Stephen Richer should have been safe.
In early 2021, Richer was an Arizona Republican official who regularly attended local party events. At the time, he was the newly elected county recorder of Maricopa County. The job was a new level of prominence — he was now the most important election supervisory official in the state’s largest county — but going to Arizona Republican events was routine: the kind of thing that Richer, like any state politician, had done hundreds of times before.
But at one event, the crowd heckled and harassed him. When he tried to leave, they dragged him back in, yanking on his arms and shoulders, to berate him about the allegedly stolen 2020 election. He started to worry: Would his own people, fellow Republican Party members, seriously hurt him?
There was a clear reason for the madness. Many of the Republican faithful had recently decided that Maricopa County had been the epicenter of “the steal,” Joe Biden’s theft of Arizona from Donald Trump — and the entire presidential election with it. This wasn’t true, obviously. Richer tried to tell them it wasn’t true, hoping his long track record in the state Republican party would give him some credibility.
It did not. What happened instead reveals a pattern that is quietly reshaping American politics: Across the board and around the country, data reveals that threats against public officials have risen to unprecedented numbers — to the point where 83 percent of Americans are now concerned about risks of political violence in their country. The threats are coming from across the political spectrum, but the most important ones in this regard emanate from the MAGA faithful.
Trump’s most fanatical followers have created a situation where challenging him carries not only political risks but also personal ones. Elected officials who dare defy the former president face serious threats to their well-being and to that of their families — raising the cost of taking an already difficult stand.
As a result, the threat of violence is now a part of the American political system, to the point where Republican officials are — by their own admissions — changing the way they behave because they fear it. For Richer, the price back in 2021 was high — and enough to prevent him from safely participating in his own party’s politics.
The more he tried to convince people that the 2020 results were legitimate, the more hostile the audience became — and not just at this one event. He recalls people at Republican meetings getting in his face, grabbing him, and even banging on his car windshield in the parking lot. Richer kept attending party meetings for three months, hoping that the attendees’ behavior would go back to normal.
But they didn’t. The once-friendly events were emotionally exhausting — and, worse, potentially even dangerous.
“I was a Republican activist. That’s what you do: show up to events,” Richer recalls. But eventually, “you don’t feel comfortable.”
By 2022, when Richer was presiding over the November election’s ballot tally, his office was fortified like a military base: surrounded by armed police deployed to protect him and his staff from threats. He recalls numerous staff members quitting on the spot after heated confrontations — and he was personally targeted by credible threats. When we spoke, he was about to testify in one of three federal cases against people who had vowed to kill him. [Continue reading…]