The Justice Department arrested and charged a Texas man on Friday over death threats he allegedly made targeting election and government officials in Georgia.
This is the first known arrest brought by the department's Election Threats Task Force, which launched last summer.
Chad Christopher Stark, identified in the indictment as a resident of Leander, Texas, allegedly posted threatening messages on Craigslist.
"Georgia Patriots it's time to kill [Official A] the Chinese agent — $10,000," one of Stark's posts allegedly read.
"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... If we want our country back we have to exterminate these people... we need to pay a visit to [Official C] and her family as well and put a bullet her behind the ears," an indictment quoted him as saying.
It's not immediately clear who the state officials were that prosecutors say Stark identified as his targets.
“The Justice Department has a responsibility not only to protect the right to vote but also to protect those who administer our voting systems from violence and illegal threats of violence,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement announcing Stark's arrest. “The department’s Election Threats Task Force, working with partners across the country, will hold accountable those who violate federal law by using violence or threatening violence to target election workers fulfilling their public duties.”
The Justice Department of late has faced growing criticism for not acting more aggressively against a record wave of reported threats against elections officials and lawmakers in the wake of the 2020 election.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite from the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and FBI Assistant Director Luis Quesada talked with reporters about the indictment. Polite said that since the launch of the task force last summer investigators have reviewed more than 850 reports of threats to election officials and are "doggedly pursuing investigated leads" in "dozens" of open criminal investigations out of those referrals. He was unable to provide a more exact count on the number of open investigations the task force currently has.
Asked by ABC News about criticism from some elections workers that the task force isn't moving fast enough in its prosecutions of these threats — with only one indictment yielded in the six months since the task force being launched, Polite said that building cases typically requires "months and months of work."
"It's important that these types of investigations are done right," Polite said. "We have to ensure that all the charges are that we bring are sufficiently supported by admissible evidence and again, oftentimes require consideration of very substantial legal issues that implicate First Amendment rights as well."
Quesada said that the task force is currently investigating allegations of these kinds of threats "across the country," but declined to say if there were any regions or states that appeared to be more epicenters that were targeted — such as the seven swing states won by Biden that former President Trump and his allies worked to overturn.
They also declined to comment on what effect Trump's pressure campaign and deliberate targeting of officials in states who refused to help him overturn their results may have had in terms of fueling some of the threats towards workers and officials.
Georgia, in particular, became a hotbed for such threats as former President Donald Trump and his allies worked to pressure officials such as GOP Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn his loss to Joe Biden in the state.
Kemp, Raffensperger and Georgia's voting system implementation manager Gabriel Sterling all made emotional appeals after the election calling for those spreading conspiracy theories about the vote count to stop -- at times citing graphic death threats that were being made against themselves, their families and other election workers.
In June of last year, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced the Justice Department would be launching a new law enforcement task force to respond to the growing number of threats against election workers, administrators, officials and others associated with the electoral process.
Stark was scheduled to make his first court appearance Friday in Austin, Texas, according to a Justice Department spokesperson. He faces one charge of communicating interstate threats which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. He has not yet entered a plea to the charge.