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CNN Special Reports

Perilous Politics: America's Dangerous Divide. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired October 30, 2022 - 20:00   ET



CHRIS WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: He's more determined than ever to buy another one.

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ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN Special Report.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're willfully choosing to ignore the data.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am going to come after each one of you personally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will get the justice that's coming to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to be arrested.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flee now while you can.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're all working for the people.

LAH: Coast to coast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People got executed for violating the Nuremberg Code, and you guys are violating the Nuremberg Code, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You no longer have our consent.

LAH: Spreading in local communities.

CARLOS ZAPATA, SHASTA COUNTY BUSINESSMAN: We know who your family is. We know your dog's name.

LAH: Targeting county supervisors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Time to dust off the old guillotine.

LAH: Even educators.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know your home address is on the internet, don't you? That could be a little scary.

LAH: Frightened election officials wearing body armor.

JOSH ZYGIELBAUM, ADAMS COUNTY CLERK AND RECORDER, COLORADO: I have it on, on almost a daily basis now.

LAH: And arming themselves.

JANICE WINFREY, DETROIT CITY CLERK: This is a .22 automatic.

LAH: Not knowing what danger the upcoming midterm elections might bring.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you ready to meet your bull riders? Welcome to the arena in a big way.

LAH (on-camera): Do you feel that this way of life is changing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. They're trying to take it from us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good ride. Travis Armstrong now.

LAH (voice-over): Shasta County, rural northern California.

ZAPATA: Yes, we're proud of this town.

LAH: Carlos Zapata's ranch, where today neighbors gather to watch bull riding.

ZAPATA: We have 16 bull riders and we have five junior, so about 21 goals, so yes, it will be good.

LAH: Identity, cowboy. Politics, conservative. Woven by faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to stand. If you don't want to see them have to fight the fight that we need to fight for them.

ZAPATA: It's a way of life. 100 percent it's a way of life. It's a way of life we're really proud of.

LAH: A way of life this former U.S. Marine believes was under attack in 2020 as COVID spread led to mandates, intended to save lives, including stay-at-home orders, school, and business closures.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, the people, of Shasta County are gathered here today in a peaceful assembly to appeal to our Shasta County Board of Supervisors. It is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and establish new government.

ZAPATA: They took a pandemic, and they weaponized it against us, business owners. And we got to the point where, look, enough is enough.

Right now we're being peaceful, and you better be happy that we're good citizens, that we're peaceful citizens. But it's not going to be peaceful much longer.

LAH: Zapata, a militia member, warned that a revolt was coming.

(On-camera): And it started here because of, would you say that viral speech you gave at the board meeting?

ZAPATA: Yes, I've been told that that was the spark that lit the fire. You know.

I've been in combat and I never want to go back again. But I'm telling you what, I will to save this country. If it has to be against our own citizens, it will happen. And there's a million people like me, and you won't stop us.

When I say these things about violence and, you know, civil uprising, it's not a threat, you know. This is a warning.

LAH: What do you mean by it could have been violent?

ZAPATA: The calls I was getting were, hey, I have guns. Where are we meeting, you know? I was like the voice of reason, you know. I'm glad you have guns. Stock up your ammo, but we're not there yet. So anybody that calls us violent or insurrectionists or, you know, outlaws, we're not.

LAH (voice-over): But he did use threatening language.

ZAPATA: We also have people on the streets. We know where you live. We know who your family is. We know your dog's name. You don't vote your way out of socialism. Once it takes root, the only way to eradicate it is to fight with arms, to have a violent, violent confrontation, to have blood in the streets.

LAH (on-camera): Anger is OK, but this type of public anger.

ZAPATA: I don't like to live my life as an angry person, but righteous anger has a place in human society.


LAH (voice-over): And most powerfully to Zapata, a place at the polls. He and other Republican voters started a recall campaign in 2021 to remove three Republican county supervisors for keeping COVID-19 restrictions in place. Including Mary Rickert.

