Missouri man charged with threatening election official

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PHOENIX (AP) — A Missouri man has been indicted for leaving a threatening message on the personal cellphone of the top election official in Arizona’s most populous county, federal officials said.

The case is the second filed in the past month against people accused of threatening top election officials in the battleground state. In late July, a Massachusetts man was charged with threatening to blow up Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs following the 2020 election that saw former President Donald Trump lose in the state. Hobbs is a Democrat now running for governor.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment against Walter Lee Hoornstra, 50, of Tecumseh, on Wednesday. He faces up to five years in federal prison on a charge of making a threatening interstate communication and up to two years in prison for making a threatening telephone call.

Hoornstra is accused of threatening Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer on May 19, 2021. Richer is a Republican who won his seat during the 2020 election and has vigorously defended the county’s election practices and security.

Former President Donald Trump has focused anger over his 2020 loss in Arizona on Maricopa County, and the Republican-controlled state Senate did a much-criticized “forensic audit” of the county’s results last year. The review found no proof of any major issues with the election and a hand-count of ballots confirmed Democratic President Joe Biden’s victory.

Election officials in Arizona and other battleground states have been subjected to threats and intimidation by some Trump supporters since he lost the election.

Richer did not immediately return messages seeking comment, But in a lengthy statement on Twitter, he thanked the FBI, Justice Department and local law enforcement for going after people who threaten him and county election workers.

“Unfortunately, I have PLENTY more to keep them busy,” Richer wrote. “A nd, even worse, so too do some of the non-public facing members of (the recorders and elections office).”

Richer also said he worried that threats like the one he received are becoming more common and he worried about the effects on public officials from from U.S. Supreme Court justices to federal judges, prosecutors, FBI agents and others.

“And yet, violent threats and actions continue to be normalized, or at least swept under the rug, by many “leaders” in society,” Richer wrote. “Anyone who says “oh, but it was just a few of them” or “oh, but they’re normally good people” is contributing to this chilling effect and mob mentality.”

Public court records in Hoornstra’s case that would include a defense attorney who could comment are not yet available. The Justice Department did not disclose if he has been arrested and did not immediately respond to messages.

In late July, the FBI arrested James W. Clark, 38, of Falmouth, Mass., on a three-count indictment that charges him with threatening to explode a bomb in Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ “personal space” if she did not resign.

Clark had an initial appearance in Phoenix federal court on Wednesday where his attorney entered a not guilty plea. The attorney said in a court filing that Clark is indigent and staying in a sober living home in Boston. Assistant Federal Public Defender Jeanette Alvarado did not immediately respond to message seeking comment on Wednesday.

During the hearing, proceedings magistrate Judge John Z. Boyle maintained Clark’s original release conditions and added one, that he not possess firearms or other deadly weapons or explosives. He remains free without bail.

Clark faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of making the bomb threat and five years on each of the other charges, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Attorney General Merrick Garland formed an Election Threats Task Force in June 2021 to focus on threats of violence against elected election officials, workers and and volunteers to ensure they are able to oversee elections free of harassment. The cases against Clark and Hoornstra are part of that effort.

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