RENO, Nevada, Oct 19 (Reuters) – Businessman Robert Beadles claimed he had found evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Then he went on the attack, targeting a 48-year-old woman who runs elections in Nevada’s Washoe County.
“Now, let’s talk about treason. That’s right, treason,” Beadles told a Feb. 22 county commissioners’ meeting in Washoe, the second-largest county in this election battleground state. The Republican activist falsely accused the registrar of voters, Deanna Spikula, of counting fraudulent votes and told commissioners to “either fire her or lock her up.”
After the meeting, Spikula’s office was flooded with hostile and harassing calls from people convinced she was part of a conspiracy to rig the election against former U.S. President Donald Trump. On March 2, a caller threatened to bring 100 people to the county building to “put this to bed today.” Spikula, under severe stress, stopped coming into the office. A post on Beadles’ website said she was “rumored to be in rehab.” That was false, she said; she was at home, working on a state elections manual.
By late June, fearing for her family’s safety, she’d had enough and submitted her resignation.
Beadles’ campaign in Washoe is part of a wave of efforts by pro-Trump activists to gain control of voting administration by replacing county government leaders with election conspiracy theorists. Some are spending big money. In Nevada, Beadles has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns targeting opponents of Trump’s false rigged-election claims and backing Republicans who believe them.
The goal: to profoundly change how U.S. elections are run. Right-wing activists want to eliminate voting machines and return to hand-counting of paper ballots, which experts say would make elections more prone to fraud, not less. Trump allies have also targeted the ballot drop boxes and mail-in voting that Democrats embraced in the 2020 election.
Last year, as documented by Reuters, U.S. election officials endured an onslaught of intimidation by Trump’s supporters after the 2020 election. This year, they’re facing well-funded campaigns such as the one in Washoe. Officials who resist baseless stolen-election claims have faced accusations of treason or other crimes.
Reuters identified 44 counties in 15 states where local officials have faced such efforts to change rules on voting since the 2020 election. All of them were led by Trump loyalists or Republican Party activists driven by false voter-fraud theories.
The campaigns are having impact. In Washoe, Beadles’ attacks helped drive out Spikula. Ten of Nevada’s 17 counties, including Washoe, have seen their top election official resign, retire or decline to seek re-election since the 2020 vote, which the state government calls a drastic exodus. Four of the officials told Reuters that harassment or sustained efforts to challenge the 2020 election results were among their reasons for leaving.
Beadles told Reuters in an interview that he is only seeking to have “a fair and free election,” regardless of who wins. He called it “absurd” to suggest that he is responsible for any threats or intimidation.
“I’ve never called for violence; I’ve simply asked questions,” Beadles said. “I just want to make sure our votes count, period. Correctly. Legitimately.”
Other states also report mass departures of election staffers, according to Reuters interviews with election officials in 13 states. In Pennsylvania, more than 50 county election directors or assistant directors have left in the state’s 67 counties since the 2020 vote. In South Carolina’s 46 counties, 22 election directors have left office. And 30% of Texas election officials have exited over that same time period; in one county, the entire elections staff resigned. Many officials in those states said threats, harassment and incessant voter-fraud claims were driving factors in the resignations.
American elections are administered locally, and there is no authoritative nationwide count of resignations by election officials and staffers.
Spikula said she and her family faced escalating threats, including someone following her home and strangers calling her husband’s cell phone.
“You just feel like you’re fighting for your life,” she said.
Other election officials reported similar troubles in Nevada, a state central to Republicans’ hopes to retake the evenly split U.S. Senate in November’s midterm elections. Aubrey Rowlatt, the clerk in Carson City, plans to leave at the end of her term in December after serving eight years as an election official. She told Reuters the “burnout” and harassment from election deniers was “exhausting.”
“It’s hard to keep going,” she said, “because you know what’s coming on the other side of the election – more nastiness.”
UNCLE BEN FRANKLIN
Beadles says he has “zero political aspirations.” But he’s been accumulating political power since moving to Nevada in 2019 from Lodi, California, where he made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2010. He also amassed a fortune in cryptocurrency while working in construction, real-estate and software development.