MARY RICKERT, DISTRICT 3 SUPERVISOR, SHASTA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: And these are what you call pair. A cow and a calf is referred to as a pair.

LAH: Who showed me her ranch.

RICKERT: Come on, girls. Let's go. I love this county. We're just doing the very best we can, given the circumstances with the pandemic and everything.

LAH (on-camera): You're a lifelong Republican, right?

RICKERT: I've been a Republican for most of my adult life, yes. Yes. And I've had several threats that were fairly severe. I had one, the subject line was, going, going, gone. Dead woman walking.

LAH: You've had nightmares?

RICKERT: I have nightmares.

LAH (voice-over): That fear was shared by another recall target, Leonard Moty.

(On-camera): You're a lifelong Republican.

LEONARD MOTY, FORMER DISTRICT 2 SUPERVISOR, SHASTA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: Oh, yes, proud. Well, used to be proud. I'm not so sure anymore. But, yes, lifelong Republican. I spent 31 years at the Redding Police Department and six years as the chief.

LAH: Were you more concerned as a board member for your safety versus being the chief of police?

MOTY: As a board member, absolutely.

You have a number of important choices to make on election day.

LAH (voice-over): During repeated death threats online.

MOTY: "I'm pretty sure he's not expecting a lynch mob, but I bet he's going to get one."

LAH (on-camera): And that's directed to you?

MOTY: Yes. "Time to dust off the old guillotine. He needs a dirt nap. A dirt nap. Bury you in the ground, dead. That's a dirt nap.

LAH (voice-over): Some came in public, at supervisors' meetings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flee now while you can. Ropes are reusable.

MOTY: We never went out and cited people. We didn't shut down businesses. We didn't -- we just asked people to do the best you can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll just go over a few housekeeping rules.

LAH: Mary Rickert and one other board member survived the recall attempt, but Leonard Moty lost. ZAPATA: Mr. Moty is gone and for that I'm very pleased. But I will not

focus on what is done, but rather on the work ahead. Lack of decorum will not get us where we want to be. All eyes are on us now, and we can't afford to be uncivil.

LAH: Gracious in victory. But months later, Zapata says the end justifies the means, especially the hostile language.

(On-camera): It was very course. It was violent.

ZAPATA: Was it? Was it really?

LAH: Yes. I think it was.

ZAPATA: To who?

LAH: To the board?

ZAPATA: Did it work?

LAH: To the enemy at large?

ZAPATA: Did it work? Did we succeed? We did. A healthy fear is good. Government should fear the people.

LAH (voice-over): Zapata says the threats have gone both ways. He has been a target.

ZAPATA: I get death threats from people. I've had people say they would love to see my house burned down with my kids in it.

LAH: But remains undeterred.

ZAPATA: As I sort of become a leader in this movement, I've realized that people want nothing more than to get on board to get their freedom back.

LAH: Zapata and his compatriots have chronicled their fight and their success in this, their document series "Red, White, and Blueprint."

ZAPATA: We are free to do what we want. And I don't need permission. I don't need permission to what (INAUDIBLE).

So "Red, White, and Blueprint" really came as an idea of making a blueprint for other counties to follow.

LAH (on-camera): How many other counties have reached out to you?

ZAPATA: A lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to stand as we say thank you to the "Red, White, and Blueprint." It makes a difference, doesn't it? Oh, it makes a difference.

LAH (voice-over): Coming up, Zapata's blueprint for recalls spreads to other communities. But could it go too far? (On-camera): The way to avoid a civil war, what do you mean by that?



LAH: It's a beautiful day to fly.


LAH (voice-over): Not far from the recalls of Shasta County, we're getting a bird's-eye view of Nevada County, California, with Hardy Bullock.

BULLOCK: I'm the Fifth District supervisor for Nevada County. This is home. I was born here, and now I live with my family in eastern Nevada County. I think that's one of the pieces that everybody shares, all of humanity is down there, good, bad, and otherwise. It makes me really appreciate the people that live here.

LAH (on-camera): Even the ones who give you headaches?

