Ohio Man Jailed for Death Threats to Arizona’s Top Election Official

‘AMERICA’S COMING FOR YOU’The Grand Canyon State has become an epicenter for election-related threats in recent years, with one official remarking, “We don’t really want to be a leader in this space.”Published Mar. 25, 2024 10:55PM EDT Rebecca Noble/Getty ImagesAn Ohio man who in 2022 threatened to kill Katie Hobbs, now Arizona’s governor but then its secretary of

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‘AMERICA’S COMING FOR YOU’

The Grand Canyon State has become an epicenter for election-related threats in recent years, with one official remarking, “We don’t really want to be a leader in this space.”

AJ McDougall

U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Gary Restaino speaks alongside FBI Phoenix FIeld Office Special Agent in Charge Akil Davis

Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

An Ohio man who in 2022 threatened to kill Katie Hobbs, now Arizona’s governor but then its secretary of state, was sentenced on Monday to two and a half years behind bars, a hefty sentence that comes amid a federal crackdown on election-related threats.

Joshua Russell, 46, of Bucyrus, Ohio, acknowledged leaving three voicemails with Hobbs’ office accusing her of fraud at the height of election season. “America’s coming for you, and you will pay with your life, you communist [expletive] traitor [expletive],” he said in the first message, according to a Department of Justice news release.

In another, sent three months later, Russell warned Hobbs, “A war is coming for you. The entire nation is coming for you. And we will stop, at no end, until you are in the ground. You’re a traitor to this nation. You’re a [expletive] piece of [expletive] communist, and you just signed your own death warrant. Get your affairs in order, cause, your days are very short.”

He pleaded guilty last year to one count of making a threatening interstate communication, the department said. At his sentencing on Monday, Russell told the judge that he “was looking for an outlet to cast my inner turmoil onto,” and hugged his family before being led away by officers, according to the Associated Press.

Russell is just one of roughly 20 individuals charged in cases brought by the U.S. Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force, which is actively reviewing dozens more potential cases.

“There is no Constitutional right to vigilantism,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Gary Restaino said. “There is a common denominator in many of these cases: Election denialists announcing an intent to violently punish those they believe have wronged them, often with the threat of arrests leading to executions for treason.

“Let these cases be a lesson not to take or attempt to take the rule of law into one’s own hands,” he added.

Seven of the election-related threat cases involve the targeting of officials in Arizona, where Restaino appeared at a news conference on Monday alongside John Keller, the task force’s head, and Akil Davis, the special agent in charge at the FBI’s Phoenix field office.

“This group of Arizona election officials, like election officials across the country, have faced an onslaught of unfounded hostility for nothing more than dutifully and reliably doing their jobs,” Keller said. “Attacks on these officials are attacks on the very foundation of our democracy: our elections.”

“We don’t really want to be a leader in this space,” Restaino added. “But we are. And we’re out there engaging.”

So far, 13 defendants have been convicted, and 10 sentenced, with seven receiving prison terms longer than 18 months. Sentences handed down have ranged from 30 days to three and a half years, the Justice Department said.

The highest sentence—three and a half years in federal prisons—has been given to two defendants thus far: James Clark, 40, and Frederick Goltz, 52. Clark, a Massachusetts man, pleaded guilty to making a bomb threat against Hobbs in 2021, warning her through an online form that she had to “resign by Tuesday Feb. 16 by 9 a.m. or the explosive device impacted in her personal space will be detonated.” Goltz, of Texas, pleaded guilty to threatening several Maricopa County officials on far-right social media platforms, saying he was “willing to take lives,” and adding, “This means their children are not off limits, either.”

The U.S. saw a spike in threats against election officials after Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election and began claiming it had been stolen from him. One in six local election officials has reported being threatened since then, according to a 2022 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice. One in three know at least one colleague who has resigned over safety concerns, increased threats, or intimidation.

“We are seeing resignations from election officials across the country,” Keller said.

He cautioned Monday that “prosecution alone is not the answer,” however, as Americans’ constitutional rights protect all but a few narrow exceptions to their freedom of speech. As a result, the “vast majority” of tips reported to the task force did not result in charges, Keller said.

Restaino called for a return to civility in his state as the 2024 presidential election heats up. “We used to be so very good in Arizona at engaging with each other in a respectful and professional manner,” he said. “I hope we can get back to that.”

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