"Hit list": Trump grand jurors face violent threats after names and addresses shared on QAnon forums

Experts warn of "chilling effect that personal targeting can have on jurors, on voters, on elected officials"

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published August 26, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Users on far-right online forums are publishing private information about members of the Georgia grand jury that indicted former president Donald Trump and 18 of his allies in a sweeping criminal case focused on alleged 2020 election interference earlier this month, leading to jurors receiving threats online.

The Fulton County Sheriff's office announced last week that they were working on tracking down where the threats were coming from and were coordinating with "law enforcement partners to respond quickly to any credible threat and to ensure the safety of those individuals who carried out their civic duty."

After the release of the indictment and the grand jurors' names, users on far-right message boards began sharing their addresses, identities, social media accounts and other information targeting the jurors, according to Media Matters.

"It's a serious problem," Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, told Salon. "These grand jurors' names and other personal information have been linked on dangerous sites, in particular 4chan. That's where multiple terrorist manifestos have been posted and the site is filled with white supremacists and other extremists."

On a forum that has served as a hub for "Q," the central figure of the QAnon conspiracy theory, a user shared the names of the jurors alongside their addresses. Meanwhile, on another platform where the QAnon conspiracy theory originated, a user appeared to make a veiled threat about following these individuals to their residences and photographic their faces, Media Matters found.

Some users also made explicit threats aimed at the jurors on these message boards. One user referred to the grand jurors' names as a "hit list," prompting another user to reply with, "Based. Godspeed anons, you have all the long range rifles in the world." 

In addition to facing online harassment, jurors are at risk of several other dangers — varying from receiving menacing phone calls to having people show up at their houses to swatting and even receiving death threats, Beirich said. 

"We've seen this in other cases where people have been targeted by far-right figures," she added. "Their families can also be targeted. It can be a dangerous and scary situation. We can never forget the two poll workers in Georgia that Trump targeted and who had to go into hiding afterward."

After Trump posted on his social media website Truth Social that authorities were going "after those that fought to find the RIGGERS!" — Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan research group founded by Dan Jones, a former FBI investigator and staffer for the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee,  pointed out that Trump supporters were employing the term "rigger" as a substitute for a racial slur in their online posts.

"There is a lot of anger out there on the part of pro-Trump actors and given the harassment that is faced by public officials lately, the same could happen here," Beirich said. "It's unfortunate Georgia law doesn't provide any protections. These people are doing their civil duty; they shouldn't have to face this."

Under Georgia law, the names of grand jurors are included on indictments – a practice aimed at promoting transparency. However, this approach has come under scrutiny given the continuing threats following the recent indictment of Trump and 18 co-defendants.

The only way Georgia or any other state would change the current practice is if there is a widespread outcry over the harassment or if there is actual violence that takes place, said Donald Haider-Markel, a University of Kansas political science professor who studies domestic extremism.

"Much like election workers after the 2020 election, we may begin to see more efforts from potential jurors to ask for an excuse not to serve on a [grand jury], which could also incite a change in the law," he added.

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Verbal attacks and harassment have been common for a long time on the extreme right and left, Haider-Markel explained. He pointed to the example of "wanted" posters targeting doctors who perform abortions by the anti-abortion movement since the 1980s.

Individuals would go as far as disclosing the addresses, phone numbers, car descriptions, and license plates of abortion clinic workers, he said. 

"This practice won't influence the way most people behave, but it only takes one true believer to use the information to harass and potentially use violence against the target and/or their family members," Haider-Markel said.

The same tactics have been employed by environmental and animal rights activists against those they believe are threatening the environment or exploiting animals, he continued. The Unabomber, for example, selected targets for his mailing campaign in the same manner, going after executives and researchers.

"Many observers believe that these practices have led to violence against abortion clinic workers and that these practices have led to individuals leaving the field," Haider-Markel said. "Certainly, there are plenty of stories about election workers that have left the field since 2020 because of the harassment and threats they faced."

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These message boards have even gone as far as targeting two NBC News reporters who wrote about the grand jury incident. They had their own supposed addresses posted online, according to the Advance Democracy's latest report, Reuters found.

The group also identified posts containing aggressive language targeting Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney who brought state racketeering and conspiracy charges against Trump and his allies. 

Trump himself has gone after the DA and accused her of prosecutorial misconduct. He also criticized her time in office, asserting that she had been excessively lenient on crime allowing Atlanta "to become one of the most dangerous cities anywhere in the world."

"He makes everything worse because he just doesn't seem to care what effect his words have in inciting his followers," Beirich said. "That has been true since his 2016 campaign. I'm sure Willis is facing a deluge of threats and will need protection."

His verbal attacks against Willis come as no surprise though as the former president has a habit of denigrating prosecutors who are investigating him. 

Trump has used Truth Social to harass Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, New York's Attorney General Letitia James and special counsel Jack Smith, who brought two federal indictments against him.

In a post against Bragg, he warned that there would be "death and destruction" if he was indicted. Shortly after his threat, the Manhattan DA's office received a death threat letter with suspicious powder, which was later determined non-hazardous, with the letter saying: "ALVIN: I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!" 

In other posts, Trump has called Smith "deranged" and accused him of taking away his First Amendment Rights. The former president even called for U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan's recusal, saying he was calling for the move "on very powerful grounds." 

Chutkan is the federal judge overseeing the criminal case of Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Washington DC.

Last week, a Texas woman was arrested and charged with threatening to kill Chutkan, The Associated Press reported. Abigail Jo Shry called the federal courthouse in Washington and left a threatening message. 

"You are in our sights, we want to kill you," the documents said.

Despite public officials receiving such threats, the former president has continued his attacks. In some social media posts, he has even warned "If you go after me, I'm coming after you!"

"It's important not to underestimate the chilling effect that personal targeting and online harassment can have on jurors, on voters, on elected officials [and] on community members," Lindsay Schubiner, director of programs at Western States Center — an anti-extremism watchdog, told Salon. "And the publication of personal details, especially physical locations, is a huge risk factor for potential violence."

Schubiner pointed to the examples of mass shooters, who were active in online hate forums prior to their crimes. There's also a "big risk" for the translation of online harassment into direct physical violence, she added. 

"Trump's words and his actions have normalized bigotry and harassment, and even political violence for a long time," Schubiner said. "From the beginning of his campaign,  he opened the door to normalizing overt bigotry in politics and opened the door for bigoted and anti-democracy groups like the Proud Boys, like the Oath Keepers, to play a much more prominent role in our political system."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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