BULLOCK: Yes, even the ones that give me headaches.

I started January 4th of 2021. I had constructed this reality that I thought it would be like for me when I got up there, and it was very different.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Please raise your right hand and repeat after me.

LAH (voice-over): That difference was immediately apparent.

BULLOCK: Oh, I heard the word recall, I think, in my first meeting. I haven't voted on anything so they're recalling somebody that just got there.

LAH (on-camera): Like literally just got there.

BULLOCK: It was in the height of COVID.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys have locked down the schools and everything around us. You're putting people out of work.

BULLOCK: There was a lot of fear, a lot of tension.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can't handle this job, step down. Step down.

BULLOCK: Yelling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're willfully choosing to ignore the data.

BULLOCK: Screaming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you job or get out of our way. Otherwise, we will take you out of our way.

BULLOCK: We had security protocols in advance of our meetings. We couldn't go into the chambers because we had threats against our life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think this charade and your little fake wall is going to do anything for us people? Yes, I'm over your shit.

LAH: It must have been wild.

BULLOCK: Yes, it was pretty wild.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am going to come after each one of you personally.

BULLOCK: It's really hard because we signed up to take that energy from our constituents. But there's a dividing line when listening in service to others becomes detrimental to the democracy process as a whole.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You'll be lucky if you get out of this alive.

HEIDI HALL, DISTRICT 1 SUPERVISOR, NEVADA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: So I'm Heidi Hall. I've been on the board of supervisors for six years. I've always been in public service.

LAH (on-camera): Tell me about the recall effort.

HALL: Yes. So all five of us have been told we're going to be recalled. You know, what's funny is it's against all of us, so two Democrats, three Republicans. They don't like anything that we're doing.

LAH: Did Shasta influence Nevada County?

HALL: There was some commonality. There were some of the same people showing up.

LAH: Let's go over some of the accusations made against you and the other supervisors. You're part of a global world order conspiracy. Practicing medicine without a license. Enabled crimes against humanity. Censored public comments.

HALL: Right. It's ridiculous. It's performative politics. It's finding things to complain about without participating in a process to make things better for people.

LAH: The reasons for the recall?


LAH: What is -- you've seen this.

BULLOCK: Yes, I have. Yes. In my position, I don't have any authority to conduct most of what's described here. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These liberal laws -- excuse me my language --

but are (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up our cities, and I'm sick of it.

HALL: There was just extreme anger and frustration. They attacked us personally. There was just sort of a lack of humanity. We've continued to work well as a board, but everything changed in terms of how the public interacted with us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You will face judgment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no organization, the WHO, the CDC, you all that can separate me from my God-given rights as a United States citizen.

HALL: They wanted their own facts. It's just this rage of wanting their own way.

LAH: Where does that come from?

HALL: You know, I don't want to keep harping on Trump, but there is this Trumpism that when Trump came into power, he made it acceptable to say science isn't true. He made it acceptable to mock people. He made it acceptable to say, "It's us, the white men in power, who are being attacked and harassed." And people who are already challenged or fearful or angry or concerned about their own status in life picked up on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's all get up and move.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you scared?

BULLOCK: We had to leave meetings with sheriffs by us. We had different levels of security that we had to employ. We lock our doors. We have an awareness of who's out there. You know, my kids have been approached by people and asked if their dad was a supervisor, and they don't know who these people are.

CALVIN CLARK, NEVADA COUNTY RESIDENT: Yes, I would like to address the board of supervisors.

LAH (voice-over): Calvin Clark, an outspoken long-time resident of Nevada County led the recall effort.

CLARK: There's a real disconnect throughout the United States in regard to citizens and the elected board of supervisors and their county staff. There was really no standardization in this pandemic. It was over the top. It was beyond clear protection of the citizens' rights.

LAH: In December of 2021, Clark made an appearance on the New America, the John Birch Society's online magazine, where he discussed the Nevada County recall efforts.

