Right-wing terrorism in 2023: Judiciary, election officials receive death threats

Domestic terrorism motivated by right-wing ideology has been on the rise since 2015, coinciding with the candidacy of Donald Trump and increasingly inflammatory Republican rhetoric. The trend arguably peaked in January 2021 with the attack on the Capitol but the threat has not abated. With Trump running for president again and the GOP becoming more extreme than ever before, Americans need to be aware of the danger right-wing terrorism poses to citizens, democracy, and the justice system.

Below is a collection of recent right-wing threats. It is not comprehensive.

Threats to government officials

An armed man was arrested after twice going to the Wisconsin Capitol demanding to see Gov. Tony Evers (D). Joshua Pleasnick, 43, showed up at the security desk outside of the governor’s Capitol office with a holstered handgun and a leashed dog, demanding to speak to the governor. He was arrested and posted $500 bail. He then returned to the Capitol with a loaded AK-47 that night. Officers took Pleasnick into protective custody and hospitalized due to concerning statements he made to officers:

“While being interviewed Pleasnick said he would continue coming to the Capitol until he spoke to the Governor about domestic abuse towards men,” a report obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said. “Pleasnick stated he did not own a vehicle and it is likely he has access to a large amount of weapons and is comfortable using them.”

A January 6th insurrectionist was arrested outside of former President Obama’s house in July. Taylor Taranto, 37, of Washington state, showed up outside the Obama home with two guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. According to court documents, Taranto got the address from former President Trump’s Truth Social post. He was allegedly looking for “entrance points” and tunnels between Tony Podesta’s house and the Obama’s.

Taranto was charged with two felony charges of carrying a pistol without a license and possession of a large-capacity ammunition feeding device, as well as four misdemeanors related to the January 6th insurrection.

Craig Deleeuw Robertson

An armed Utah man was killed at his home by FBI agents attempting to serve an arrest warrant for making threats against President Biden. Craig Deleeuw Robertson, 75, made numerous online posts featuring firearms accompanied by messages like “death to Joe Biden” and “The time is right for a presidential assassination or two. First Joe then Kamala!!!” in 2022. The FBI got an arrest warrant after Robertson posted, “I hear Biden is coming to Utah. Digging out my old ghillie suit and cleaning the dust off the M24 sniper rifle. Welcome, Buffoon-in-chief,” just three days before Biden was set to arrive in Salt Lake City on August 9, 2023.

According to an eyewitness, FBI agents attempted to arrest Robertson but he refused to comply. Agents claim that after they breached the house, Robertson allegedly pointed a .357 at law enforcement, and they opened fire, killing him.

  • Robertson also threatened New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg, saying “I want to stand over Bragg and put a nice hole in his forehead with my 9mm and watch him twitch as a drop of blood oozes from the hole as his life ebbs away to hell!!”; New York Attorney General Letitia James, saying, “Letitia James a sniper’s bullet does not recognize your qualified immunity b/tch”; U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, posting “Merrick Garland eradication tool” with a picture of a firearm; and California Governor Gavin Newsom, saying, “Another patriotic dream…I’m standing over Gavin Newsom with a wound above his brow and my suppressed S&W M&P 9mm still smoking.”

A 19-year-old man repeatedly rammed a U-Haul truck into a barrier that protects the White House in May in an effort to “overthrow the government and replace it with an authoritarian regime fueled by Nazi ideology.” Sai Varshith Kandula, of Missouri, was originally arrested for assault with a dangerous weapon, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, destruction of federal property, and threatening to kill, kidnap, or inflict harm on the president. However, prosecutors filed only one charge, destruction of U.S. property in excess of $1,000, to hold him in jail.

A magistrate judge denied Kandula bond, saying he presented a threat to the community:

Kandula told investigators his plan was to “get to the White House, seize power and be put in charge of the nation.” He told them he would “kill the president if that’s what I have to do and would hurt anyone that would stand in my way.”

Kandula told investigators he purchased the Nazi flag online because the “Nazi’s have a great history.” Kandula told them he looked up to Adolf Hitler and called him a “strong leader” and said he admired the Nazis’ authoritarian nature and support of eugenics.

