He noted that a 20-year-old contractor for Dominion Voting Systems has been besieged with online attacks after QAnon supporters falsely claimed a video showed him manipulating voting data, when he was in fact simply using a computer and thumb drive.
Similar threats have cropped up across the country since Election Day.
In Arizona, authorities are investigating calls for violence against the family and staff of Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D). In Vermont, state election officials received multiple voice mails Tuesday from an individual who urged violence against the staff — including execution by firing squad, according to the secretary of state’s office.
“When it rises to the level of obscenities being shouted at my staff on a regular basis, or threats of physical violence, it has gone too far,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos (D) said in a statement to The Washington Post. “The conspiracy theories and unfounded rhetoric being pushed by the President and his team only serve to inspire this dangerous behavior, and deepen the divide between the American people — THIS HAS TO STOP.”
Condos said his office has notified law enforcement, which is now investigating the incident, which he said was part of “a pattern of vitriolic, often obscene, calls that our staff have had to endure during this election year.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that the president condemns violence, adding that there have been threats against Trump’s lawyers.
“We condemn any threats against anyone. There’s no place for violence,” McEnany said, adding: “We’re seeing that happen to people on both sides of the argument. And there’s no place for that ever, anywhere.”
But later in the day, Trump released a 46-minute taped address from the White House in which he repeated baseless claims that President-elect Joe Biden stole the election through fraud — promoting the same conspiracy theories that have led to the targeting of election workers.
He also filed yet another legal challenge attempting to challenge the results, this time a federal lawsuit in Wisconsin arguing that state officials ran the election so poorly it amounted to a constitutional violation.
The president’s allies also kept up their attacks. In Georgia, attorneys Sidney Powell and L. Lin Wood held a rally attacking Sterling and other Georgia Republicans for certifying Biden’s narrow victory in the state. They called for the resignation of Gov. Brian Kemp and his lieutenant, both Republicans, and for the imprisonment of Kemp for accepting the outcome of the presidential election.
During the event, which was watched by at least 330,000 people online, they reiterated several false claims about the election results, the recount and the machines used to scan ballots. Wood urged attendees to drive to Kemp’s house and demand a special legislative session in an effort to overturn the results, as the crowd cheered, “Lock him up.”
Meanwhile, in Lansing, Mich., Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani urged state Republicans to get legislators to embrace his unverified claims of fraud.
“You have to get them to remember that their oath to the Constitution sometimes requires being criticized,” Giuliani added. “It sometimes even requires being threatened. But you don’t back off of an oath because a vote is too hard.”
Veteran election administrators warned Wednesday that the vitriolic rhetoric has far-reaching consequences.
“How the heck are we going to recruit election workers and election administration officials going forward if they think they’re going to get death threats online and in person?” said Christopher Krebs, former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, during a Washington Post Live event on Wednesday. “This has got to stop.”
Krebs, who was fired on Nov. 17 after he rebutted Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud, called death threats and other harassment “un-American and undemocratic.”
“We’re actively undermining democracy. We’re actively undermining confidence in the electoral process,” he said.
Trey Grayson, a Republican former Kentucky secretary of state and former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, said that “the fact that folks who are either volunteering or are not getting paid very much are receiving death threats is horrible.”
“And it really bothers me because the threats are coming from my political party,” Grayson said during a National Task Force on Election Crises briefing for reporters. “It really offends me. It’s something we’ve got to work on, to get through this.”
The National Association of Secretaries of State said it has seen an unusual number of attacks against election officials this year, noting they have been widespread and not just concentrated in swing states. The group has urged election officials to share any threats with law enforcement in their state.
Election officials said they were concerned that efforts to fan conspiracy theories and the anger Trump is fomenting among voters could lead to actual acts of violence.
“Many people don’t believe those things. But those that do, when you hear about the scope and extent of what they’re alleging, someone who did believe those things would potentially — in an act of desperation, considering what they believe are the stakes — try to stop these things from happening,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat.
Simon said that while neither he nor his office had received direct threats, people have identified his wife and sister on social media and harassed them. That was the first time such incidents happened since he took office in 2015, he said.
“People can have passionate arguments and debates during campaigns, but democracy depends on a shared reality,” he said. “Some of what is being said and done out there in the aftermath of this election is just so poisonous and corrosive to that shared sense of reality — and it has to stop.”
Conservatives have also been targeted with threats. In Michigan, attorney Ian Northon, who represents the Thomas More Society, a conservative nonprofit that has filed lawsuits challenging the election results, said he had received threats and hateful emails. And Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) is investigating threats against members of the Wayne County canvassing board, a spokesman confirmed Wednesday.
The board drew national attention when its Republican members at first refused to agree to certify the county’s vote, then relented.
Current and former election officials said Trump has played a leading role in fanning distrust of the country’s voting system by spreading misinformation.
Last month, Hobbs criticized the president and other elected leaders amid what she said were “ongoing and escalating” threats of violence against her family and her staff.
“It is well past time that they stop,” Hobbs said at the time. “Their words and actions have consequences.”
Spokeswoman Sophia Solis said the threats are ongoing, but declined to provide further details while they remain under investigation.
Amber McReynolds, chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute, which works to expand vote-by-mail options, called Trump’s video address Wednesday “dangerous, destructive, and damaging to our democracy and our trust in elections.”
McReynolds, a former director of elections in Denver, was sent an image of a noose and a message calling her “a traitor” via Twitter last week. She said it was unbelievable that election administrators have become such targets of hatred.
“These people are dedicated public servants. They are not partisan hacks,” she said. “It is ridiculous that more elected officials aren’t responding to this craziness.”
One of the few Republican officials to speak out has been Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who expressed support Wednesday for Sterling’s rebuke of Trump and other GOP leaders.
“He spoke with passion, and he spoke with truth. It’s about time that more people are out there speaking with truth,” Raffensperger said.
The secretary of state chided the president for doubling down on his rhetoric after Sterling’s plea for Trump to temper the volatile environment.
“Even after this office requested that President Trump try and quell the violent rhetoric, being born out of his continuing claims of winning states where he obviously lost, he tweeted out: ‘Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia,’ ” Raffensperger said, referring to a Trump tweet from Tuesday night. “This is exactly the kind of language that is at the base of growing threat environments of election workers who are simply doing their jobs.”
Biden won Georgia by 12,670 votes, a narrow margin that led to a manual hand recount, which reaffirmed his win. Raffensperger and Kemp certified Biden’s victory, but Trump requested a machine rescan of the ballots. That second recount is scheduled to conclude Wednesday night. Georgia taxpayers are footing the bill for both recounts.
Raffensperger noted that U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr announced that he had seen no evidence of widespread fraud that could affect the outcome of the November election. The Justice Department has “had multiple investigations, like us,” Raffensperger said. “And our investigators have seen no widespread fraud, either.”
Tom Hamburger in Detroit and Rosalind S. Helderman, Joseph Marks, Elise Viebeck and Tobi Raji contributed to this report.