Dec 1 (Reuters) - As Donald Trumps campaign sought to
overturn his shocking loss of the state of Georgia in the 2020
presidential election, it hatched a conspiracy theory.
At its center were two masterminds: a clerical worker in a
county election office, and her mom, who had taken a temporary
job to help count ballots. The alleged plot: Wandrea Shaye
Moss and mother Ruby Freeman cheated Trump by pulling fake
ballots from suitcases hidden under tables at a ballot-counting
center. In early December, the campaign began raining down
allegations on the two Black women.
Trumps lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, falsely claimed that video
footage showed the women engaging in surreptitious illegal
activity and acting suspiciously, like drug dealers passing
out dope. In early January, Trump himself singled out Freeman,
by name, 18 times in a now-famous call in which he pressed
Georgia officials to alter the states results. He called the
62-year-old temp worker a professional vote scammer, a
hustler and a known political operative who stuffed the
Those allegations were bogus, as a series of impartial
arbiters swiftly found. Yet the troubles of Moss and Freeman
were only beginning.
Amplified by conservative and far-right media, the false
claims of Trump, Giuliani and other allies sparked hundreds of
threats and menacing messages that drove the mother into hiding
and caused both women to take elaborate measures to protect
Freeman made a series of 911 emergency calls in the days
after she was publicly identified in early December by the
presidents camp. In a Dec. 4 call, she told the dispatcher
shed gotten a flood of threats and phone calls and racial
slurs, adding: Its scary because theyre saying stuff like,
Were coming to get you. We are coming to get you.
Two days later, a panicked Freeman called 911 again, after
hearing loud banging on her door just before 10 p.m. Strangers
had come the night before, too. She begged the dispatcher for
assistance. Lord Jesus, wheres the police? she asked
according to the recording, obtained by Reuters in a records
request. I dont know who keeps coming to my door.
Please help me.
Freeman quit her temporary election gig. Moss took time off
amid the tumult. The 37-year-old election worker, known for her
distinctive blonde braids, changed her appearance. Moss often
avoided going out in public after her phone number was widely
circulated online. Trump supporters threatened Mosss teenage
son by phone in tirades laced with racial slurs, said her
supervisor, Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron.
Freeman and Moss did not grant interviews for this report.
This account of the campaign against them including previously
unreported details of their ordeal is based on interviews with
Barron, another colleague and a person with direct knowledge of
their ordeal, along with an examination of police reports, state
records, 911 call records, internal county emails and social
media posts. Reuters also reviewed the video footage that Trump
and his allies used to attack Freeman and Moss and hours of
testimony by the former presidents surrogates at state
The threats hurled at Freeman and Moss are part of a broader
campaign of fear against election administrators that has been
chronicled by Reuters this year. Previous reports detailed how
Trump supporters, inspired by his false stolen-election claims,
have terrorized election officials https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-election-threats
and workers in battleground states. In all, Reuters has
documented more than 800 intimidating messages to election
officials in 14 states, including about 100 that could warrant
prosecution, according to legal experts.
The story of Moss and Freeman shows how some of the top
members of the Trump camp including the incumbent president
himself conducted an intensive effort to publicly demonize
individual election workers in the pursuit of overturning the
Some of these targets including the top election officials
in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona are notable political
figures in their states. Others, like Moss and Freeman, have
been rank-and-file workers. Mosss full-time job pays about
$36,000 a year. Freemans temp gig paid $16 an hour.
Their modest incomes left the two women with little power to
defend themselves against the billionaire president and his
legions of backers. After Freeman went into hiding, she
initially stayed with friends. They soon asked her to leave,
fearing for their own security, so she moved from one Airbnb to
another, never staying in one place for too long, said a person
with direct knowledge of her movements. Freeman went to great
lengths to conceal her identity and location, the person said.
She stopped using credit cards and started using a system for
electronic money transfers that caters to people wanting to keep
a low profile, the person said.
