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Trump’s grievances feed menacing undertow after election

Colleen Long and
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The last throes of Donald Trump’s presidency have turned ugly — even dangerous.

Death threats are on the rise. Local and state election officials are being hounded into hiding. A Trump campaign lawyer is declaring publicly that a federal official who defended the integrity of the election should be “drawn and quartered” or simply shot.

Neutral public servants, Democrats and growing numbers of Republicans who won’t do what Trump wants are being caught in a menacing postelection undertow stirred by Trump’s grievances about the election he lost.

“Death threats, physical threats, intimidation — it’s too much, it’s not right,” said Gabriel Sterling, a Republican elections official in Georgia who implored Trump to “stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.” Trump in response only pressed his groundless case that he lost unfairly, neither discouraging trouble nor explicitly calling for it.

The triggering of emotions has always been a Trump staple. His political movement was born in arenas that echoed with supporters’ chants of “lock her up.” Support was animated over the past four years by his relentlessly mocking ways, his slams against the “enemy of the people,” and his raw talent for belittling political foes with insulting nicknames.

Toxic: But in the last weeks of Trump’s presidency, the tenor has taken on an even more toxic edge as state after state has affirmed Biden’s victory, judge after judge has dismissed his campaign’s legal challenges and Trump’s cadre of loyalists has played to his frustrations. As Biden builds the foundation of his new administration, Trump is commanding attention for the agitations he is likely to carry forward when he is gone from office.

“I do not think this goes away on Jan. 20,” Eric Coomer, security director for Dominion Voting Systems, said from the secret location where is hiding out from death threats. “I think it will continue for a long time.”

Tough beans, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said of the state officials who are fearing for their safety.

“They’re the one who should have the courage to step up,” Giuliani said Wednesday in Michigan. “You have got to get them to remember that their oath to the Constitution sometimes requires being criticized. Sometimes it even requires being threatened.”

For Coomer, the trouble began around the time Trump campaign lawyers falsely claimed that his company had rigged the election.

Far-right chat rooms posted his photo, details about his family and address. “The first death threats followed almost immediately,” he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “For the first couple days it was your standard online Twitter threats, ‘hang him, he’s a traitor.’”

But then came targeted phone calls, text messages and a handwritten letter to his father, an Army veteran, from a presumed militia group saying: “How does it feel to have a traitor for a son?” Even now, weeks later and relocated to a secret locale, Coomer is getting messages from people saying they know what town he has fled to and vowing to find him.

“It’s terrifying,” he said. “I’ve worked in international elections in all sorts of post-conflict countries where election violence is real and people end up getting killed over it. And I feel that we’re on the verge of that.”

This week Joe diGenova, a Trump campaign lawyer, told a radio show that the federal election official who was fired for disputing Trump’s claims of fraud “should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.” This, as election officials and voting-system contractors in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and elsewhere have been subjected to sinister threats for doing their jobs.

“Threats like these trigger an avalanche of them,” said Louis Clark, executive director and CEO of the Government Accountability Project, an organization to protect whistleblowers. Of diGenova, Clark said: “It’s behavior befitting a mob attorney.”

DiGenova later said he was joking. The fired official, Christopher Krebs, wrote in an Op-Ed in The Washington Post: “My lawyers will do the talking, they’ll do it in court. … They’re going to be busy.”

‘Not who we are’: As “Anonymous,” former Homeland Security official Miles Taylor wrote a searing insider account of the Trump administration, prompting Trump to tell his rallies that “very bad things” would happen to this “traitor.” Now Taylor’s identity is known and he’s been assigned a security detail as the Secret Service recommended because of the nature of the threats against him.

“This is unprecedented in America,” Taylor said. “This is not who we are. This is not what an open society is supposed to look like.”

Taylor said intimidation has proved an effective tool to quash dissent. “I spoke to very senior former officials who wanted to come out to tell the truth during the presidential campaign, and many were afraid that it would put their families in harm’s way.”

But such pressure has not silenced some Republicans in Georgia, with telling results.

Intruders have been found on the property of GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has defended the integrity of his state’s election, which resulted in a narrow Biden victory.

Trump last week called Raffensperger an “enemy of the people,” Sterling noted, adding, “That helped open the floodgates to this kind of crap.” In addition to seeing people drive by and come on to his property, Raffensperger’s wife has been getting obscene threats on her cellphone, Sterling said.

Both men have police stationed outside their homes, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said it’s investigating threats against officials to determine their credibility.