CLARK: Doing recalls and calling them into the accountable place of their oath of office. If they don't understand it, this is a way to avoid a civil war. They should think about it. LAH (on-camera): Is a way to avoid a civil war. What do you mean by


CLARK: You know, we have where too much government gets to be tyranny. And yet we start adopting small strings of tyranny until we start to be bound down and our rights get lost, and then pretty soon we don't know who's really at the end of a third-party contract to track your children.

BRIAN LEVIN, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF HATE AND EXTREMISM AT CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY-SAN BERNARDINO: COVID is what galvanized not only different depths and tiers with respect to fears and the related aggression, but it got all these tributaries together into one raging stream.

LAH (voice-over): Brian Levin is the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino.

LEVIN: They are seeing local governance become the traitors that are depriving them of the rights that they previously said was being done at the hands of the federal government.

LAH: The recall proponents failed to submit required signatures by the late May deadline, saying in a statement they instead wanted to focus on electing two new supervisors, one of which was Calvin Clark, who earlier this year announced a run for the District 4 supervisor seat, challenging board chair Susan Hook.


LEVIN: He lost. 17 percent of the vote was all he got. They are entering politics not necessarily to win but to make themselves brazenly, loudly, and aggressively known with the now not-so-indirect threat of violence.

HALL: My concern is for the country, for this community. It's a very disturbing trend we're seeing throughout the country, but I don't believe that we're going to really get past it without addressing the anger that does not come from a rational place.

LEVIN: These people are angry that they feel fear that there is a multi-tiered takeover not only of the government but what it means to be an American in their local communities.

LAH (on-camera): What's happening to local elected officials across the country when there is all of this anger being directed at people like you?

BULLOCK: People are getting out of elected and appointed office because it's too hard on them and their families. Good people are deciding not to run for office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't run this show no more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People got executed for violating the Nuremberg Code, and you guys are violating the Nuremberg Code, too.

HALL: I want to emphasize that that is a minority in this county, but this minority of people, I think, are destructive to this community and to the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will get the justice that's coming to you.

LAH (voice-over): Next.

MICHON: Raise the frigging bar.

LAH: School board members fear for their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know your home address is on the internet, don't you? That could be a little scary.



BRENDAN SHERIDAN, LOUDOUN COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: This is the letter that was sent to my son. It arrived with Christmas cards in December, and I just thought it was another card from somebody I didn't know.

"It is too bad that your mama is an ugly communist whore. If she doesn't quit or resign before the end of the year, we will kill her, but first we will kill you."

LAH (voice-over): Brenda Sheridan is a school board member in Loudoun County, Virginia.

SHERIDAN: It's not the job we expected in 2019 when we were running. It's the job we got. It wasn't the job I had the previous eight years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a stupid, dumb, ignorant (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you are, you liberal hag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. I just wanted to call you up and let you know what a sick (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you are for preying on the minds of children. Maybe you should take your fat ass to the gym. You know your home address is on the internet, don't you? That could be a little scary.

SHERIDAN: I seldom go anywhere by myself because of the threats, and I don't think there is any bigger fear than putting your own children and your own family in harm's way.


LAH: During the pandemic, school boards in several states were becoming battlegrounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Figure it out or get off the podium.

LAH: Over school closings, transgender rights, and diversity education.

LEVIN: COVID and the fact that people were at home and were online more and were angrier more, at a time of polarization were able to transform what in the past were rather sleepy gatherings into battles to plant that flag.

LAH (on-camera): Was there a moment when things changed?

SHERIDAN: I like to say that there was a smoldering fire from the pandemic, and the angry parents, but as it started to have a lull.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't wipe out racism with more racism.

SHERIDAN: Someone would ignite the fire again with a little gasoline.

LAH: What was that gasoline?

SHERIDAN: The first thing was CRT. And that we were teaching CRT in our schools.

LAH (voice-over): Critical race theory, which is rarely taught outside of law schools, asserts that racism is inherent in U.S. laws and society, which has angered some who say it promotes an anti-white agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're divisive, racist, and hate-filled policies are being spewed into the minds of my children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our kids are being brainwashed to hate their country, its founding, themselves, and each other by being taught the Marxist communist principles of critical race theory.

