A Massachusetts man who searched online for an Arizona election official’s address and name along with the words “how to kill” pleaded guilty on Friday to making a bomb threat to the official, the U.S. Justice Department said.
The man, James W. Clark, 38, of Falmouth, Mass., sent the threat on Feb. 14, 2021, by using a contact form on the website for the Arizona Secretary of State’s election division, prosecutors said.
The message was addressed to the official, who is not named in public court documents, and said the official needed “to resign by Tuesday February 16th by 9 am or the explosive device impacted in her personal space will be detonated.”
Prosecutors said Mr. Clark also searched a few days later for information about the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people in 2013.
When Mr. Clark made the threat, Arizona’s secretary of state was Katie Hobbs, who is now the governor.
After Mr. Clark was arrested in July 2022, Ms. Hobbs’s office told reporters that she was the target of the bomb threat and that it was one of thousands of threats she received after the 2020 presidential election.
Ms. Hobbs’s office could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday. Mr. Clark’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Threats against election workers and officials increased after former President Donald J. Trump spread the lie that fraud had cost him the 2020 presidential election.
In Arizona, which Joseph R. Biden Jr. won by a little over 10,000 votes, politicians and other conspiracy theorists aligned with Mr. Trump claimed without evidence that the election was marred fraud.
A review of the election by Mark Brnovich, a Republican who served as Arizona’s attorney general until January, which was released by his Democratic successor in February, discredited the numerous claims of problems.
Scholars who study political violence say threats of political violence, and actual attacks, have become more common because of a heightened use of dehumanizing and apocalyptic language, particularly by right-wing politicians and media.
The U.S. attorney general, Merrick B. Garland, said in a statement about Mr. Clark’s guilty plea that the Justice Department was investigating and prosecuting illegal acts against election officials and workers.
“Americans who serve the public by administering our voting systems should not have to fear for their lives simply for doing their jobs,” Mr. Garland said.
Mr. Clark pleaded guilty to one count of making a threatening interstate communication and faces a maximum of five years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 26.
The F.B.I. field office in Phoenix is investigating Mr. Clark’s case with help from the F.B.I. field office in Boston.
The investigation is part of the Election Threats Task Force, a group started by the Justice Department in June 2021 to address threats against election workers.
One in six local election officials has personally experienced threats, according to a survey by the Brennan Center for Justice conducted online in January and February of 2022, and nearly a third of the officials said they knew an election worker who had left the job at least in part because of safety concerns, threats or intimidation.