By Fabiana Chaparro and Hannah Rabinowitz, CNN
(CNN) — A Texas man convicted of threatening Georgia election officials online after the 2020 election was sentenced to two years in prison Wednesday.
Chad Christopher Stark, who pleaded guilty to one count of a sending a threat using a telecommunications device in August, also was sentenced to one year of probation. The officials he targeted were not named in court documents.
“As I see it, our country was on fire, and what Mr. Stark did was add fuel to the fire,” district Judge J.P. Boulee said in an Atlanta courtroom on Wednesday.
Boulee described what he called “depraved” conduct in which Stark incited others to “kill public officials” before the judge ultimately handed down the 24 month sentence – the maximum prison sentence allowed under the law for the single charge.
Officials have repeatedly warned of the increase in threats to election officials as the 2024 presidential election season heats up. The Department of Homeland Security warned in September that individuals could attempt to disrupt the election by aiming violence or threats at voters, election workers and government officials.
Prosecutor Brent Gray said that he hopes the case against Stark sends a “message of deterrence … because we’re on the eve of another election and it hasn’t really let up since the last one.”
According to court documents, Stark posted a threatening message on Craigslist toward an unnamed election official on January 5, 2021, a day before supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress’ certification of the 2020 election.
The message – allegedly entitled “Georgia Patriots it’s time to kill [Official A] the Chinese agent – $10,000” – threatened several government officials. The message said that “we will find you oathbreakers and we’re going to pay your family to visit your mom your dad your brothers and sisters your children your wife … we’re going to make examples of traitors to our country,” according to court documents.
It continued: “It’s our duty as American Patriots to put an end to the lives of these traitors and take back our country by force” and “we can no longer wait on the corrupt law enforcement in the corrupt courts. If we want our country back we have to exterminate these people.”
In a statement to the judge before he was sentenced Wednesday, Stark said that his online message was a “mistake” and apologized to the people of Georgia and the nation for the posts.
“I believe free speech is really important, but what I learned is the responsibility in free speech,” Stark said.
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