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Justice Dept. secures first guilty plea for threats to election workers

Travis Ford, 42, of Lincoln, Neb., posted multiple hostile messages on an Instagram page associated with the official, authorities said

Attorney General Merrick Garland attends a news conference June 13 at the Justice Department in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
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A Nebraska man pleaded guilty Thursday on charges that he threatened an election official over social media last year, marking the first conviction for a Justice Department task force charged with protecting poll workers.

Federal authorities said Travis Ford, 42, of Lincoln, Neb., posted multiple hostile messages on an Instagram page associated with the official, who was not named in a Justice Department news release.

“Do you feel safe? You shouldn’t. Do you think Soros will/can protect you?” Ford wrote in one August 2021 message, apparently referring to Democratic megadonor George Soros, who has long been the subject of false conspiracy theories from far-right and anti-Semitic groups.

In another posting, Ford wrote: “Your security detail is far too thin and incompetent to protect you. This world is unpredictable these days … anything can happen to anyone.” He is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 6 and faces up to two years in prison, the Justice Department said.

“The Justice Department will not tolerate illegal threats of violence against public officials,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “Threats of violence against election officials are dangerous for people’s safety and dangerous for our democracy.”

Elections officials say they fear for their personal safety: 'We are in harm's way'

In July 2021, the Justice Department launched a task force, led by Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, aimed at combating threats of violence against election workers, part of a broader effort to ensure the right to vote. In a memo to federal prosecutors, Monaco cited a “significant increase” in the number of threats against poll workers.

The task force has charged at least two other people with crimes.

Federal prosecutors in January charged a Texas man with threatening election and other government officials in Georgia, alleging that Chad Christopher Stark, 54, posted a message on Craigslist on Jan. 5, 2021, saying it was “time to kill” an official, whose name is not included in the court documents.

In the same week, Gjergi Luke Juncaj, 50, of Las Vegas was charged after allegedly telling an election official she was “going to f------ die” for stealing the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump — propagating a false conspiracy theory of widespread election fraud promoted by Trump and his allies without evidence.

In Ford’s case, federal authorities said he also posted similar messages on Instagram pages associated with President Biden and another public figure.

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