‘There Is Nowhere I Feel Safe’: Election Officials Describe Threats Fueled by Trump
WASHINGTON — Arizona’s House Republican speaker Rusty Bowers braced himself every weekend for hordes of Trump supporters, some with guns, to swarm his house and blow up videos calling him a pedophile.
“We had a daughter who was seriously ill, who was upset by what was happening outside,” he said. She died not long after, in late January 2021.
Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia state election official, recalls receiving an animated image of a slowly spinning noose, along with a note accusing him of treason. His boss, Georgia’s foreign secretary, Brad Raffensperger, said Trump supporters broke into the home of his widow, threatening the daughter-in-law and his wife with sexual assault.
And Wandrea Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, two black women who served as election aides during the Georgia pandemic, suffered a bout of racial abuse and went into hiding after Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Donald J. Trump’s attorney, lied that he had lied about that. they had manipulated the election against Mr Trump.
“I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation,” Mrs. Freeman said, her voice rising with emotion, “Do you know what it feels like to have the President of the United States target you?”
Election official after election official testified before the House Jan. 6 Committee on Tuesday in searing, emotional detail how Mr. Trump and his aides unleashed violent threats and revenge on them for refusing to yield to his pressure to reverse the election in his favor to make.
The testimony showed how Mr. Trump and his aides encouraged his followers to target election officials in key states — going as far as posting their personal cell phone numbers on Mr. Trump’s social media channels, which the committee termed as a particularly brazen attempt by the president to remain in power.
The themes of the House Committee hearings on January 6
“Donald Trump disregarded the threats of violence,” said Wyoming Republican Representative Liz Cheney and vice chair of the committee. “He did not condemn them. He made no attempt to stop them. He continued with his false accusations anyway.”
The stakes for the nation, Ms. Cheney warned, were huge. “We cannot allow America to become a nation of conspiracy theories and criminal violence,” she said.
mr. Bowers of Arizona was the first to testify. For nearly an hour, he described the pressure campaign he faced for several weeks after the November 3, 2020 election, after Mr. Trump lost the state. He spoke of the terror he felt when a man bearing the mark of the Three Percenters, an extremist offshoot of the gun rights movement, appeared near him.
“He had a gun and threatened my neighbor,” Bowers said. “Not with the gun, just vocally. When I saw the gun, I knew I had to get close.”
The threats, he said, have been going on for a long time: “Until recently, it is the new pattern, or a pattern in our lives, to worry about what will happen on Saturday. Because there are different groups passing by. have come and they’ve had video panel trucks with videos of me proclaiming I’m a pedophile and a pervert and a corrupt politician and leaving loud speakers in my neighborhood and literature,” he said, as well as arguing with and threatening him and his neighbors.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who rejected attempts to overthrow the state’s voters, described trying to put her young son to bed when she heard a growing noise. Armed protesters with megaphones stood outside her house. “My stomach sank,” she said. “That was the scariest moment, just not knowing what was going to happen.”
Mike Shirkey, the majority leader of Michigan’s Republican-controlled state senate, was subjected to nearly 4,000 text messages from Mr. Trump’s supporters after the president and his campaign released Mr. Shirkey’s personal cell phone number.
“It was a loud, consistent cadence,” testified Mr. Shirkey. “We’ve heard Trump’s people call and ask for voter changes, and ‘You can do this.’ Well, they believed things that weren’t true.”
Ms. Moss, who follows Shaye, and her mother were targeted by Trump supporters after Mr. Giuliani falsely accused them in a Georgia Senate hearing of distributing USB drives such as “bottles of heroin or cocaine” to the elections of mr. Trump.
What her mother actually gave her, Ms. Moss testified Tuesday, was a ginger mint candy.
But Mr. Giuliani’s claim — later put forward by Mr. Trump himself, who referred to Ms. Moss by name more than a dozen times in a conversation with Mr. Raffensperger — went through far-right circles of the internet. Shortly thereafter, the FBI informed Ms. Freeman that it was no longer safe for her to stay in her house.
The urgency of that warning became clear after Trump supporters knocked on the door of Ms. Moss’ grandmother. They broke into her house, claiming they were there to make a citizen’s arrest of her granddaughter.
“This woman is my everything,” Ms. Moss testified of her grandmother. “I’ve never even heard or seen her cry in my life, and she called me screaming at the top of her lungs.”
While they were in hiding, Mrs. Moss and Mrs. Freeman constantly threatened to recall their race, including a comment that Ms. Moss and her mother “should be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920”.
“A lot of them were racist,” Ms Moss said. “A lot of them were just hateful.”
Both women testified that almost two years later they were still haunted by the threat of violence. Ms. Moss recalled listening to the tape of Mr Trump attacking her and her mother and immediately felt “like it was all my fault”.
“I just felt sorry for my mother, and I felt terrible for choosing this job,” she said emotionally. “And being the one who always wants to help and is always there never misses a single election. I just felt like it was – it was my fault for putting my family in this situation.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” California Democrat Representative Adam B. Schiff replied quietly from the podium.
Ms. Freeman testified that she no longer went to the grocery store and got nervous every time she gave her name — once worn proudly bedazzled on T-shirts — for food orders.
“I don’t feel safe anywhere,” Ms Freeman testified. “The President of the United States is supposed to represent every American. Not to target one.”
Aishvarya Kavi and Maggie Haberman reporting contributed.