The voting machine company that has faced two weeks of false fraud claims from President Donald Trump told ABC News Wednesday their employees have been the subject of threats and online harassment — the latest sign that Trump’s freewheeling online rhetoric has real-world consequences.© Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images, File In this file photo, President Donald Trump gestures after speaking during election night in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., early on Nov. 4, 2020.
In the past week, the president has tweeted or retweeted more than a dozen false claims about Dominion Voting Systems used across the country to his 89 million followers, calling the company “horrible, inaccurate and anything but secure,” despite no credible evidence to suggest its platforms were compromised in any way.
“We’ve been working around the clock to address issues with law enforcement and take every appropriate measure we can to ensure the safety of employees,” a Dominion spokesperson said.MORE: Trump digs in at White House, denying Biden transition help on pandemic, national security
Despite substantial vote margins in Biden’s favor (more than 5 million in the popular vote and tens of thousands or more in battleground states), a crumbling legal effort to challenge election results and no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities, the president has yet to concede defeat.
Instead, he’s resorted to promulgating progressively more outlandish claims online as part of an effort to delegitimize the outcome of the election. More than once, those claims have subjected the president’s targets to public attacks and derision.
Trump tweets and election officials face threats
Top election officials in multiple states reported that the president’s tweets were followed by a barrage of harassment. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said he had been the target of multiple death threats. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs released a statement on Wednesday reacting to “ongoing and escalating threats of violence directed at her family and her office.”
“There are those, including the president, members of Congress and other elected officials, who are perpetuating misinformation and are encouraging others to distrust the election results in a manner that violates the oath of office they took,” Hobbs wrote in a statement. “It is well past time that they stop. Their words and actions have consequences.”
“Other than getting you angry, it’s also very disillusioning,” Raffensperger said of the threats made against him, “particularly when it comes from people on my side of the aisle.© Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images, File In this file photo, President Donald Trump gestures after speaking during election night in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., early on Nov. 4, 2020.
Rank-and-file election workers have also fallen victim — with some being named in rambling and misleading online conspiracy claims. Last week, a local official in Atlanta said one of his employees was forced into hiding after a video went viral that purported to show him throwing a ballot in the trash. The official said the employee was only discarding instructions, though, not an official ballot.
Both of the president’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., had retweeted the video.
The president’s online rhetoric and public remarks have been repeatedly cited in court cases over the past four years for having inspired or been associated with alleged criminal conduct. An ABC News investigation in May found 54 criminal cases where Trump’s name was invoked in direct connection with acts of violence, threats of violence or allegations of assault.MORE: ‘No Blame?’ ABC News finds 54 cases invoking ‘Trump’ in connection with violence, threats, alleged assaults.
For Dominion, a privately owned company with contracts to supply voting equipment in 28 states, the sudden attention has been unwelcome. The company and its election partners at the state and federal level have tried to mount a response. The company issued a vehement denial and said the range of allegations against them have all been thoroughly debunked.
Eric Dezenhall, a corporate crisis management expert, said the challenge for the firm would be spreading word of their denials in the face of false allegations from a determined president, whose bully pulpit can drown out the even the loudest of voices of reason. The false claims about Dominion have been echoed by the president’s closest allies, including White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
“If you’re running a company in this situation, you have to keep your people safe,” Dezenhall said. “You also have to think about how to ratchet down the level of media combat. Fighting fire with fire doesn’t help. Trump has more fire. It’s not winnable.”© Jonathan Ernst/Reuters, File President Donald Trump shakes hands with Chris Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency after a signing ceremony for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act in the Oval Office, Nov. 16, 2018.
The company has not taken any further action against the president’s false allegations, some of which have been repeated on conservative television talk shows. David Greenberger, a New York-based employment and defamation lawyer at Baily Duquette, said the company may have other options.
“Operatives who publish false information about the company, causing it harm, or intentionally interfere with the company’s contracts or business relationships, are opening themselves up to legal liability for causes of action like defamation and tortious interference,” Greenberger said.MORE: Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr. amplified claims of election fraud, analysis shows
Perhaps the most compelling response to the president’s claims about the voting machines came late last week, with a statement from the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The agencies said they determined that “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised” — a direct rebuke of a claim that remains on the president’s Twitter page.
On Tuesday, Trump responded to his administration’s move to provide Dominion a clean bill of health. In a tweet, he said he fired the head of CISA, Christopher Krebs, for what he called an inaccurate statement and once more repeated false allegations about with the election, including that votes were switched from Trump to Biden.