Update: Adds information about how Joshua Russell was charged in federal court Wednesday for making threats to an Arizona elected official.
A grand jury in Phoenix indicted Joshua Russell, 44, of Bucyrus, Ohio, on Wednesday, after he was arrested on Monday on charges that he made three profanity-laced death threats to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.
“You’re an enemy of the United States, you’re a traitor to this country,” the man, Joshua Russell, allegedly said in a voicemail directed at an official in the Secretary of State’s office on Aug. 2, the day of Arizona’s primary election.
Russell in the August message then told the official to put their “affairs in order because your days are extremely numbered.” He added, “America’s coming for you and you will pay with your life,” using more expletives in the message, the first of three messages that federal prosecutors say he left between August and November of this year.
Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is Arizona’s governor-elect and, during her gubernatorial campaign, she emphasized her role in overseeing Arizona’s elections even in the face of death threats.
Russell’s second message came in September and the third in November, according to a complaint filed in federal court in Arizona.
“The only reason you’re still walking around on this planet is because we’re waiting for the midterms to see you prosecuted for the crimes you have done to this nation… you have a few short months to see yourself behind bars, or we will see you to the grave,” he allegedly said in a Sept. 9 message.
A preliminary hearing in the case is set for Dec. 15 at the U.S District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
Russell is charged with three counts each of making a threatening interstate communication and making a threatening interstate telephone call.
In his calls to the Secretary of State, Russell made it clear who his threats were meant for, naming the target of his message in all three voicemails, though the name was redacted from court filings.
The complaint recorded the start of his November call as: “This message is for communist, criminal, [VICTIM-1’s full name].”
The Secretary of State’s Office reported the calls to federal investigators. A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State declined to comment on the arrest.
Election workers around Arizona – and around the country– have faced threats stemming from claims of fraud in Arizona’s 2020 election and former President Donald Trump’s continued insistence that he won the state over Joe Biden in the presidential race. The threats, and the heightened scrutiny on election workers, has led a number of officials to leave their jobs.
For Hobbs, the threats started soon after the 2020 election, when protesters gathered outside her house and chanted, “We are watching you.”
The arrest is another instance of repercussions for the people behind those threats. In Russell’s and some other cases, the threats have come from out of state.
In July, a Massachusetts man was arrested for sending a bomb threat in 2021 to the Secretary of State’s Office. (His message, however, mentioned the attorney general rather than the Secretary of State or Hobbs.)
And in August, a Missouri man was charged with allegedly leaving a threatening voicemail intended for Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican.
“So I see you’re for fair and competent elections, that’s what it says here on your homepage for your recorder position you’re trying to fly here,” Walter Lee Hoornstra said in a May 2021 voicemail, according to an FBI news release. “You need to do your [expletive] job right because other people from other states are watching your ass. You [expletive] renege on this deal or give them any more troubles, your [expletive] will never make it to your next little board meeting.”
Multiple legal cases and an audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 election haven’t turned up evidence of widespread fraud. (A handful of people have been arrested for isolated cases of voter fraud, in most cases for voting the ballot of a relative.)
Still, claims about problems with Arizona’s elections persist.
Attorneys for Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who lost this year’s governor’s race to Hobbs, even referenced 2020 in an election lawsuit filed last week. In their complaint, the lawyers asserted that “invalid-signature ballot envelopes… demonstrate that Maricopa County’s elections suffered from (an) outcome-determinative number of illegal votes in 2020 and 2022.”
On Nov. 15, the day after media networks called the governor’s race for Hobbs, she gave a victory speech in downtown Phoenix.
“The attacks on democracy won’t end today with this victory and so it is on all of us to continue to defend it,” Hobbs said shortly after 10 a.m. that morning.
That same day, Russell left his third message for the Secretary of State official, according to the complaint.
“A war is coming for you. The entire nation is coming for you. And we will stop, at no end, until you are in the ground,” he allegedly said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.