials feels unsafe because of their jobs.
“It’s bigger than any one individual threat against one election official because the combined atmosphere of threats across the country to election officials is undermining democracy,” said Mary McCord, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law and a former Justice Department national security official, in an interview before Stark’s arrest.
The indictment alleges Stark, of Leander, Tex., referenced three government officials, all of whose names prosecutors obscured.
“It’s our duty as American Patriots to put an end to the lives of these traitors and take back our country by force we can no longer wait on the corrupt law enforcement in the corrupt courts. If we want our country back we have to exterminate these people,” he allegedly wrote.
“One good loyal Patriot deer hunter in camo and a rifle can send a very clear message to these corrupt governors. militia up Georgia it’s time to spill blood … we need to pay a visit to [Official C] and her family as well and put a bullet her behind the ears,” the indictment quotes the message as saying.
A spokesman for Raffensperger’s office said he was not personally aware of the charges but would research the matter. No lawyer was listed for Stark in court records, and efforts to reach his family were not immediately successful.
Some election workers and observers have worried the Justice Department was not moving aggressively enough to prosecute those making threats against election workers and public officials, noting that — until Friday — the task force launched June 25 had not brought a single case.
The task force has made outreach efforts to those on the front lines — conducting more than 20 trainings or other events on threats with state and local law enforcement officers, election workers and social media companies. And in August, Attorney General Merrick Garland convened a virtual discussion with more than 1,400 election officials to talk about the problem.
John Keller, Principal Deputy Chief of Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, said in a written statement that threats against election workers had “historically been handled primarily as a state or local matter, usually without significant federal involvement.”
“This is changing rapidly in response to the surge in threats nationwide since the last election cycle,” he said.
Keller said federal agents and prosecutors in every jurisdiction in the country had been designated to help with threats to election workers, and the task force was “collecting and analyzing the information that’s being reported from a national perspective, trying to develop trends relating to common tactics, actors, and modality.”
Most threats, he said, came in through emails, texts, calls and commentary on social media.
Investigators were focused on building criminal cases, Keller said, and on mitigating threats even if a prosecution did not seem viable.
“What that means is victim outreach and FBI intervention where appropriate, and when a matter does rise to the level of a criminal threat, vigorously investigating the matter with all of our criminal tools and aggressively prosecuting the matter where appropriate,” Keller said.