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Fears of violence grow amid threats to election officials, lawmakers

Intimidation and threats to election officials and lawmakers are feeding fears about violence amid calls by President TrumpDonald TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE’s supporters to stop the certification of election results.

Reports about threats began circulating within weeks of the election, with Arizona officials announcing on Nov. 17 that they were looking into an apparent death threat against Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D). 

In Georgia, state lawmakers have come under threat.

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In an interview with The Hill this week, Gabriel Sterling, a top election official in Georgia, criticized President Trump for continuing to “feed the fire” of voter fraud disinformation and urged him to “act more responsibly.” 

Sterling the previous week made an emotional and widely broadcast appeal to Trump and other Republicans to condemn violent threats against election officials. 

“Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot,” he said during a press conference. 

Sterling told The Hill he was motivated to issue his plea after he received a call about a young IT contractor for Dominion Voting Systems who had been targeted with a tweet that included a picture of a noose and accused the contractor of “treason.” 

Trump has promoted a false narrative about Dominion vote counting software deleting or switching Trump votes.

While this claim, among others, has been disputed by election officials and courts, Trump continues to advance allegations of stolen ballots and a rigged election on social media. Twitter has added labels to the posts marking them as misinformation, further infuriating Trump.

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While the president’s legal efforts to overturn the results have been dramatically unsuccessful and his allies have not been able to provide evidence of the widespread fraud he claims cost him the election, millions of his supporters believe them.

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Wednesday found that just a quarter of Republicans say they trust the results of the 2020 election, and a new lawsuit filed by Texas challenging the election results in four key states received backing from more than 100 House Republicans. The Supreme Court threw out the lawsuit Friday, ruling that Texas lacked the legal authority to litigate over how other states conduct elections. 

Hobbs told The Hill that she believes the threats against her and other election officials are the direct result of these “baseless conspiracy theories.”

“They are a symptom of a deeper problem in our state and country – the consistent and systematic undermining of trust in each other and our democratic process,” she added in a statement. 

Georgia state Sen. Elena Parent (D) last week requested police protection after multiple people on social media said she should be killed after she denounced in a hearing Trump’s claims of voter fraud. 

She did so after Cole County (Mo.) Assessor Christopher Estes (R) replied to a Facebook post from Parent that condemned a conspiracy theory, with Estes saying that Parent was enabling a “coup."  

“Illegally removing a legally elected President. Pretty sure that is called treason,” Estes wrote in a since-deleted post. “Punishable by death. I pray to God that these treasonous individuals are uncovered and legally convicted in a court of law.” 

Parent in an email to The Hill said law enforcement agencies had taken the threats to her seriously and "investigated, and provided enhanced personal protection."

But she faulted GOP lawmakers for not taking the threats to her seriously.

“The threats do not seem to be taken particularly seriously by many of my Republican legislative colleagues ... as only a few have reached out, and many are continuing to feed the monster,” Parent told The Hill. “This behavior demonstrates that they are not taking threats seriously.” 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) said that on the night of Dec. 5, dozens of people gathered outside her home to protest Michigan’s certification of the election that gave the state’s electoral votes to Biden. Some of the people were armed.

“The actions of these latest protestors are an extension of the noise and clouded efforts to spread false information about the security and accuracy of our elections that we’ve all endured in the month since the polls closed on November 3,” Benson said in a public statement Sunday criticizing the protesters.

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The Trump campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Hill, though spokesman Tim Murtaugh told Reuters this week that “no one should engage in threats or violence, and if that has happened, we condemn that fully,” adding that the Trump campaign’s lawyers had themselves been “inundated with threats from leftist Biden supporters.” 

The targeting of Benson has prompted questions on what election officials and lawmakers can do to maintain privacy and protect themselves and their families. 

Private security company Abine says it has seen significant growth in sign-ups so far this year for its service, DeleteMe, which allows individuals to remove their personal information from the internet.

Among groups representing law enforcement, courts, judges and domestic violence workers, the group said it has seen a more than 300 percent increase in those seeking its services. 

Some states already provide some privacy protections, including though New Jersey’s recently passed “Daniel’s Law” that shields home addresses and telephone numbers of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers from public disclosure. 

However, Abine co-founder and CEO Rob Shavell said in a statement to The Hill that more can be done to protect personal information of public officials from getting into the wrong hands.

“Personally identifiable information such as property ownership, work location and relatives home addresses are easily available to anyone as they are in the public domain,” Shavell said. “With that information, emotionally charged physical confrontations by social and political activists can rapidly escalate into ones that turn violent.”