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CAROLINE BONNIVIER SNYDER — BENNINGTON BANNER Stuart Hurd photographed at the Bennington Town Offices.

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On the advice of the state’s attorney’s office, Vermont State Police are declining to investigate ‘alarming’ comments made to state election officials by a man believed to be from Bennington.

State police said the comments, which some called threats, “did not rise to the level of criminal conduct and are in fact protected speech”; the state police were responding to an extensive Reuters special report called “Campaign of Fear,” which was published Wednesday, highlighting threats to election officials in the Green Mountain state and nationally.

The Reuters report included a case involving the local man who shouted at state election workers last December, urging them to “put a [expletive] pistol in your [expletive] mouth and pull the trigger.”

After being contacted recently by Reuters reporters, the man called the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office on Oct. 17 and stated, “You guys are a bunch of [expletive] clowns, and all you dirty [expletive] suckers are about to get [expletive] popped. I [expletive] guarantee it.”

While Vermont State Police acknowledged that the comments were “disturbing,” “offensive, profane and upsetting,” police said they did not rise to the level of criminal conduct, because no specific person was targeted, and no plan was put forward.

“After review, the state’s attorney determined that the messages did not rise to the level of criminal conduct and are in fact protected speech,” state police said.

Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault said, “Although the communications are offensive and alarming, I concluded that they failed to rise to criminal conduct under current Vermont law. Fortunately, the rule of law is alive and well in Vermont, much due to the dedication of our election officials and public servants.”

According to Reuters, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched an inquiry into the case.

The Reuters report investigated nine cases — including the one in Vermont — of serious threats made against election officials following the 2020 presidential election. Eight of the nine people interviewed gave their names to reporters; the caller who used the Vermont number did not identify himself.

According to Reuters, the caller said he lives in the woods and works in construction, and “told workers at the state election office and at Dominion Voting Systems that they were about to die.”

The caller stated, “Your days are [expletive] numbered.”

In another voicemail left last Dec. 1, also referencing Dominion Voting Systems — whose voting technology he blamed for Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election — he said, “There are a lot of people who are going to be executed.”

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Reuters reported that the Vermont caller aimed his threats at the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office and the news service reporters after he was interviewed.

“We take these threats very seriously. We have to plan for the worst case scenario,” said Chris Winters, Vermont’s deputy secretary of state. “We are now sending every threat, no matter how small or vague, to our law enforcement partners, including Department of Justice’s new election task force.”

Winters said “some signs point to Bennington” for the caller’s location, “but we don’t know the identity or location for sure. Yes, we are even more concerned that the person might be in Vermont and capable of appearing in person.”

Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he has been working with Secretary of State Jim Condos and others in response to this and other threats made to election officials. He said these threats send a chill through the election process — particularly frightening to election staff and volunteers.

Sears said his committee would likely consider legislation during the coming session in Montpelier to address these concerns, although he said it’s too soon to know what that might look like.

“There have been threats to poll workers, volunteers and clerks,” as well as Condos and his staff, Sears said. “Unfortunately, it’s the new normal.”

Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd said he hoped lawmakers would take action; Hurd considered the statements “threats.”

He said these threats do have an impact on people who work elections, many of them average citizens who step in for minimum wage to work at the polls on election day.

“If that kind of threat was leveled at a local election official, that would have an impact,” he said. “There’s the whole free speech and harassment issue, then there’s free speech and threats. This rises to the level of threats, in my opinion. Normal, regular people who work at the polls, they should not have to worry about these kinds of people. Town clerks should not have to worry about these kinds of people. It’s distressing. I would hope the Vermont Legislature would take this seriously.”

Condos recently reached out via email to several key lawmakers, including Sears, to let them know that law enforcement and states attorneys feel federal statutes regarding threats are stronger than Vermont’s. Condos said Thibault was putting together model legislation for consideration.

“I take the personal safety of my staff very seriously. Across the country, secretaries of state and other election officials including their staff and election workers remain in the crosshairs for violent threats and actions,” Condos said in the email. “I want to be clear that, in my belief, these voicemails do cross the line. … The notion that this could escalate to physical danger is not farfetched.”


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