The constant threats so terrified the two women that they
did not return calls from Fulton County District Attorneys
Office investigators who wanted to talk to them this summer as
part of their probe into whether Trump illegally interfered with
Georgias 2020 election, Barron said. They wouldnt even answer
the phone, he said.
No arrests have been made in connection with the threats
against the women, and almost no one has been held accountable
for threatening election workers nationwide, as Reuters reported
on Sept. 8 https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-election-threats-law-enforcement.
After the news organization reported the continuing harassment
of election officials https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-trump-georgia-threats
and their families in June, the U.S. Department of Justice
launched a task force to investigate threats to election
workers. It has said it takes all threats of violence seriously.
The threats against the mother and daughter followed a
hearing of Georgia lawmakers on Dec. 3, 2020, where the Trump
campaign falsely claimed that a surveillance video from a
ballot-processing room at State Farm Arena in Atlanta amounted
to shocking evidence of fraud. A volunteer Trump campaign
attorney, Jacki Pick, said two unnamed Fulton County election
workers had engaged in maneuvers involving "suitcases" of
ballots pulled out from under a table and illegally counted
through the night. She identified them as the lady with the
blonde braids Moss and an older woman with the name of
Ruby on her shirt Freeman.
In a statement, Pick defended her presentation. There was
nothing normal about what the video showed, she said.
Giuliani, who spearheaded Trumps effort to overturn the
election results, appeared at another hearing with Georgia
lawmakers the next week, on Dec. 10. He showed snippets of the
video and repeatedly identified Moss and Freeman by name,
calling them crooks who obviously stole votes.
But the full video revealed the women were legally counting
ballots, a state investigation found.
I will go to my grave knowing that Rudy Giuliani looked the
state senators in the eye and just flat-out lied, said Gabriel
Sterling, a senior Georgia election official and a Republican,
in an interview with Reuters.
Trump and Giuliani did not respond to comment requests.
Some conservative media outlets covered the false story as
fact, giving it credibility among millions of Trump supporters.
The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website known for promoting
conspiracy theories, cast Freeman and Moss as crooked
operatives who counted illegal ballots from a suitcase stashed
under a table! Other Republican officials reinforced the Trump
Caught on candid camera, tweeted Congressman Jody Hice, a
Georgia Republican. Say it with me... F R A U D.
Hice did not respond to requests for comment. The Gateway
Pundit declined to comment.
As the Trump camp spread falsehoods about the two women,
Freeman told police her phone wouldnt stop ringing with
menacing messages. By Dec. 4, she had received about 300
emails, 75 text messages, a large amount of phone calls and
multiple Facebook posts, according to a police incident report.
And people kept coming to her house, she told a 911
dispatcher on Dec. 6.
Somebody was banging on my door, and now somebody is
banging on the door again, she said.
FACTS AND FALSEHOODS
Before the Trump team upended her life, Moss had loved her
job, colleagues say. She began working at the Fulton County
Elections Office as a temporary worker. After several years, she
was offered a full-time job in 2017. She cried when she got the
promotion, Barron recalled. Four years later, the official
county letter offering her the position remains pinned to her
As a registration officer, Moss handles voter applications,
including those for absentee ballots, and helps process the
actual votes on election day, in addition to other clerical
duties such as working in the mail room. Her data-entry work,
Barron said, may be the fastest in Georgia.
Her mother, Freeman, had also worked in local government, as
a staff member at a center that coordinated 911 emergency calls
for Fulton, a county of one million people that includes
Atlanta. After retiring, she started a small boutique business
selling fashion accessories.
Heading into the election, Fulton County had been hit hard
by COVID-19. Many election staff were sick. One died. The first
big test, a June primary election, went off poorly, marred by
long lines and malfunctioning voting machines. Moss asked her
mother if she could help with Novembers election. Freeman
signed up as a temp.
Election Day Nov. 3, 2020 got off to a difficult start.
