‘Stop the steal’ gets personal

On Tuesday Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger testified to a congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. (File photo by Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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On Tuesday Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger testified to a congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. (File photo by Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

In December, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a detailed account of efforts by then-President Donald Trump and some Georgia Republicans to overturn Joe Biden’s victory. Here’s an excerpt from that account, focusing on efforts to pressure Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the election. Raffensperger testified to a congressional committee Tuesday. You can read the full AJC account of events in Georgia here.

On Wednesday night after the election, Tricia Raffensperger was in the Great Smoky Mountains, preparing to lead a group of wildlife photographers on a weekend field trip. Her husband, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, hoped to join her late Friday, after Georgia counties finished counting ballots.

Tricia Raffensperger’s phone pinged at 10:06 p.m. as she was getting ready for bed. It was a text from an unidentified caller.

“Hi, Patricia. This is getting really ugly. Do Brad a favor and tell him to step down immediately.”

The text was unnerving.

“A stranger knew who she was, had gotten her cell number and had sent her a text,” Brad Raffensperger later recounted in his book on the 2020 election.

ExploreKey takeaways from the Georgia-focused Jan. 6 hearing

The anonymous text was a sign the president’s “stop the steal” campaign was about to get personal. A few days later, on Nov. 9, Georgia’s two Republican U.S. senators — Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — called on Raffensperger to resign.

The senators said Raffensperger had “failed to deliver honest and transparent elections,” though they cited no examples and provided no evidence.

Seventeen minutes after Loeffler and Perdue issued their news release, Trump tweeted: “Georgia will be a big presidential win, as it was the night of the Election!”

“The coordination between the senators and the White House was obvious,” Raffensperger wrote. He refused to resign.

In the coming days, pressure on Georgia officials escalated.

On Nov. 10, GOP Chairman David Shafer and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, asked Raffensperger for a recount, citing a slew of fraud allegations. Congressional Republicans from Georgia asked Raffensperger to investigate the same claims.

In the weeks that followed, Raffensperger’s office investigated the allegations and found no evidence to support them. But he authorized an extraordinary hand recount of every ballot in the presidential race.

Pressure also came from right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists. On Nov. 18, Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, alt-right activist Nick Fuentes and Stop the Steal agitator Ali Alexander led a rally inside the Georgia Capitol. Jones called for a special legislative session to investigate allegations of voting fraud.

Finally, pressure came from ordinary Trump supporters alarmed by cries of “fraud.”

“In my eight years here in the Senate, I have never received so many emails, phone calls, text messages,” state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, said later.

ExploreFive fraud claims: What investigators found

Beach was one of four senators who issued an unusual call for Gov. Brian Kemp to convene a special session to address election concerns. They wanted lawmakers to consider evidence of voting fraud and possible changes to election rules ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff election in Georgia’s two U.S. Senate races.

Beach was executive director of the North Fulton Community Improvement District. He had a reputation as a mainstream Republican who mixed support for conservative priorities such as abortion restrictions with calls for transit expansion and other business concerns.

But Beach positioned himself as a Trump loyalist after the 2016 election. During a brief congressional campaign in 2019, he attacked former Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel as a “Never Trumper.” Even close friends were surprised by Beach’s political transformation.

Also calling for a special session was state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick. He did not seek reelection and was serving his last days in the General Assembly. But he organized a special Senate committee to examine election issues.

Beach and Ligon were joined by state Sens. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, and Burt Jones, R-Jackson.

ExploreThreat, lies upended Fulton election workers’ lives

Their Nov. 24 call for a special session put the senators at odds with Republican leaders. Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston had already ruled out a special session. They said changing the rules would “result in endless litigation.”

But in the weeks ahead, the four senators would go to great lengths to aid Trump’s campaign seeking to overturn the election.

That campaign had turned ugly for Tricia Raffensperger. She’d been receiving death threats from anonymous texters.

She got the first one on Nov. 11, two days after Loeffler and Perdue had called on her husband to resign. She texted each senator a copy of the threat and “asked if they understood what they had unleashed on her and on our family,” Brad Raffensperger wrote in his book.

Neither Loeffler nor Perdue responded to her text.

Tricia Raffensperger wasn’t the only one receiving threats. Amid Trump’s persistent claims of voting fraud, election workers began receiving death threats. That prompted Gabe Sterling in the secretary of state’s office to issue a dramatic appeal for the president to “stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.”

“Someone’s going to get hurt,” Sterling said at the Georgia Capitol. “Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed.”