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Armed protesters gather at Michigan secretary of state's home

Men with guns gathered outside Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's home. To see incidents like these as isolated is to miss the larger pattern.
Image: Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson speaks in support of the United States Postal Service (USPS) outside of a post office in Detroit
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson speaks in support of the United States Postal Service in Detroit, Michigan, on Aug. 18, 2020.Rebecca Cook / Reuters file

Last week, Gabriel Sterling, a conservative Republican who helps oversee Georgia's elections operations, delivered an impassioned plea to Donald Trump and GOP leaders to stop attacking the United States' elections. "It has all gone too far," he said. "All of it."

The Georgian specifically implored Trump to "step up," adding, "Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is going to get hurt, someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed. And it's not right."

Not long after Sterling's impromptu remarks generated attention, the outgoing president, unsatisfied with having inspired violent threats, doubled down on his ugly and baseless campaign, publishing a tweet in response to Sterling, falsely insisting that Georgia's election was "rigged" and marred by "massive fraud."

It was the sort of response that seemed likely to inspire more threats. The result, alas, was predictable.

Dozens of armed people gathered outside Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's home over the weekend "shouting obscenities" and threatening violence in an effort to overturn the presidential election results in the state, she said Sunday. Benson and her 4-year-old son had just finished decorating their home for Christmas and were about to watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" when the group arrived, she said in a statement.

"The demands made outside my home were unambiguous, loud and threatening," she said. "They targeted me in my role as Michigan's Chief Election Officer. Through threats of violence, intimidation and bullying, the armed people outside my home and their political allies seek to undermine and silence the will and voices of every voter in this state, no matter who they voted for."

To see incidents like these as isolated is to miss the larger pattern. The Washington Post reported last week, "Intensifying attacks on the integrity of the vote by President Trump and his allies are fueling deep alarm among state and local officials, who have watched with dread in recent weeks as election workers have been targeted by fast-spreading conspiracy theories."

Gabriel Sterling helped shine a light on threats against election officials in Georgia, and armed protesters showed up at Jocelyn Benson's Michigan home last night. But Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) has also reportedly been the target of violent threats, and Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos (D) said last week that election officials in his state have received related messages.

"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," Condos said in a statement. "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."

Hopefully, as Joe Biden's inauguration draws closer, the threats against state election officials will subside, and the madness will dissipate without anyone getting hurt. But it's hard not to wonder about the effects of such intimidation tactics.

A separate Washington Post report added last week, "The threats, many of which were sparked by baseless claims of fraud by President Trump and his allies, could make it tougher to staff polling places. The threats could also make it harder for people who do show up to focus on the complexities of their work – or force officials to make election work less transparent and accessible because of security concerns."

About a month ago, a senior Republican official said, in reference to Trump's anti-election attacks, "What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?"

Maybe Republicans ought to hear the answer to that question from Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and her 4-year-old child who had no idea why men with guns were shouting outside their home last night.