Extremists’ escalation of anti-government rhetoric to physical violence has driven many Americans — including a majority of Republicans — to call for the rioters to be prosecuted. The worry among those pushing for accountability is that failing to punish political violence encourages more of it.
Secretaries of state and other election officials have been frequent targets of violent rhetoric and threats before and after Jan. 6. In a CNN report published Tuesday, several of these officials expressed concerns that the DOJ, led by Attorney General Merrick Garland, isn’t up to the task of protecting them. The report fuels criticism that the DOJ hasn’t moved quickly enough to prosecute political violence.
Take Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state, for example. Last year, armed protesters gathered at her home, shouting threats and obscenities over her refusal to help overturn then-President Donald Trump’s election loss in Michigan.
Benson told CNN she’s troubled by the DOJ’s slow progress in pursuing her harassers:
She said she’s worried because there have not been more arrests. “The lack of accountability means one thing: we have to anticipate that it will continue, and then as we close in on next year’s election and 2024, I think it will simply continue to escalate, unless there are real consequences.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican whom Trump unsuccessfully urged to help overturn Georgia’s election results, said he’s heard of FBI officials knocking on doors to find people who sent him threats. However, there have been no arrests to date.
“Some people have made comments that, ‘It comes with the territory.’ I find that beyond the pale,” Raffensperger told CNN of the threats. “What you’re talking about is not just myself, but you’re also talking about my wife, my daughter-in-law, my family.”
Jena Griswold, Colorado’s Democratic secretary state, reported receiving threats that she’d be hanged or shot. She told CNN that one senior DOJ official, John Keller, told her in August that the department was unequipped to handle all the reports of political threats.
“Just as it is overwhelming for you, especially doing that on a national scale, there is not an infrastructure set up yet to do a full national ongoing review of anything potentially threatening in the election space,” Keller allegedly told Griswold.
In a statement to CNN, Keller said those kinds of threats are normally handled locally, but the DOJ has since provided, “resources, national coordination, training and intelligence, as well as specially designated federal agents and prosecutors in every jurisdiction in the country.”
When Garland announced the DOJ’s efforts to investigate and hamper political threats back in August, he said the department is “under no illusions that our expressions of concern and assignment of law enforcement resources has solved this problem.” This new CNN report shows many election officials are in agreement.
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