Suspicious letters targeting Pierce, King elections share striking similarities
Two suspicious letters recently sent to local elections offices in Washington state contain striking similarities, including political symbols and threats.
The text of the letters sent to Pierce County Elections on Nov. 8, and to King County Elections during the primary election on July 31, both call for an end to elections. They also include threats and political symbols. Officials say the Nov. 8 letter sent to King County was also similar.
Officials say both the recent Pierce County letter and the July letter to King County also bore postmarks from Portland, Oregon.
Letters containing white powder prompted evacuations and disruptions to ballot counting on Wednesday in King, Pierce, Spokane, and Skagit counties. Steve Bernd with the FBI’s Seattle office confirmed that the agency is investigating these incidents. Similar mailings were also reported Thursday in multiple other states including Georgia and Oregon.
The King County letter has not been made public before now, even though it was received months before the current spate of mailings. It was laced with fentanyl, as were some, but not all, of the suspicious letters delivered to elections offices Nov. 8. A letter sent to Okanogan County during the election primary contained powder that was determined to be harmless.
The Pierce County auditor's office in Tacoma, Washington, released images of the letter it received, which read in part: “End elections now. Stop giving power to the right that they don't have.”
It continued, “Also be aware your ballot drops are very susceptible to noxious chemicals.” The letter included several symbols whose meaning and connection to each other or to the sender remain unclear. The symbols included three arrows pointing down and to the left, which has been adopted by Antifa, an LGBTQ Pride flag, and an inverted pentagram.
The letter sent to King County Elections ahead of the August primary said, “There must be no more elections” in similar all-caps, adding, “We are a communist country now and communist countries do not have elections.” It also said, “enjoy some complimentary white powder” and “recommended” obtaining Narcan, which is used to reverse overdoses from fentanyl. Traces of that drug were found in the letter.
Joshua Fisher-Birch, a research analyst with the Counter Extremism Project, said people should not be quick to blame far-left groups for the letters just because of the symbols included. In fact, he said the opposite could be true.
“While this threat includes anti-fascist and what appears to be a Satanist symbol, as well as a version of an LGBTQ+ Pride flag, it is extremely likely that the sender does not belong to any of those groups or communities, but, in fact, holds far right or extreme right beliefs, and is seeking to blame antifascists, Satanists, and LGBTQ+ people," Fisher-Birch said. "The message that there should be ‘no more elections’ because the U.S. is ‘a communist country’ does not fit with the symbols. Overall, this resembles previous hoaxes by the far right in an attempt to blame the left.”
Halei Watkins, communications manager for King County Elections, said the office does not have an image of the latest letter or information on its postmark, but it appeared to have a similar appearance and messaging.
“Just in their quick look, it did look to be similar to the letter that we received in August," Watkins said.
She said staff reacted quickly to the white powder and did not get a close look at the letter. Employees “immediately covered the letter and substance with a hazmat bucket, and then pulled the fire alarm so we could immediately evacuate the building," Watkins said.
When employees received the all-clear to reenter the building three hours later, the letter “was already with law enforcement.”
The letters are being investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service as well as the FBI. In a statement Nov. 9 the agencies said suspicious letters are arriving in an ever-increasing list of states.
“The FBI, United States Postal Inspection Service and state and local law enforcement partners, are investigating multiple letters, containing suspicious substances, which were mailed to election offices in California, Georgia, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington. Law enforcement is working diligently to intercept any additional letters before they are delivered. In at least four instances, preliminary tests of the suspicious substance indicated the presence of fentanyl.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to include the perspective of Counter Extremism Project research analyst Joshua Fisher-Birch and to clarify details on the postmarks of the letters received.