Kandula also had a green book that detailed plans to harm family members and others, and contained the speech he was planning to give, according to court records. He said he had been working on his plan for six months.

Threats to the judiciary

A Texas woman was charged with threatening to kill the federal judge overseeing Trump’s trial for attempting to overturn the 2020 election. Abigail Jo Shry, 43, left a threatening voicemail for Judge Tanya Chutkan on August 5, calling her a “stupid slave n—” and threatening to kill her and her family if “Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024.”

The caller’s introduction stated, “Hey you stupid slave nigger,” after which the caller threatened to kill anyone who went after former President Trump, including a direct threat to kill Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, all Democrats in Washington D.C. and all people in the LGBTQ community. The caller further stated, “You are in our sights, we want to kill you,” and “We want to kill Sheila Jackson Lee.” “If Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly, bitch.” The caller continued with their threats, stating, “You will be targeted personally, publicly, your family, all of it.”

Shry, who had been charged with different instances of criminal mischief and misdemeanor threats in the past year, was ordered detained until her next hearing.

Trump has publicly attacked Chutkan, calling her “highly partisan” and “very biased and unfair” for past comments assigning him the blame for the January 6 insurrection.

Chutkan isn’t the only judge facing death threats for overseeing a case involving Donald Trump: Judge Bruce Reinhart, a magistrate judge for the Southern District of Florida, has been a target on far-right social media platforms for signing off on the warrant to search Mar-a-Lago.

Multiple members of these toxic online communities are even posting what appears to be Judge Bruce Reinhart’s home address, phone numbers, and names of his family members alongside threats of extreme violence.

“This is the piece of shit judge who approved FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago,” a user wrote on the pro-Trump message board formerly known as TheDonald. “I see a rope around his neck.” […]

In another post on the same message board, one user commented, “Let’s find out if he has children….where they go to school, where they live…EVERYTHING.”

Prosecutors who brought charges against Trump have also found themselves the subject of death threats:

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought falsifying business records charges against Trump, twice received letters containing white powder and death threats. “ALVIN: I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!” the letter said.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who brought state charges against Trump and his allies, received 150 personal threats in the two months following the indictments. One of the individuals responsible for leaving voicemails threatening violence to Willis was indicted just last week—Arthur Ray Hanson, 59, of Alabama, was charged with transmitting interstate threats to injure Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat.

  • Members of the grand jury that indicted Trump were also targeted.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is pursuing a civil fraud lawsuit against Trump, has also received death threats. “It’s rather unfortunate and I’m very much concerned that individuals, lone wolfs, will obviously resort to violence,” she said.

Threats to election officials

Mark A. Rissi, 64, of Iowa, received a 2.5-year prison sentence for two counts of making interstate threats. Rissi pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Maricopa County Board of Supervisors official Clint Hickman and then-Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) over their defense of the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

Voicemail left by Rissi: “Hello Mr. Hickman, I am glad that you are standing up for democracy and want to place your hand on the Bible and say that the election was honest and fair. I really appreciate that. When we come to lynch your stupid lying Commie [expletive], you’ll remember that you lied on the [expletive] Bible, you piece of [expletive]. You’re gonna die, you piece of [expletive]. We’re going to hang you. We’re going to hang you.”

Voicemail left for Brnovich: “This message is for Attorney General Mark Brnovich . . . . I’m a victim of a crime. My family is a victim of a crime. My extended family is a victim of a crime. That crime was the theft of the 2020 election. The election that was fraudulent across the state of Arizona, that the Attorney General knows was fraudulent, that the Attorney General has images of the conspirators deleting election fraud data from the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors computer system. Do your job, Brnovich, or you will hang with those [expletive] in the end. We will see to it. Torches and pitchforks. That’s your future, [expletive]. Do your job.”

A Texas man pleaded guilty to posting online messages threatening to kill Georgia officials the day before the January 6th insurrection. Chad Christopher Stark, 55, posted a message to Craigslist advocating that “Georgia Patriots…invoke our Second Amendment right” to “exterminate” unnamed election officials as well as “local and federal corrupt judges.”