LAH (on-camera): Do the Loudoun County public schools teach CRT?

ZIEGLER: No. No. I don't know of any school division in the country that's teaching CRT.

LAH: Then why are people angry about it?

ZIEGLER: Because it's become that catch all. Right. CRT means everything that I don't like about schools.

LAH (voice-over): Dr. Scott Ziegler is a superintendent of schools for Loudoun County, a suburb of D.C. it is one of the wealthiest counties in the country and has become increasingly diverse.

ZIEGLER: If you go back 25 years, the county, the student body was over 80 percent Caucasian. Today, our Caucasian students are about 45 percent, 46 percent of our student body. I became interim superintendent officially on January 6th, 2021.

LAH: 2021, so really in the thick of it.

ZIEGLER: Yes. Yes.

LAH (voice-over): Like Sheridan and other school board members, Ziegler became a lightning rod for hate when vitriol escalated over issues like a state law that expanded the rights of transgender students, including the right to use school bathrooms of the gender they identify with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two alleged sexual assaults at two different high schools.

LAH: And two sexual assault incidents involving a male student, who was sentenced by a judge to a residential treatment center.

ZIEGLER: "Don't be calling little girls boys, you sick (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You are so (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You have no idea, bitch. You are about to get a real education mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Let the pansy ass Scott Ziegler protect himself like all the snowflakes out there. I guess Scott is too busy protecting rapist. Try all these commies for treason."

LAH (voice-over): Did you expect any of this?


ZIEGLER: I expected some controversy, and of course every superintendent goes through that. I didn't expect the hatred. I didn't expect the threats.

LAH: How does that impact you walking to your car or going to the grocery store?

ZIEGLER: It makes a big impact. I am a concealed weapons permit holder, but certainly now I'm more conscious of when I'm carrying and when I'm not carrying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are clowns. Vote them out.

LAH: Do you look back at some of the rage in these meetings and some of the threats that have been levied against these school board members, whether you agree with them or don't agree with them? Do you look and hold some responsibility for that?

IAN PRIOR, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FIGHT FOR SCHOOLS: No. I can only speak my mind. I take responsibility for what I say and for what I do. We condemn threats, whether it's to the school board or the community.

LAH (voice-over): Ian Prior is a lawyer and a parent with two kids in the district. He's also a former Trump administration official.

(On-camera): So you really spent a good decade, a decade and a half, in the Republican ecosystem.


LAH: As an operative.


LAH: And been sort of switched to suburban life. PRIOR: Yes.

LAH (voice-over): Merging career with parenthood, he wrote this for "The Federalist," a conservative publication. "The school board and the administration are willfully using children as guinea pigs in their unconstitutional experiments in race-based communism."

The article got his name put on what he calls an enemies list, posted on a private Facebook group that some school board members were a part of.

PRIOR: And it just struck me as, this is cancel culture coming to your neighborhood. And I ended up going on Tucker Carlson talking about it.

They're called the anti-racist parents of Loudoun County. We call them chardonnay Antifa.

LAH (on-camera): When did you first hear about Shasta County?

PRIOR: I think there was like a documentary out on it.

LAH (voice-over): Shasta County is where Carlos Zapata helped lead the successful recall of a Republican board member.

ZAPATA: People all over the country are getting fed up.

LAH: Showing how he and others did it in a documentary series called "Red, White and Blueprint."

PRIOR: It just came to my mind that, hey, this happened in Shasta. Let me look up Virginia recall statute. In Virginia, you don't have that. You have a removal. And there was an uproar in the community, and a lot of the uproar was from parents that had been fighting well before I got involved.

Good afternoon.

LAH (voice-over): Prior started Fight for Schools, a conservative parent group, to launch a removal campaign to oust six of the nine school board members.

(On-camera): Why not just wait for the election?

PRIOR: Because you're talking about your kids.

Thank you.