Moss arrived at Atlantas State Farm Arena before dawn. The
floors were drenched from a ceiling leak in the space where
mail-in ballots were processed. The leak was fixed by about 8:30
a.m., causing a brief delay in the count.
Though minor, the mishap made national headlines. Georgias
biggest and most heavily Democratic county was a crucial
battleground for Democrats hoping to flip the traditionally red
state. Before the vote, Trump had been insisting that a winner
be declared on Election Day. He aimed to cast doubt on the
validity of absentee ballots, which are often tallied late and
were widely expected to favor Democrat Joe Biden. News of the
leak-related delay added tension to the closely watched Georgia
By about 10 p.m. that night, workers had been on the job for
nearly 18 hours. Ralph Jones, the voter-registration chief, told
some staff they could go home to get rest, he said, halting the
scanning of uncounted ballots for the night. Most packed up and
left. Some news reporters and election observers, who monitor
vote-counting for both political parties, did the same.
Just a few workers remained, including Moss and Freeman. The
arenas surveillance footage showed them sealing and packing the
remaining absentee ballots in black plastic boxes for storage
overnight, a standard security measure against tampering.
The close election and national spotlight added urgency to
the counting. Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of
state, criticized Fulton County on TV for pausing the processing
of ballots when many other counties had already finished. Chris
Harvey, the state elections director at the time, called Barron,
urging him to keep going, Sterling said.
At about 11 p.m., Barron phoned registration chief Jones and
told him to resume counting, Barron said. Moss walked over to a
table draped with black cloth, leaned down and pulled out the
containers of mail-in ballots her team had sealed up about an
hour earlier. Workers unpacked them and counted votes into the
night under the watch of an independent monitor and a state
investigator, according to state and county officials and a
Reuters review of the surveillance video.
For the next month, Trump and his supporters attacked the
legitimacy of the states election, which Biden won by 11,779
On Dec 3, Georgias Republican lawmakers held their first
hearings on election integrity. That morning, Trump went on
Twitter to tout a live broadcast of the hearings by far-right
news channel One America News Network. Georgia hearings now on
@OANN. Amazing! he told his 88 million followers in a tweet at
At a little past 1 p.m., Pick, the volunteer Trump campaign
attorney, told the lawmakers she had evidence of fraud
excerpts of footage from the arenas surveillance video, which
she showed at the hearing. Pick, a Republican donor, said a
lady with the blonde braids, referring to Moss, had told the
media and Republican observers to leave. Once those people were
cleared out, Pick said, the same woman pulled out suitcases
of ballots hidden under a black table.
So what are these ballots doing there separate from all the
other ballots? Pick asked. And why are they only counting them
whenever the place is cleared out with no witnesses? She said
the sites multiple scanning machines could have allowed
workers to process enough ballots to account for Bidens margin
As Pick spoke, a Trump legal adviser, Jenna Ellis, tweeted
about the SHOCKING...VIDEO EVIDENCE being presented at the
hearing, declaring a FRAUD!!! Minutes later, the Trump
campaign tweeted a One America News clip of Picks presentation.
Wow! Blockbuster testimony, Trump tweeted. This alone
leads to an easy win of the State!
By evening, Picks excerpts of the State Farm Arena video
had gone viral. Sean Hannity, the highest-rated host on
conservative cable-news giant Fox News, called it a bombshell
with what appears to be extensive law violations.
Ellis, Fox News and One America News did not respond to
The Gateway Pundit identified one of the workers as Ruby
Freeman. Other far-right outlets followed suit.
Whats Up, Ruby? Crooked Operative Filmed Pulling Out
Suitcases of Ballots in Georgia IS IDENTIFIED, read a Gateway
Pundit headline. It posted six photos of her, including one
captioned, CROOK GETS CAUGHT. The story, shared by 38,000
people on Facebook, also identified Freemans business, LaRubys
Unique Treasures. A follow-up Pundit story identified the woman
in the blonde braids as Shaye Moss.