Soon after arriving in Reno, he and his family went on a real-estate spending spree, purchasing 26 properties in Washoe County for nearly $10.2 million since 2020, including a $1.6 million home in the Sierra foothills, according to county property records.
Beadles says he is an investor in Gab, the messaging platform popular among right-wing users. Gab did not respond to a request for comment.
He became involved in cryptocurrency in 2011, making a well-timed investment in Bitcoin and eventually starting a streaming channel called CryptoBeadles. YouTube took down the channel last year, saying he violated policies prohibiting misinformation about COVID-19 and elections.
He’s also been kicked off Twitter. His account was “permanently suspended” for repeated violations of the social network’s rules, said a Twitter spokesperson, who declined to elaborate on the reasons.
Beadles, 45, describes himself as a “constitutionalist.” He calls politics a “dirty game” but says he wants “to help the people.” He claims family ties to U.S. founding father Benjamin Franklin, frontiersman Daniel Boone and Old West lawman Wyatt Earp.
He is also a vocal backer of a “precinct strategy” to take control of local Republican committees and elect like-minded candidates to county commissions and school boards. The strategy is promoted by high-profile right-wing figures such as former top Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Trump himself endorsed it as a way to “take back our great Country from the ground up.”
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
In October 2021, Beadles went on Bannon’s “War Room” podcast to discuss this strategy. “We need about one out of every four conservatives to stand up and become like a recruiting machine and recruit like two other people” to become party activists, Beadles said on the show. He said he worked with Arizona lawyer Dan Schultz, an architect of the precinct strategy, helping him develop a website to promote his vision of a “Trumplified” Republican party. Schultz did not respond to a request for comment.
In Washoe, Beadles is putting these ideas into action. First, he won a seat on the Washoe County Republican Party’s central committee in July 2021. He later became a Republican precinct leader to help turn out voters and was elected to the county party’s executive committee.
He cemented his hold over the party as one of its biggest donors, contributing more than $830,000 to a variety of groups and politicians, including the Washoe Republican Party, his political action committee, local and statewide campaigns, and recall and recount efforts, election records show.
Beadles began taking a higher profile at Washoe County public meetings last year. In October 2021, he appeared before the county school board, wearing a mask with the word “censored” on it. He railed against a proposal to censure a right-wing member of the board, who had repeatedly tangled with other members. The proposal failed.
“God has blessed me. I have a shit ton of money,” he told the meeting. “And I am going to do everything that I fucking can to remove all of you.”
He publicly opposed pandemic-related restrictions and launched a campaign to oust the school board president, citing the board’s COVID-19 policies and other complaints. The recall effort would ultimately fail months later when backers did not collect enough voter signatures to move forward.
In a January appearance on the right-wing Stew Peters national radio show, Beadles talked about the power of county governments, which run elections in most of the country. “They wield so much power that, with one vote, they can literally end all this madness,” he said. He urged listeners to pressure their county officials to adopt his plan to rewrite election rules, including eliminating voting machines and ballot drop boxes.
Trump’s allies have baselessly claimed that left-wing operatives stuffed drop boxes with fraudulent absentee ballots in the 2020 election and that rigged voting machines robbed votes from Trump.
Beadles’ attacks on Washoe County officials intensified in February after he concluded that there were 40,000 more votes than voters in 2020, based on his own analysis of election data. County officials say he misread the data, which are snapshots of the voter roll at given points in time, by failing to account for the fact that voters are added and dropped continually as people move or die.
When two of the three Republicans on the five-member county Board of Commissioners resisted his false election-fraud ideas, Beadles went after them.
He launched a recall petition to remove the commission’s Republican chairman, Vaughn Hartung, who opposed Beadles’ proposed election policy changes. The Feb. 14 recall, however, fell apart after two Republican Party leaders withdrew their support, saying he had gone too far in his attacks.
One of them was Sandra Linares, then treasurer for the county Republican Party. She told Reuters she pulled out of the recall effort after Beadles aired radio ads that she considered “scorched earth” attacks on Hartung.
“This is a Republican attacking a Republican,” Linares said in an interview. Linares and the county party’s vice chair eventually quit after Beadles started attacking them, accusing the women of being “RINOs,” or “Republican in Name Only.” The former vice chair, Cindy Martinez, declined to comment.
