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Indiana man indicted in threats about 2020 election results pleads guilty

Robert Snell, The Detroit News on

Published in Political News

DETROIT — An Indiana man accused of threatening to kill former Rochester Hills Clerk Tina Barton for defending the integrity of the 2020 presidential election pleaded guilty Tuesday, a development coinciding with Michigan's 2024 presidential primary election.

Andrew Nickels, 37, of Carmel, Indiana, entered the guilty plea in front of U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson in federal court in Detroit. He pleaded guilty to one count of transmitting threats in interstate commerce, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.

“This case shows how mental health affects so many people,” his lawyer Steve Scharg told The Detroit News. “I wish we had more treatments available for helping people with mental health issues.”

Sentencing is set for July 9.

The plea came six months after federal prosecutors accused Nickels of telling Barton that more than 10 million patriots "will surround you when you least expect it."

"We're watching your ... mouth talk about how you think that there's no irregularities. … You frauded out America of a real election," Nickels said in a voicemail message on Nov. 10, 2020, according to the indictment. "Ten million plus patriots will surround you when you least expect it, and your little infantile Deep State security agency has no time to protect you because they'll be bought out and we'll f------ kill you."

The criminal case was filed amid an increasing threat of domestic terrorism, particularly by people accused of holding anti-government and racially or ethnically motivated, violent extremist views, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report last year.

"Today marks a win for election officials all over the country," Barton wrote in a message posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

"Today’s guilty plea serves as a reminder that no matter who you are, where you come from, or what political beliefs you hold, if you break the law you will be held accountable for your actions," Barton added.

The number of open FBI investigations into domestic terrorism has more than quadrupled since 2013.

“No public official should face the violent threats that the victim in this case did, just for doing their job of ensuring the fairness and integrity our federal, state and local elections,” U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said in a statement. “Today’s guilty plea should send a clear message that those who engage in this egregious conduct will be held accountable.”

The Nickels case also was a recent act of alleged antigovernment extremism in Michigan targeting politicians in the aftermath of Donald Trump's loss in the 2020 election. Grand juries and federal prosecutors in Michigan have filed charges against people in recent months and years for threatening President Joe Biden, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, other Democratic politicians, law enforcement officers as well as members of the LGBTQ+ and Jewish communities.

Also, at least 28 people from Michigan — and more than 1,300 nationwide — have been charged with crimes related to the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.

“Those who work to ensure the integrity of our democratic process should be able to continue without fear of intimidation or violence,” Cheyvoryea Gibson, special agent in charge of the FBI Detroit Field Office, said in a statement.

 

The former Rochester Hills clerk wrote on X that Nickels' behavior "has permanently impacted me and my family’s lives."

"I will never be able to turn back the clock and go back to living in a sense of peace and security as I had done prior to this incident," Barton wrote. "I strongly believe that election officials should never be intimidated, threatened or harassed for doing their jobs serving the public.

"Holding people accountable who violate the law is a critical part of the work being done to prevent and deter others from illegally threatening election officials in the future," she added.

Barton, a Republican, was Rochester Hills clerk and oversaw elections in the Oakland County community from 2013 to March 2021. She later worked as a senior adviser for U.S. Election Assistance Commission and serves as a senior election expert with The Elections Group.

In a series of comments posted last year on X, Barton said she was grateful for local and federal law enforcement officials and agencies, including the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit.

"Your persistence, bravery and courage is appreciated," Barton wrote. "This has not been an easy thing for me & my family to go through for the last 2.5+ years.

"I'm hopeful that today’s arraignment sends a strong message that threatening #election officials is unacceptable and illegal. And tireless law enforcement officials will work to hold bad actors accountable under the rule of law."

Barton is not identified by name in the indictment. Instead, Nickels is accused of threatening a clerk identified by the initials "T.B."

The day Nickels allegedly issued the threat, Nov. 10, 2020, was one week after the presidential election. On that date, a Washington Post story referenced a video Barton posted on Twitter.

In the video, Barton responded to claims by Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel that 2,000 Republican ballots in Rochester Hills, Mich., had been “given to Democrats ... due to a clerical error.”

Barton responded by saying "that McDaniel was referring to an 'isolated mistake that was quickly rectified' and called her allegation 'categorically false,'" according to the story.

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