LAH (voice-over): As the anger increased, the board stopped showing speakers' faces on camera after several clips went viral. The first viral video was of Loudoun County parent Brandon Michon.

MICHON: It's not a high bar. Raise the frigging bar.

LAH: As right-wing media pounced, Fight for Schools gained momentum.

PRIOR: We start getting signatures, start getting a lot of signatures. And I think people on the school board started realizing this isn't a joke. They're actually going to go through with it.

I said we'd see you in court. As of 3:30 today, we are now in court.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Speaker shall refrain from vulgarity, obscenities, profanity or other like breaches of respect. And I thank you for your cooperation.

LAH (voice-over): June 22nd, 2021.

SHERIDAN: It's probably the night I have relived and replayed in my head more than any night of my life.

LAH: 259 people signed up to speak at the Loudoun County School Board. Sheridan was chair and running the meeting.

SHERIDAN: Being chair in a hostile, volatile room is scary.

LAH (on-camera): You could feel it?

SHERIDAN: Oh, absolutely. Right before I called the meeting to order, the superintendent came over to me and said, I just want you to know we've confiscated eggs from people on the way in, and we don't know if we got them all.

LAH (voice-over): While the school board stream no longer shot close- ups, FOX News cameras did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today instead of focusing on the hate that seems to be dripping off the followers of Jesus in this room and from their kids in our schools, I wanted to take the time --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll wait. I can wait.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've noticed a pattern. You treat your bosses, most of us, like children. You treat the woke mob your employees and teachers unions like the boss. And you treat children who've not harmed you like pawns and your leftist social experiment.

LAH (on-camera): You didn't get through the night.

SHERIDAN: We did not get through the night, no.

DICK BLACK, RETIRED VIRGINIA STATE SENATOR: You're teaching children to hate others because of their skin color. And you're forcing them to lie about other kids' gender. I am disgusted by your bigotry and your depravity. It's time to replace --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Madam Chair, I move to end public comment. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All in favor, please raise your hand and say aye.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The motion carries 9-0. Public comment is now ended. We will move to our next agenda item.


ZIEGLER: When that vote passed 9-0, the school boardroom erupted again.


ZIEGLER: And really was largely out of control. People were standing on chairs.

LAH: One person was arrested and another was briefly detained.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an unlawful arrest.

ZIEGLER: For much of that time, I was out front, people were certainly trying to intimidate me through that process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to be arrested.


LAH: The divisiveness kept Loudoun County in the national spotlight, and right-wing media outlets fed the frenzy. According to Media Matters, FOX News aired close to 80 segments on CRT in Loudoun County in the four months leading up to and just after the June meeting.

JOE CONCHA, THE HILL MEDIA AND POLITICS COLUMNIST: The Loudoun County school board is being called the wokest and worst school board in America.

EMILY CAMPAGNO, FOX NEWS: No wonder parents are furious. Their voices aren't being counted.

JOE MOBLEY, LOUDOUN COUNTY PARENT, ARMY VET: This school board, and in particular Brenda Sheridan, have a real problem with the First Amendment.

SHERIDAN: I always knew when I was on and somebody said my name or Loudoun County because the e-mails came out during the night from across the country.

LAH (on-camera): The threats would come?

SHERIDAN: Mm-hmm. Yes.

LEVIN: This feeling that action must be taken at the local level has been hyper charged and that culture war is not about changing hearts and minds and voting people out, but highlighting people as traitors or as enemies. LAH: You've also faced threats. Can you tell me a little bit about

what's happened?

PRIOR: I've gotten messages on Facebook saying that they hope my kids, you know, get raped. My kids are 9 and 6. Recently somebody mailed a postcard to everyone on my street except for me, you know, saying that I was racist.

LAH: As far as funding for Fight for Schools, who funds you?

PRIOR: We've gotten some donations from some groups, but it's mainly individual donors.

LAH (voice-over)So far, Fight for Schools has raised more than half a million dollars with the largest donation of $25,000 coming from a Loudoun County businesswoman and Republican activist. Close to $20,000 has come from far-right organizations, 1776 Action and American Majority.

