A man who called for a “mass shooting of poll workers” and threatened two Arizona county officials and their families over the 2022 election was sentenced on Thursday to three and a half years in federal prison, prosecutors said.
The man, Frederick Francis Goltz, 52, pleaded guilty in April to two counts of interstate threatening communications in connection with his threats to two Republican Maricopa County officials in Arizona, the authorities said: Stephen Richer, the county recorder, and Tom Liddy, the county attorney’s civil division chief.
Mr. Goltz, who is a Canadian citizen and lived in Lubbock, Texas, believed in 2022 that rampant voter fraud was occurring in Arizona, prosecutors said, so he resorted to online threats, saying in a post on a right-wing forum site that referred to Maricopa County officials: “Someone needs to get these people AND their children. The children are the most important message to send.”
His threats continued for weeks. He wrote in an online forum that he was “willing to take lives” in order to fend off a “tyrannical government,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas said in a statement.
Mr. Richer said in a statement read aloud by a prosecutor on Thursday that while he had been the person directly threatened in the case, “the impact of such threats is felt by a much larger community: the thousands of committed election workers who operate our democratic processes.”
Mr. Liddy testified during the sentencing hearing that his wife and his four children were assigned round-the-clock protection and given body armor in response to Mr. Goltz’s threats.
Mr. Goltz’s lawyer, Michael L. King, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment on Friday. The two election officials who were targeted also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The case has highlighted how right-wing skepticism of election results has often fueled threats against election officials, particularly in battleground states. Such animosity has prompted several beleaguered officials across the country to resign from their election posts.
The case also underscores the dangerous effect that online disinformation has had, as aggrieved social media posts call for threatening actions with real-world consequences.
In November 2022, shortly after the midterms, Mr. Goltz posted threats to poll election workers on Patriots.win under the name “FreeSpeechMaster,” according to a criminal complaint. That month, he also posted Mr. Liddy’s home address, telephone number and commented that “it would be a shame if someone got to” his children, the complaint states.
On Nov. 23, 2022, Mr. Goltz noted in a post that Mr. Richer had a wife but wasn’t sure if he had children, the complaint states.
“Kids are off limits,” one user replied.
“No,” Mr. Goltz replied, according to court documents. “NOTHING is off limits.”
He then said that he wished someone would “send a message” to Arizona by going after Mr. Richer’s children.
Later that year, on Dec. 1, Mr. Goltz wrote he was “willing to take lives” and that the children were “not off limits, either,” the complaint states.
The F.B.I. shared the posts with Mr. Liddy, who told the agency that he felt “afraid for himself and his family,” prosecutors said.
Dr. Yotam Ophir, a professor of communication at the University at Buffalo who researches misinformation, said by phone on Friday that former President Donald J. Trump is responsible for almost all election fraud misinformation, which he has amplified for years, particularly after losing the 2020 presidential election.
“In the past, we had a hope that inciteful, violent, hate-driven misinformation online would stay online,” Dr. Ophir said. “But I think in recent years, unfortunately, it’s becoming clear that what starts in the dark corners of the internet, it doesn’t stay there.”
He said it appeared that the legal system and the intelligence community were beginning to realize “the massive threat that online digital environments can have toward democracy.”
The man who attacked former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband last year appeared to have a copious online presence as he shared angry and paranoid postings on a blog. Nearly three-quarters of people across 19 countries believe that the spread of false information online is a “major threat,” according to a survey released by the Pew Research Center last year.
“In recent years, it became clearer that people who are being radicalized online, especially on the far-right, pose a real threat,” Dr. Ophir said. “And again, it doesn’t end online.”