On March 22, after six hours of public comment, Washoe’s commissioners rejected a Beadles-backed resolution to overhaul elections, including counting all ballots by hand instead of with machines. The vote was 4-1, with Hartung and another Republican commissioner, Bob Lucey, siding with two Democrats.
After the vote, Beadles stepped up attacks on Lucey, who ultimately lost a June primary election after Beadles’ political action committee targeted him in a direct mail campaign. “It’s like guerilla warfare,” Lucey said. “He will viciously attack anybody that is in opposition to him.”
The battle for control of Washoe’s county commission could have far-reaching influence over elections in Nevada’s second-biggest county. The board appoints the county’s top election official, the registrar of voters, and sets important rules over how elections are administered.
Beadles said he is backing candidates to restore America to a “Constitutional Republic.”
“You can make this about the messenger, but the people are waking up,” he said in an emailed response to questions. He did not answer questions about Hartung, Lucey and Linares.
Beadles also poured money into one of Nevada’s highest-profile statewide races this year, backing a fellow election conspiracy theorist in the Republican nominating contest for governor. In June, after his candidate, Joey Gilbert, lost the primary election by 11 points to Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, Beadles blamed Gilbert’s poor performance on voter fraud and helped finance a recount. Gilbert lost the recount in July but still hasn’t conceded. Gilbert declined to comment.
By late summer, Beadles and other election deniers dominated the leadership of Washoe’s Republican Party. Its central committee adopted a resolution claiming that President Joe Biden did not win the 2020 election. The July 25 declaration said election systems in Washoe County, where Biden narrowly beat Trump, “allegedly suffered a cyber-attack on Nov. 5, 2020, that flipped votes to Biden and altered the outcome.”
‘HELL TO PAY’
Few bore the brunt of Beadles’ political attacks like Spikula, the registrar of voters. A California native, she moved to Reno in 1991 and took a job in the county government after college. She joined the elections department in 2011. The following year, she changed her political affiliation on her voter registration from Republican to nonpartisan.
“I just immediately fell in love with the work,” she said in an interview. “It was that feeling of fulfillment and pride in the work you did; I’d never had that feeling before.” County commissioners appointed her as the registrar, the top elections official, in 2017.
The rumblings of citizen rage hit her office in May 2020 when one of her temporary staffers handled a mail-in ballot for the state primary election that bore the words “SEALED WITH COVID 19 SPIT!” Spikula alerted police. The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office arrested a man, but the county district attorney’s office determined there was insufficient evidence to file charges and dropped the case, according to the DA’s chief investigator.
The election staff was on edge. In April 2021, a man entered the election office, pointed his cane at workers like a gun and said “bang” repeatedly, according to Heather Carmen, the county’s assistant registrar of voters. The man demanded to see his ballot from the 2020 election. Told that no physical ballot existed, because he voted by touchscreen, the man became enraged.
Security guards let him go without taking his name. The incident left the workers frustrated and nervous. “We’d like to see law enforcement taking it a little more seriously on our behalf,” Spikula told Reuters at the time.
The pressure on Spikula’s office grew that fall. Her office, along with the county commissioners and the county manager, began to receive emails from people claiming they had evidence the election was stolen and seeking records to try to prove the case. The number of requests ramped up significantly around the end of the year, when Beadles began submitting voluminous requests for information.
“I still look at it as a very concerted and coordinated effort to undermine our office and just keep distracting us and disrupting the work being done,” Spikula said.
Then in October 2021, her office received a death threat. “Count the votes correctly as if your life depends on it….(if) one person votes twice – you and everyone around you will be found dead,” the message said. Her office reported the threat to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
At the county Republican central committee meeting in January, Beadles gave a slideshow presentation about his theories of voting irregularities. He accused Spikula and Jan Galassini, the county’s Republican clerk, of committing a crime by signing off on what he believed was a fraudulent 2020 election.
“They certified it anyway,” he said. “That is a crime. They’re criminals.”
Galassini said she had already explained to Beadles before the meeting that her signature attesting to the results was essentially a formality — a notarial function performed by the clerk — but Beadles didn’t accept that. She said he berated her “in a very public place where he knew that nobody would know the difference.”
