A Massachusetts man named James W. Clark has pleaded guilty to making a bomb threat to an Arizona election official. According to the U.S. Justice Department, Clark, 38, searched online for the official’s address and name, along with the words “how to kill.” On February 14, 2021, he sent the threat using a contact form on the website for the Arizona Secretary of State’s election division. The message stated that the official needed to resign by February 16 or else an explosive device would be detonated in their personal space. The official’s identity has not been publicly disclosed.
Prosecutors revealed that Clark also conducted internet searches a few days later related to the Boston Marathon bombings, which took place in 2013 and claimed the lives of three individuals.
At the time of the threat, Katie Hobbs served as Arizona’s secretary of state. She is now the governor. Following Clark’s arrest in July 2022, Hobbs’s office confirmed that she was the target of the bomb threat, which was among thousands of threats she received after the 2020 presidential election. However, Hobbs’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and Clark’s lawyer has remained silent as well.
Threats against election workers and officials have increased in the wake of former President Donald J. Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Arizona, which President Joseph R. Biden Jr. won by a margin of just over 10,000 votes, saw politicians and conspiracy theorists aligned with Trump alleging election fraud without evidence.
A review of the election conducted by Mark Brnovich, a Republican who served as Arizona’s attorney general until January, discredited the numerous claims of problems. Experts who study political violence suggest that the increased use of dehumanizing and apocalyptic language, particularly by right-wing politicians and media, has contributed to the rise in threats and actual attacks.
In response to Clark’s guilty plea, U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland stated that the Justice Department is actively investigating and prosecuting illegal acts targeting election officials and workers. Garland emphasized that these individuals should not have to fear for their lives while carrying out their duties.
Clark has pleaded guilty to one count of making a threatening interstate communication. He could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and is set to be sentenced on October 26.
The FBI field office in Phoenix is leading the investigation into Clark’s case, with assistance from the FBI field office in Boston. This investigation is part of the Election Threats Task Force, which was established by the Justice Department in June 2021 to address threats against election workers.
A survey conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice in January and February 2022 found that one in six local election officials has personally experienced threats. Additionally, nearly a third of the officials stated that they knew an election worker who had left their job at least in part due to safety concerns, threats, or intimidation.