The last year has been agonizing for Fulton County election worker Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, after working for the local elections office during the 2020 presidential election.
That decision upended their lives. The women and their famiy have been subjected to a barrage of death threats, harassing phone calls and emails for the past year, ever since a right-wing website, The Gateway Pundit, accused them of conspiring to commit election fraud. Moss has worked a dozen elections over the past decade for the Fulton elections office. Her mother worked as a temporary elections worker counting ballots.
Former President Donald Trump frequently assailed the women, falsely accusing them of illegally counting fake mail-in ballots, after a brief video clip from a security camera circulated on social media showing them extracting ballots from what were assumed to be suitcases at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena on Election Day. But the suitcases were standard ballot containers, and the votes were properly counted, Reuters reported.
The unceasing harassment has irrevocably changed their lives. At one point, Freeman was forced to leave her home for two months on the FBI’s recommendation. Strangers showed up twice at Moss’s grandmother’s home, attempting to make a “citizen’s arrest.” Moss now has her groceries delivered instead of going to the store.
“The way these stories have impacted me and my family is devastating. People need to know that telling lies about my mom and me is not news, and it’s not entertainment,” Moss said in a statement provided by Protect Democracy, a national nonprofit that is part of a consortium of legal organizations representing the pair.
“There are actual people who get hurt. I don’t want to feel like a victim anymore,” Moss said. “I want my life back.”
Gateway Pundit has not retracted or corrected any of its statements, and it has continued to repeat them through 2021, even though they’ve been proven false, according to Protect Democracy. Gateway Pundit’s owner, Jim Hoft, did not respond to a request for comment from Atlanta Civic Circle by press time.
“Those who purposely promote these lies must be and will be held accountable,” said a Protect Democracy lawyer, Brittany Williams, in the statement.
Freeman and Moss’ ordeal is an extreme example of how the nation’s political divisions are disrupting and damaging the lives of ordinary people working to ensure elections are administered properly. A recent report from the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Brennan Center for Justice found that one in three election officials nationally reported feeling unsafe–and one in six reported being threatened due to their job during the 2020 election. Reuters has documented more than 850 threats and harassing messages to election administrators. Few people have been held accountable.
Their case is “precisely the situation in which libel litigation is most needed,” said Floyd Abrams, a noted First Amendment litigator, in a statement. Abrams is a supporter of Yale University’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, which filed the lawsuit with Protect Democracy and law firms in Missouri and Georgia. The First Amendment does not provide protections for the defamatory statements from Gateway Pundit, Abrams noted.
The mother and daughter are seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Freeman, who worked 20 years for Fulton County police and emergency services, is trying to reclaim her life.
“The lies about me have impacted everything from having to change how I do my hair and what glasses I wear, to having to temporarily move out of my house because the FBI told me it wasn’t safe,” Freeman said in a statement. Both women have changed their appearance to try and avoid more harassment.
“People have shown up at my home. People have said the most vile and violent and racist things about me and my family. These threats haven’t stopped. The toll of all this on your life, day in and day out, it wears on you,” she added.
Freeman wants the Gateway Pundit to “set the record straight and call off their readers,” she said in the statement. “I want to be able to fully pursue my business and engage in my community without worrying whether strangers are coming to get me. They made money off of dragging my name through the gutter. They shouldn’t be able to keep doing that. They should pay for the harm they’ve caused.
“Right now, I can’t imagine ever going back to election work,” Freeman added. “The times when I’ve decided to work for the county, I did so because I thought I could help and because I knew I could do the job well. What I didn’t know was that it would turn out like this.”