As money poured in, Fight for Schools was able to ramp up its removal efforts on six of the nine school board members.

SHERIDAN: One of them sadly, my colleague passed away. One of my colleagues resigned. They had enough signatures. They went to court. She resigned rather than go through with a trial. So they won, and they focused on myself and Atoosa Reaser.

LAH: Prior and his team got the necessary signatures. But in Virginia, the citizens don't vote. A judge or jury decides removal in court.

SHERIDAN: I'm really just hoping for a fair and quick process this morning.

LAH: The judge ended up dismissing the case.

SHERIDAN: I'm completely relieved not just for myself but for the people who put me in office.

ATOOSA REASER, LOUDOUN COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: I will never be able to put into words the toll this process took on my family and on the families that I serve. If an angry group can abuse the courts for their own political agenda, it will end democracy as we know it.

PRIOR: So we're obviously disappointed. There's currently a grand jury investigating many of the things that we alleged in our removal petitions.

LAH: In September, the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed that the grand jury investigation into the school district's handling of two sexual assaults can move forward despite a legal challenge from the school board. The investigation was launched after some parents were angry over what they say was an alleged cover-up by the school district, a claim the school district denies. And Prior has reached out to the state to remove Superintendent Ziegler, who has been in education for 30 years. (On-camera): The 149-page package that was delivered by Fight for

Schools, in that document, the complaint is that you do not possess the capability, experience, or leadership skills to have the job, that you repeatedly and blatantly misled the public with a complete disregard for transparency and accountability. How do you respond to 149 pages of that?

ZIEGLER: So I haven't responded. It's just kind of floating out there. But it's not accurate. Absolutely I'm qualified to have this position. I have more experience, more classroom experience than many superintendents have.

LAH (voice-over): In April, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin also tried to force all nine members of the school board to face elections this year. But his efforts were unsuccessful. All this doesn't matter anymore to Brendan Sheridan.

(On-camera): Are you going to run again?


LAH: Why?

SHERIDAN: I've become sleep-deprived, probably a little short- tempered, fearful, and that's not how I want my life to be. And I certainly don't want my family's life to be like that. So not only will I not run, I will move out of Loudoun County. I will leave our home. It will be 25 years, and I will leave.


LAH: How heartbreaking is that for you to say that?

SHERIDAN: It's very heartbreaking.

LAH: When they point the finger at you and say you're the villain, you caused this, what do you say to them?

PRIOR: Maybe a villain for them, but to others, I think they have a very different idea. I'm the person that's basically allowed people to understand that they have a voice and that their voice matters.

LAH: I just want to ask you --


LAH: That flag.

ZIEGLER: So that flag was left on the ground after the June 22nd school board meeting. We have to remember the good and the bad, and so that night hopefully was not characteristic of Loudoun County or the country. And so I thought it was important to keep at least one artifact from that night.


INNOVATION AND RESEARCH: We're hearing 30 percent to 50 percent of election workers have either left or are thinking about leaving, and it's not just in the swing states.


ZYGIELBAUM: Voting is very important. It's the foundation for what we do with our political systems. We work for the community. We work for the citizens.


LAH: Here, preparation for the 2022 midterms is well under way, not just with the ballots.

ZYGIELBAUM: I'm Josh Zygielbaum, the Adams County clerk and recorder in Adams County, Colorado. I have it on, on almost the daily basis now.

LAH: Zygielbaum doesn't like to show his bulletproof vest, something he thought was in his past.

ZYGIELBAUM: When I left the Marine Corp I thought that that was the going to be the last time that I was wearing body armor and here we go again.

LAH: Security protocols had been heightened at the county office.

ZYGIELBAUM: Citizens will no longer be allowed directly to come into the office. If they need to get help from our staff they'll do it at a window setting. As it gets closer to election day I anticipate that it will become more tense in the community. I know that there's county clerks and other elected officials around the country that are doing the same, some are even carrying concealed weapons.