Since then, Galassini says, her life “has been hell.” In March, a stranger in a white pickup truck parked outside Galassini’s home for nearly an hour, she said. When a neighbor grew suspicious and confronted the man, he took off. At around the same time, someone claiming to be a private investigator showed up at Spikula’s front door; she didn’t answer.
On March 2, a man called the county’s switchboard with a message for Spikula’s office. He claimed to have data that proved the election was rigged. “We know all about the election fraud and the voter rolls, and there is gonna be fucking hell to pay,” he said. “Motherfuckers have fucked with the wrong people, so we’re coming.”
The caller, identified by the sheriff’s office as Christopher Ward of Reno, told detectives that he had been “frustrated and lost his temper” and did not intend to carry out any threats, according to a police report. The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office said an officer interviewed Ward, but no charges were filed, and he wasn’t arrested. Ward did not respond to requests for comment.
In May, someone came up to Galassini at a Republican political event and said, “Drop dead, Jan Galassini.” In August, she received an anonymous death threat in her office mail. The letter detailed “what would be done” to her and “with what,” Galassini said. She declined to provide more detail, saying the threat was being investigated by the FBI.
The FBI did not respond to requests for comment on the threats to Spikula and Galassini.
Galassini, a mother of two, says she now avoids public events, keeps her office blinds closed and wears sunglasses to the grocery store to keep a low profile.
She blames Beadles for creating hysteria over election fraud, which she believes has turned her and Spikula into targets. “Robert Beadles knows how to weave a web, and that’s exactly what he’s done,” she said.
Beadles denied any direct or indirect involvement in threats against any official, but stands by his criticisms of Galassini and Spikula. “Why would you sign it if there’s issues with the election?”
Spikula said her anxiety grew worse after the public accusations and threats. “You’re tired; you’re stressed; you’re trying to push through,” she said. “You feel like your body is constantly running at 1,000 percent.”
During the June primary, people were following the county’s election workers home, according to Carmen, the assistant registrar. “They were wanting to follow us to the post office,” she said. “They were watching us with binoculars outside of our office.”
Angry residents showed up at the county building and harassed election workers on lunch break, accusing them of being “complicit” in fraud, according to the county manager, Eric Brown. Staffers were also followed to their cars late at night.
In response to the intimidation, the county has ramped up security at the registrar’s office, installing tinted windows, new security cameras and electronic door locks. And for the first time during the June primary season, a security officer was stationed inside the registrar’s office, according to the county security administrator.
Spikula said three of her staffers quit, leaving a punishing workload for the rest. She began suffering anxiety attacks under the constant harassment and sought help from a therapist. She said she couldn’t sleep, and had no energy for her family. Her two teenage daughters told her they heard rumors in school that she had helped rig the election. Every time Spikula received a notification on her phone from her home security system, she said she dropped everything to check on her family. Soon, she quit.
“Basically, what really drew the line for me was the fact that I started to fear for my children,” she said.
Spikula said she was relieved to leave her job but sorry to leave her staff behind. She said she hopes someday to return to election work.
Aaron Park, who has worked in Republican political campaigns in Reno for 25 years, thinks the rhetoric from Beadles and his supporters has become dangerous. “When you dehumanize someone in a potential attack, you open up the door to people being justified in killing them, assaulting them,” he said. “That’s where these things lead to.”
There is no evidence linking Beadles to the threats received by Spikula or any other officials or election workers. He told Reuters he doesn’t believe his approach to reforming elections would cause anyone to receive threats.
“I never saw anybody intimidate her or harass her,” he said of Spikula. “I saw a lot of people ask questions.”
Beadles says he isn’t slowing down. On Oct. 6, he called for supporters to serve as observers in November’s elections to keep watch over “the people that are trying to do things nefariously.” He told a podcast that taking control of local governments and ending voter fraud are crucial to fixing a society nearing collapse.
“Everything that we see happening around the world right now is due to stolen elections,” Beadles said. “They call us crazy, but we see everything burning.”
“We will win,” he said. “It’s David vs. Goliath for sure, but we all know who won in the end.”
(Reporting by Linda So, Joseph Tanfani and Jason Szep; editing by Brian Thevenot)