Before Harry Anzbock started threatening to kill election workers, he did his own research.
The Vermont barn restorer went online after the 2020 presidential vote and watched a stream of videos. He saw plenty of evidence of voter fraud, he later recalled, including footage of people “obviously doing shady things” at polling places. He said he learned that balloting machines switched votes from Republican Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden – and that Biden took money from China to manipulate the U.S. election.
All of these claims were bogus conspiracy theories, promoted by Trump’s political allies and attorneys as they sought to overturn Biden’s victory. Anzbock embraced them as fact. The videos enraged him. He believed Trump’s voters had been robbed. Democracy was on the line. Someone needed to save America. So, a few weeks after the election, Anzbock picked up a hard-to-trace prepaid mobile phone and started making anonymous calls.
He called Vermont’s election-administration office and left a message telling officials their days were numbered: “This might be a good time to put a fucking pistol in your fucking mouth and pull the trigger.” In another message, he shouted at workers at Dominion Voting Systems, the ballot-machine maker falsely accused by Trump of fraud: “We’re going to fucking kill you all, you motherfuckers.” Nearly a year later, he threatened Vermont election workers again, along with two Reuters reporters looking into his threats.
Harry Anzbock’s spree of political intimidation is part of the pro-Trump right’s embrace of violence, rhetorical and real, ranging from the U.S. Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021, to a campaign of fear waged against election administrators. His threats against voting officials are among more than 900 Reuters has identified since the 2020 election.
The news organization first reported the anonymous threats last year. Around that time, according to local law enforcement sources, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began examining the messages.
Until now, Anzbock’s identity, and his story, have remained a mystery. Reuters recently identified the 60-year-old, tracing him to a motorhome and trailers he owns on a swampy property behind a veil of trees in Pownal, a town of 3,260 people. The lot was strewn one recent day with more than a dozen decaying cars, motorbikes, old boats, propane tanks, scrap tires, a mattress and dirty dishes.
In long exchanges with the two Reuters reporters – eight hours of phone interviews and more than 200 text messages – Anzbock described how he came to act on Trump’s claims of a stolen election and confirmed making the hostile calls. He said he did nothing wrong. “Nobody can touch me,” he said.
Anzbock’s journey into American political extremism is in some ways distinctive. Born in Austria, he was a member of the renowned Vienna Boys Choir before emigrating to the United States as an adolescent. Remarkably, though he views himself as a defender of democracy, he’s never voted, not even for Trump, he said.
“This might be a good time to put a fucking pistol in your fucking mouth and pull the trigger … Your days are fucking numbered.”HARRY ANZBOCK, IN A DEC. 1, 2020 VOICEMAIL TO VERMONT ELECTION OFFICIALS
Other aspects of his journey are emblematic. Like some blue-collar Trump supporters, he once leaned left. In his twenties, friends from that period said, he had an anti-government streak shared by many leftists. In his forties, Anzbock said, he liked the Democratic politics of Barack Obama but grew disillusioned.
Seven people who know him say Anzbock has long been irascible and prone to conspiracy theories, such as those surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In recent years, he embraced a fast-growing universe of alternative media, including the video sites BitChute and Rumble, that claim to champion unfettered free speech and are filled with pro-Trump conspiracy narratives. He said he came away convinced that Trump was a victim, unfairly maligned by the media as racist and corrupt, and later cheated of victory.
Those ideas and dozens of other falsehoods permeated his exchanges with us. In conversations, Anzbock repeatedly urged Reuters to look into the claims and theories he espoused. So we analyzed his texts and conversations with us, and found that he cited 112 conspiracy theories or statements that were either untrue, misleading or unsupported by evidence.
“I just go on the Internet,” Anzbock said. “It’s right there at your fingertips.”
Conservative media have amplified such conspiracy theories. And Trump and his associates wielded them after the election, helping spark the U.S. Capitol riot. These false narratives remain just as potent, some misinformation researchers say. “It’s a cultural and political moment,” said Kate Starbird, co-founder of the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public. “Many of us have family members who are just so profoundly disoriented down these rabbit holes.”