Fulton County prosecutors want to protect Trump trial jury after doxxing threats

Users on far-right platforms and a Russian-hosted website exposed personal information about grand jurors, District Attorney Fani Willis, her staff and family members

Alex Woodward
Thursday 07 September 2023 17:52 BST
Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell will be tried together in Georgia election case, judge rules

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Louise Thomas

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Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has requested a judge to restrict the release of any information about jurors involved with the sprawling criminal case against Donald Trump and 18 other defendants accused of conspiring to overturn 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.

The former president’s supporters published jurors’ names, social media profiles, addresses and phone numbers as part of an apparent online harassment campaign fuelled by right-wing outrage over a sprawling grand jury indictment against the former president and others allegedly involved in the scheme. Under Georgia law, names of the grand jurors were included in the indictment.

A motion from Ms Willis requests Fulton County Superior Court to block the defendants, members of the press and anyone else at the court from photographing or “otherwise creating or publishing images” or written descriptions of jurors and prospective jurors as the case moves towards a trial.

An attached affidavit from the chief of the Atlanta Police Department claims that one website that published “doxing” information about the grand jurors and Ms Willis is “operated by a Russian company” that has refused to remove it, “thus, the doxing of both the grand jurors and the District Attorney are permanent.”

Another affidavit from Fulton County investigator Gerald Walsh, working with the US Department of Homeland Security, determined that information about Ms Willis and others was published on a Russian-hosted platform “known by DHS as to be uncooperative with law enforcement.”

According to the affidavit, that information included the names, ages, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers, GPS coordinates and other identifying information about jurors, Ms Willis, her staff and members of her family, often “intertwined with derogatory and racist remarks” calling her the n-word and “b****”.

“The effects of the widespread national and international media coverage on individuals associated with this case is real and substantial,” Fulton County prosecutors wrote in a filing on 6 September.

“Based on the doxing of Fulton County grand jurors and the Fulton County District Attorney, it is clearly foreseeable that trial jurors will likely be doxed should their names be made available to the public,” they added.

“If that were to happen, the effect on jurors’ ability to decide the issues before them impartially and without outside influence would undoubtedly be placed in jeopardy, both placing them in physical danger and materially affecting all of the defendants’ constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury.”

Far-right message boards and platforms dominated by pro-Trump users such as Gab and Truth Social were filled with posts surrounding the case and the jurors, with pledges to reveal the identities of jurors with the intent to harass them.

Accounts on fringe far-right message boards such as 4chan and The Donald – frequently a hotbed for violent rhetoric targeting political opponents – threatened to attack jurors, follow jurors home and “photograph their faces,” labeled their list of names in the indictment as a “hit list,” posted images of jurors’ alleged profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn, and tried to determine their political affiliations and religious and ethnic backgrounds.

On Wednesday, Fulton County prosecutors said that a trial to prosecute defendants in the election interference case could take four months – not counting jury selection – with roughly 150 witnesses.

Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee appeared sceptical of prosecutors’ timeline and attempts to try all 19 defendants together, suggesting that a trial for all defendants at once would be “unrealistic” and could be twice as long as prosecutors estimate.

Judge McAfee also refused to separate defendants Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell from each other in their request for a speedy trial, meaning that they will be tried together when jury selection begins next month, though it remains unclear whether all 19 defendants will join the case. Several defendants are anticipating that the case will be removed to federal court; a federal judge considering Mark Meadows’ request to move the case out of Georgia state court is imminently expected to make a decision in that case.

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