The Justice Department has charged a Texas man with making death threats against Georgia officials and state and federal judges when the state’s election practices were at the center of controversy over the 2020 presidential election.
Chad Christopher Stark was arrested in Travis County, Texas, Friday, on an indictment returned earlier this week by a federal grand jury in Atlanta, Justice Department officials said.
The indictment alleges that Stark posted on Craigslist seeking someone willing to kill a Georgia official for $10,000. The offer was part of a lengthy rant leveling unsupported allegations of U.S. election fraud emanating from China.
“Georgia Patriots it’s time to kill [Official A] the Chinese agent - $10,000,” the Jan. 5, 2021, post on the online classified ads site said, according to the indictment. “It’s time to invoke our Second Amendment right it’s time to put a bullet in the treasonous Chinese [Official A]. Then we work our way down to [Official B] the local and federal corrupt judges. It’s our duty as American patriots to put an end to the lives of these traitors and take back our country by force.”
The indictment, which did not identify the targets of the threats by name, also said Clark’s post urged others to visit a third official and “put a bullet her [sic] behind the ears.”
During a speech Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared to allude to the case while vowing to prosecute people who use threats to advance their political agendas.
“Peacefully expressing a view or ideology, no matter how vociferous or how extreme, is protected by the First Amendment. But illegally threatening to harm or kill another person is not. There is no First Amendment right to unlawfully threaten to harm or kill someone,” the attorney general told the U.S. Conference of Mayors at a meeting in Washington, D.C.
“Bitter historical experience has made clear that the time to address threats is when they occur, not after a tragedy has struck,” Garland added. “Today, we are taking law enforcement action to that end.”
Stark is expected to appear in federal court in Austin, Texas, Friday afternoon on the charge, which was brought more than a year after the alleged threats.
Threats to election officials became increasingly common in the run-up to and aftermath of the 2020 election, as election works across the country were ensnared in a web of interlocking conspiracy theories woven by former President Donald Trump and his allies.
At the semi-annual gathering of secretaries of state last summer, secretaries across the country detailed the level of threats they have received since the election. John Keller, a senior Department of Justice official, acknowledged to conference attendees that the department’s response to threats to election workers “has been inadequate.”
In a statement, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — the state’s Republican chief election officer who was targeted by Trump, and whose family received death threats — said: “I strongly condemn threats against election workers and those who volunteer in elections.”
Raffensperger went on to criticize President Joe Biden for comments he made during his Wednesday press conference, where the president said he believed the 2022 election could be illegitimate while talking about efforts to potentially “discard” votes that were cast.
“Lets [sic] be clear: [Biden] was not casting doubt on the legitimacy of the 2022 election,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted on Thursday. “He was explaining that the results would be illegitimate if states do what the former president asked them to do after the 2020 election: toss out ballots and overturn results after the fact.”
Trump has also remained focused on Georgia and continues to spread lies about the state, more than a year after his loss in the state. Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani WIllis requested a grand jury this week to investigate Trump’s efforts to overturn the election in the state. He continued to attack election officials.
“So let me get this straight, I am being investigated in Georgia for asking an Attorney General with many lawyers and others knowingly on the phone to look for corruption, which definitely took place in the Georgia Presidential election—but the people who committed the crime are in no way, shape, or form under investigation and are instead being protected?” he said in a statement less than an hour after Garland spoke.
A June 2021 survey from the Brennan Center for Justice found that about a third of local election officials said they were either very or somewhat concerned about “being harassed on the job” or “feeling unsafe” during the 2020 election cycle.
Longtime election experts described the environment as a “potential crisis for democracy” that could exacerbate retirements in an already strained field.
In a late 2021 interview with POLITICO, Raffensperger said that the threats to him and his family had “tapered off” since the immediate aftermath of the election. “We need to support and protect our local election officials and volunteers now more than ever,” he said in his Friday statement.
In a related development, a Florida man appears set to plead guilty Friday in a case where he was accused of issuing death threats to prominent Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Paul Hoeffer, 60, pleaded not guilty to the charges last month, but is scheduled to appear in federal court in Fort Pierce, Fla., Friday afternoon for a change of plea hearing, according to the court docket.