Two individuals have admitted their guilt in separate cases where they made alarming calls for harm to befall public officials on the days of elections that followed the 2020 presidential race, as stated by federal prosecutors.
In one instance, Joshua Russell, aged 44 and hailing from Ohio, directed threats towards a specific individual in the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. The Department of Justice disclosed that he referred to this individual as “a traitor to this country.” A voicemail left by Russell on August 2, 2022, coinciding with Arizona’s primary elections, conveyed a menacing message: “America’s coming for you, and you will pay with your life.” Subsequently, he issued two additional threats in September and November. Russell has admitted his wrongdoing, pleading guilty to a single count of making threatening communications that cross state lines.
In a separate case taking place in Georgia, Chad Christopher Stark, aged 55 and a resident of Texas, also pleaded guilty to wrongdoing. On January 5, 2021, he posted a message on Craigslist advocating for the assassination of Georgia’s public officials. Stark’s message carried the assertion, “We’re going to make examples of traitors to our country.” This incident occurred during Georgia’s special Senate runoff elections, a significant event following the prior presidential contest where Democrats unseated two Republican incumbents. It is noteworthy that Joe Biden had emerged victorious in Georgia during the presidential election. Stark has pleaded guilty to a count that pertains to sending threats through a telecommunications device.
The 2020 election aftermath saw a surge in threats aimed at elections officials, largely driven by baseless claims propagated by former President Donald Trump and his supporters, who alleged election fraud. A poll conducted by the Brennan Center indicated that 45% of elections officials reported concerns for the safety of their peers. Moreover, the survey highlighted that one out of three elections officials experienced harassment, abuse, or threats due to their professional roles.
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Joshua Russell faces the prospect of a maximum prison sentence of five years, whereas the charge Stark pleaded guilty to carries a potential sentence of up to two years, according to prosecutors. The sentencing for Russell is scheduled for November 13, while Stark’s sentencing date remains to be determined.
Jazmin Alagha, acting as a federal public defender for Russell, expressed their respect for the legal process and their anticipation of a just outcome. Conversely, no immediate response was received from a defender purportedly representing Stark.
The instances of these two guilty pleas mark the eighth and ninth convictions in a series of cases that emerged following the formation of the Election Threats Task Force by the Department of Justice. This task force was established in response to a spate of threats directed at elections officials post the 2020 election. Since its inception, the task force has filed charges in fourteen cases.
Attorney General Merrick Garland emphasized the importance of a fully operational democracy wherein elections administrators can perform their duties without fearing for their safety. This declaration coincided with the formation of the task force in July 2021, around six months subsequent to the storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Trump, which temporarily disrupted the official process of tallying electoral votes.