Nessel, national leaders call out right-wing extremists over threats to election officials

By: - December 16, 2020 3:34 pm

Attorney General Dana Nessel | Whitmer office photo

In light of violence and harassment targeted toward election officials, poll workers, voters and volunteers, the Voter Protection Program (VPP) held a press briefing Wednesday to discuss “this unprecedented moment in U.S. election history.” 

Speakers at the briefing, which included Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, were very clear: These threats of violence will not be tolerated and they will do everything they can to protect election officials.

“Violence and harassment targeted toward election officials, poll workers, voters, and volunteers are mounting across the country as Trump and his allies continue to make baseless claims about voter fraud and the election,” said Joanna Lydgate, national director of VPP. 

Just this week, there have been reports of credible threats of violence suspected of right-wing extremist groups that resulted in the shutting down legislative buildings in Michigan. Earlier this month, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was threatened by armed protesters outside her home.

“Last week, the United States Supreme Court dismissed Texas AG [Ken] Paxton’s absolutely shameful lawsuit that attempted to overturn the election in Michigan and three other swing states. And earlier this week, the electoral college certified President-elect Joe Biden’s win,” Nessel said. “The outcome of the election is now crystal clear: Voters chose Joe Biden as their next president of the United States. … But, despite this fact, an emboldened group of [President] Trump supporters and alt-right extremists are simply refusing to accept the certified election results and they are inflicting violence, threats and harassment towards our election officials and other public officials.”

Nessel said she fully supports the right to peacefully protest, but no one has the right to threaten violence.

“It’s unacceptable that our secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, was met with armed protesters outside of her home a few weeks ago and faced violent threats,” Nessel said. “It’s unacceptable that we were forced to close all of our legislative offices in Lansing on Monday.”

Nessel said she wants to make it clear that they intend to keep election officials safe. Threats against election officials are threats against democracy and each citizen’s right to vote, she said. 

“Our democracy relies on the state and local officials who administer our elections. They are the keepers of our democracy and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude,” she said.

Nessel also discussed an overwhelming amount of threatening phone calls and emails that are being made to her office. She said these calls are interfering with the everyday workings of her office.

“There are many serious COVID-19- related issues going on right now,” she said. “These COVID scans — we need to be able to respond to them. But we can’t because we’re getting so many calls in around the clock about these fraudulent election claims that are being made. It’s really troubling.”

She said these phone calls and emails are disruptive and are many times direct threats.

On Saturday, election-related violence broke out in the streets of Washington, D.C., by the Proud Boys, a western Chauvinist group. As electors cemented Biden’s win this week, threats and intimidation tactics have continued to be made in swing states like Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania.

“Proud Boys [were] in the District of Columbia to protest what they view — wrongly and un-factually — as a ‘stolen election,’” said Karl Racine, District of Columbia attorney general. “The Proud Boys were clearly strategized and intent upon creating havoc in the streets of the District of Columbia.”

Racine said it’s important to note that the leader of the Proud Boys had a tour of the White House Saturday as the group was “picking fights, destroying property and eventually engaged in defacing the property of a church.”

He said two churches in D.C. were defaced and Black Lives Matter posters were taken down and burned.

“Thus far, we have not heard one word from the president of the United States denouncing the actions of the Proud Boys,” Racine said. 

Art Acevedo, Houston police chief, said at the briefing that people should never be threatened for doing their jobs.

Mary McCord, legal director and visiting professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, said these horrible threats — online and in person — are not constitutionally protected. 

“In many cases, such types of threats are also in violation of federal and state criminal laws,” McCord said. “We’re seeing these types of terroristic threats made today not only to election officials, like some of the ones we’ve heard from, but also to public health officials who are trying to enforce public health requirements.”

Nessel said they are investigating threats to the extent that they can. She said if they’re able to identify specific individuals that are perpetrating threats, they intend to prosecute.

“It has to end. It absolutely has to end because it’s undermining democracy,” she said.

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Katie O'Brien Kelley
Katie O'Brien Kelley

Katie O'Brien Kelley is a Michigan State University graduate with degrees in journalism and theatre. She was previously a reporter, editor and podcast coordinator at The State News — Michigan State's award-winning student paper. As a reporter there, she covered the university's administration, including its mishandling of reports against former doctor Larry Nassar's abuse, as well as academics and student experiences. She was also previously an intern at the Lansing City Pulse.