WASHINGTON — Arizona’s House Republican speaker Rusty Bowers braced himself every weekend for hordes of Trump supporters, some with guns, to swarm his house, showing videos calling him a pedophile.
“We had a daughter who was seriously ill, who was upset by what was happening outside,” he said. She died not long after, in late January 2021.
Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia state election official, recalls receiving an animated image of a slowly spinning noose, along with a note accusing him of treason. His boss, Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, said Trump supporters broke into the home of his daughter-in-law widow and threatened his wife with sexual assault.
And Wandrea Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, two black women who were election workers during the Georgia pandemic, suffered a bout of racial abuse and went into hiding after President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani lied that they had rigged the election against Trump.
“I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation,” Freeman said, her voice rising with emotion, “Do you know what it feels like to have the President of the United States target you?”
Election official after election official testified before the House Committee on Jan. 6 on Tuesday in searing, emotional detail about how Trump and his aides unleashed violent threats and revenge on them for refusing to yield to his pressure to overturn the election in his favor.
The testimony showed how Trump and his aides encouraged his followers to target election officials in key states — going as far as posting their personal cell phone numbers on Trump’s social media channels, which the committee cited as a particularly brutal attempt by the president to cling to. to power.
“Donald Trump didn’t care about the threats of violence,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vice chair of the committee. “He did not condemn them. He made no attempt to stop them. He continued with his false accusations anyway.”
The stakes for the nation, Cheney warned, were huge. “We cannot allow America to become a nation of conspiracy theories and criminal violence,” she said.
Bowers of Arizona was the first to testify. For nearly an hour, he described the pressure campaign he faced for several weeks after the November 3, 2020 election, after Trump lost the state. He spoke of the terror he felt when a man bearing the mark of the Three Percenters, an extremist offshoot of the gun rights movement, appeared near him.
“He had a gun and threatened my neighbor,” Bowers said. “Not with the gun, just vocally. When I saw the gun, I knew I had to get close.”
The threats, he said, have been going on for a long time: “Until recently, it’s been the new pattern, or a pattern in our lives, to worry about what’s going to happen on Saturday. Because different groups come along. , and they’ve had video panel trucks with videos calling me a pedophile and a pervert and a corrupt politician and blaring loudspeakers and leaving literature in my neighborhood,” he said, as well as arguing with and threatening him and his neighbors.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who rejected attempts to overthrow the state’s voters, described trying to put her young son to bed when she heard a growing noise. Armed protesters with megaphones stood outside her house. “My stomach sank,” she said. “That was the scariest moment, just not knowing what was going to happen.”
Mike Shirkey, the majority leader of the Republican-controlled Michigan state senate, was subjected to nearly 4,000 text messages from Trump’s followers after the president and his campaign released Shirkey’s personal cell phone number.
“It was a loud noise, loud consistent cadence,” Shirkey testified. “We’ve heard Trump’s people call and ask for voter changes, and ‘You can do this.’ Well, they believed things that weren’t true.”
Moss, who goes by Shaye, and her mother were targeted by Trump supporters after Giuliani falsely accused them in a Georgia Senate hearing of circulating USB drives such as “bottles of heroin or cocaine” to aid the election of to steal Trump.
What her mother actually gave her, Moss testified Tuesday, was a ginger mint candy.
But Giuliani’s claim — later put forward by Trump, who mentioned Moss by name more than a dozen times in a conversation with Raffensperger — tore through far-right circles of the internet. Shortly after, the FBI informed Freeman that it was no longer safe for her to stay in her home.
The urgency of that warning became apparent after Trump supporters showed up at Moss’ grandmother’s doorstep. They broke into her house, claiming they were there to make a citizen’s arrest of her granddaughter.
“This woman is my everything,” Moss testified about her grandmother. “I’ve never even heard or seen her cry in my life, and she called me screaming at the top of her lungs.”
While in hiding, Moss and Freeman continued to face threats that explicitly invoked their race, including a comment that Moss and her mother should “be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.”
“A lot of them were racist,” Moss said. “A lot of them were just hateful.”
Both women testified that almost two years later they were still haunted by the threat of violence. Moss recalled listening to the tape of Trump attacking her and her mother and immediately felt “like it was all my fault”.
“I just felt sorry for my mother, and I felt terrible for choosing this job,” she said emotionally. “And being the one who always wants to help and is always there never misses a single election. I just felt like it was – it was my fault for putting my family in this situation.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Rep. replied. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., quietly from the stage.
Freeman testified that she no longer went to the grocery store and became nervous every time she gave her name — once worn proudly bedazzled on T-shirts — to food orders.
“I don’t feel safe anywhere,” Freeman testified. “The President of the United States is supposed to represent every American. Not to target one.”
© 2022 The New York Times Company