“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. . . . If we want our country back we have to exterminate these people. One good loyal Patriot deer hunter in camo and a rifle can send a very clear message to these corrupt governors.. milita up Georgia it’s time to spill blood…. we need to pay a visit to [Official C] and her family as well and put a bullet her behind the ears. Remember one thing local law enforcement the key word being local….. we will find you oathbreakers and we’re going to pay your family to visit your mom your dad your brothers and sisters your children your wife… we’re going to make examples of traitors to our country… death to you and all you communist friends.”

An Ohio man pleaded guilty to sending a death threat to an election official with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office during the state’s 2022 primary elections. Joshua Russell, 44, was upset over the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

“This message is for traitor [Victim-1’s full name]. You’ve drug your feet, you’ve done nothing, to protect our election for 2020. You’re committing election fraud, you’re starting to do it again, from day one. You’re the enemy of the United States, you’re a traitor to this country, and you better put your sh[inaudible], your [expletive] affairs in order, ’cause your days [inaudible] are extremely numbered. America’s coming for you, and you will pay with your life, you communist [expletive] traitor [expletive].”

A Texas man was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for threats he made to Arizona officials on far-right social media platforms. Frederick Francis Goltz, 52, pleaded guilty in April to interstate threatening communications targeting officials in Maricopa County—one of the centers of Donald Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theory.

In plea papers, Mr. Goltz admitted that on Nov. 21, 2022, he posted [Maricopa County Attorney’s Office] lawyer’s name, purported home address, and purported telephone number on social media along with the sardonic comment, “It would be a shame if someone got to [sic] this children. There are some crazies out there. This kind of info shouldn’t be readily available on the internet.” On the same date, in response to another post referring to other Maricopa County officials, Mr. Goltz said, “Someone needs to get these people AND their children. The children are the most important message to send.”

Just two days later, according to court records, Mr. Goltz responded to a post about the elections official with the comment, “He’s got a WIFE that is a lawyer, too. We need to find out her name and where she works. I don’t think he has kids, but I’m not 100% on that.” When another user commented that kids should be “off limits,” Mr. Goltz responded by saying, “NOTHING is off limits. It’s people like you that are supposedly with us, who don’t have the stomach to do what it takes to get our country back.”

Threats to schools and hospitals

Libs of TikTok is a Twitter account with 2.6 million followers run by a former Brooklyn real estate agent named Chaya Raichik. For nearly two years, Raichik has used the account to target the LGBTQ+ community, publishing slurs like “groomer” and “pedophile,” and spreading dangerous misinformation about gender-affirming care.

As part of her hate campaign, Raichik falsely accused children’s hospitals of abusing minors by providing gender-affirming care and attacked schools for supporting LGBTQ+ students. Her lies, boosted by rightwing media, resulted in numerous violent threats and months of harassment:

Catherine Leavy of Massachusetts pleaded guilty last month to making a false bomb threat to Boston Children’s Hospital weeks after Libs of TikTok began posting misinformation about the center’s transgender care program. In just four months last year, Boston Children’s was targeted by four separate bomb threats.

At least 24 hospitals and healthcare providers, including Boston Children’s, in 21 different states over 4 months were threatened and harassed as part of coordinated campaigns involving Libs of TikTok. “Accounts like Libs of TikTok engage in stochastic terrorism, waging violent hate and harassment campaigns, spreading lies, disinformation, and violence, while ignoring science, medicine, and research,” a report by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation said. “They sit safely behind their keyboards while transgender and non-binary people must live with the consequences of their violent rhetoric, and medical providers live in fear for the ‘crime’ of supporting transgender and gender non-conforming people.”

During the first four months of 2022, Libs of TikTok targeted “at least 222 schools, education organizations, or school system employees” for teaching about gender identity, honoring student pronouns, holding Pride events, and stocking libraries with books containing LGBTQ+ themes. Almost a dozen schools received bomb threats after being attacked by Libs of TikTok, including most recently bomb threats in Oakland, CA, and Tulsa, OK.

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