PHOENIX—A shadowy right-wing group has launched a “scary” vigilante campaign in the battleground state of Arizona that has attracted police attention and put Democratic leaders and voters on edge just days before midterm elections.
The anonymous group, which calls itself “Ben Sent Us,” a reference to Ben Franklin, has mailed out threatening letters en masse to more than a dozen county-level Democratic Party chairpersons in the state, vowing that members “will be locating your homes” and warning that those who are seen as allowing election fraud “will be considered a traitor and dealt with accordingly, as will you.” Ordinary residents in the state have also reported being targeted with ominous election fliers that warn someone is “watching” them.
It’s unclear who’s behind the propaganda campaign, but law enforcement agencies are taking the threats seriously after armed men in masks and tactical gear intimidated, filmed, and followed scared voters outside a ballot drop box in Maricopa County last week.
The website for Ben Sent Us, which was registered overseas on Aug. 30, doesn’t provide any clues as to who’s in charge. The page is hosted through OrangeWebsite, which is best known for being an anti-censorship registrar where you’ll find a host of alt-right, scam, and other sites on the platform as it allows payment in bitcoin.
The website contains a video that depicts a man being hanged as text on the screen reads, “When you’re texting, we are watching. When you’re making the drop, we are watching.” A printable flier on the website also depicts a noose.
Whether it’s a prank or a credible threat, the letters and fliers have spooked politicians and voters across the Grand Canyon State. The group responsible was cited four times in a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Phoenix. The suit goes after Clean Elections USA founder Melody Jennings, who organized the efforts to gather at ballot drop boxes in Maricopa County and has promoted Ben Sent Us on social media.
Brian Bickel, chairman of the Election Integrity Commission in Pima County, described the letter he received as “derogatory,” “inflammatory” and “intimidating.”
His colleague on the board, Misty Atkins, had a similar reaction.
“It was intimidating,” Atkins told The Daily Beast. “It was clearly meant to scare Democratic voters away, because it was addressed to the Democratic Party. I was so shocked when I read it.”
The letters draw inspiration from conservative commentator Dinesh D’Sousa’s discredited documentary 2000 Mules and the right-wing ecosystem of debunked ballot conspiracies that accompanies it. Arizona Senator Raquel Téran, who chairs the Arizona Democratic Party, blamed the state’s slate of Donald Trump-endorsed political newcomers for allowing groups like Ben Sent Us to crop up in Arizona.
“The recently reported voter intimidation in Arizona is a direct result of the blatant lies Republicans like Blake Masters, Kari Lake, Mark Finchem and Abe Hamadeh are spewing about our elections,” Téran said, referring to the state’s GOP nominees for U.S. senator, governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
Arizona Democratic Party spokesperson Morgan Dick confirmed several Democrats, including Téran, received “threatening” letters from Ben Sent Us in recent weeks. She said she filed a report with the FBI. An FBI spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
“It certainly is very scary for anyone to receive that sort of threatening language,” Dick said.
Just ask Tucson resident Dan Roper, who was alarmed to find a creepy election flier stuck to his car—and many others in the lot—at a movie theater on Sept. 24. The note read “I’m watching you…”
“I think it’s a pretty obvious attempt to intimidate people and promote completely baseless claims of election fraud,” Roper said. “Some people spend their Saturday knocking on doors to help elect a candidate, while this group spent theirs trying to scare people.”
Roper said it’s untenable “to make Arizonans afraid that they’re being watched at the polls and in their daily lives, or that their vote won’t count even when they’ve done nothing wrong.”
The group engaged in similar leafletting campaigns around the same time in Flagstaff and Tempe, a major city in the Phoenix metro.
“We are aware of these flyers,” Tempe Police Officer Thomas Byron Jr. said. “At this time, we are looking into this incident and will continue to monitor for similar and related incidents.”