WINFREY: This is a .22 automatic.

LAH (on-camera): And what kind of permit do you have?

WINFREY: I have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

LAH (voice-over): Janice Winfrey, a grandmother and longtime Detroit City clerk now protects herself whenever she's in public.

BECKER: This is not something we've seen ever prior to 2020 that these civil servants who run elections, who are normally anonymous are somehow now being targeted for a constant onslaught of harassment and threats.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a hunter and I think you should be hunted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to hang you. BECKER: Somehow election officials with the highest turnout in

American history manage a very transparent and secure election in the middle of a global pandemic.

LAH: That includes the city of Detroit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we've done a good job. I think you'll be impressed with the outcome.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Detroit, I wouldn't say has the best reputation for election integrity.

BECKER: To this day there's not the tiniest shred of evidence that there was any kind of fraud that would have changed the outcome of the 2020 election, and yet, unfortunately, because of lies coming from the losing presidential candidate many of his supporters think the exact opposite.

LAH: Lies leading to anger and frightening confrontation for Winfrey.

WINFREY: This big, white guy comes up to me, 6'3", 250 at least, right? I think he caught me like here midway in the street. I'm like wait a minute, like get back, what are you doing? You know. And he's hurling all these things at me, and why I did this, why I did that. Why did you allow Trump to lose, why did you cheat. And I'm like what are you talking about. And I said I need you to get back. He said I need you to tell me why Trump lost. And I'm doing this, and then my neighbor comes by and she comes between us and circles him so I can get home. Isn't that crazy?

MARIBETH WITZEL-BEHL, CITY CLERK, MADISON, WISCONSIN: Leading up to the election it was more name-calling, bullying types of comments.

LAH (on-camera): Called into the office.

WITZEL-BEHL: Or e-mailed or sent us messages. Yes, somebody said that I'm a waste of skin and an oxygen thief.

LAH (voice-over): With a recount came death threats.

WITZEL-BEHL: Yelling at us, swearing at us, threats of violence posted online.

LAH (on-camera): What do you mean by threats?

WITZEL-BEHL: Types of ammunition to use on me, types of guns, talk of lynching.

BECKER: I've been shown threats directed at election workers' children with the children's names, with the names of their school.

LAH (voice-over): The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is offering state and local election officials training to deal with potential violence. And the U.S. Department of Justice has formed a multidivisional task force to fine and prosecute those making threats against them. Still threats and retirements are potentially leading to critical election worker shortages.

ZYGIELBAUM: I've heard from staff that, you know, some of them feel it may not be worth the risk any longer to be in this type of role.

BECKER: When we're hearing 30 percent to 50 percent of election workers have either left or are thinking about leaving, and that alone would be bad enough. But then we also have to consider what an employee might be replaced with as we see election deniers running for offices responsible for election administration at the state level, at the local level.

LAH: And in a service dominated by volunteers, election workers have even more to worry about with the upcoming 2022 elections because Republican state lawmakers around the country have been expanding the powers of poll watchers, passing restrictive voting bills and enacting new criminal penalties that target election officials.


Election workers, school board members, county supervisors, targeted, terrified by the anger and the threats.

ZAPATA: We know where you live. We know who your family is.

LAH (on-camera): Why are you seeing this right now?

LEVIN: We had a telegenic outsider who was very skilled at harnessing social media.

LAH: Who are you talking about?

LEVIN: The telegenic spokesperson of the highest level was President Trump. So what we see is a catalyst, a high transmitter and then a sticky kind of social media, which keeps people riveted on a collection of carouseling grievances.

LAH (voice-over): Grievances and lies echoed and spread by some Republican politicians.

REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): The Fauci-funded China virus.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Trump won the 2020 election.

LAH: What does it all mean for the future of our democracy especially if this is happening at the national and local level?

LEVIN: Unless we see some kind of turning down of the rhetoric and turning down of the fear and anger, these things that you're seeing now with regard to local aggression and January 6th, that's not the end. That's the start.