At about 10 p.m. that night, the threats began. Strangers
rang, emailed and texted her with threats and racist taunts.
They tagged her friends on Facebook and said horrible things
about her, she later told police.
She read the 911 dispatcher the Whats Up, Ruby? headline,
saying she believed the Gateway Pundit story might have
triggered the harassment.
Over the next three days, local and state officials
dismantled the Trump campaigns claims. The so-called suitcases
were standard ballot containers and the votes were valid and
counted properly, they said. A Georgia secretary of states
investigator concluded that observers and media hadnt been
asked to leave the arena and that there were no mystery ballots
that were brought in from an unknown location and hidden under
'SHE SHOULD BE SHOT'
On Dec. 4, the day after Picks presentation, Freeman told
police she had received hundreds of threats at her home in
neighboring Cobb County, according to a county police report.
The Trump campaign continued to portray Moss and Freeman as
criminals. At a Dec. 5 rally in Valdosta, Georgia, Trump played
excerpts of the State Farm Arena video on a giant screen,
narrated by a host for far-right news channel One America News.
The footage revealed a crime committed by Democrat workers,
The next day, Dec. 6, a Gateway Pundit story described
Freeman and Moss as infamous in the annals of voter
corruption. That evening, Freeman called the police again.
She was scared, she said. Strangers had started to show up
at her home, ordering pizzas for delivery to her address in an
attempt to lure her out, according to a Cobb County Police
incident report. She showed the officer 428 emails and text
messages on her cell phone, almost all of them threats, the
Cobb County Police said no one was arrested in response to
the reported threats and declined further comment.
Freemans home address had been posted on Twitter and
Parler, a social media platform popular among conservatives.
Some Trump supporters publicly called for her and her daughters
execution or hurled racial and misogynistic slurs at them on
Facebook and other online forums.
The coon c---s should be locked up for voter fraud!!!
wrote a Parler user. She should be shot, said a Facebook
commenter under a Dec. 7 Gateway Pundit story. YOU SHOULD BE
HUNG OR SHOT FOR YOUR CRIMES, wrote another Facebook commenter.
As the threats continued, Giuliani told the Dec. 10 hearing
of Georgia lawmakers that he would like to focus on the two
people that are involved in this Freeman and Moss. In
addition to stealing votes, he accused them of hacking into
Georgias voting machines while passing USB thumb drives between
them, as if theyre vials of heroin and cocaine. I mean its
obvious to anyone who is a criminal investigator or prosecutor,
theyre engaged in surreptitious illegal activity.
The Nov. 3 ceiling leak at State Farm Arena was, according
to Giuliani, a phony excuse to clear observers and media from
the voting area so Freeman and Moss could go about their dirty,
crooked business. The leak was real a urinal had overflowed
but state investigators found there was nothing to his claims
about the women.
On Jan. 2, Trump placed his call to Secretary of State
Raffensperger and other Georgia election officials, urging them
to find enough votes to swing the election his way. They
refused. Trump later denounced Raffensperger, a fellow
Republican, who along with his family was inundated with death
threats from the presidents supporters.
A recording of that call was leaked to reporters and
published the next day, drawing global attention. Trump is heard
claiming Freeman pulled suitcases stuffed with votes from
under a table and scanned each ballot three times. She was a
professional vote scammer and hustler, he said.
Two days later, on Jan. 4, Freeman again called the police
and reported that strangers had come to her home, threatening
that it was just a matter of time before they come for her and
her family, according to a recording of a 911 call obtained by
Freeman was so frightened that she refused to give her
number to the 911 operator. Im just afraid right now of giving
my number to anybody, even the police, she said.
Barron, the supervisor of the two women, had kept in close
touch as tormentors hounded them through December. The
harassment increased after Trumps call with Georgia officials
went public, he said, especially for Freeman.
Once President Trump mentioned her in that call to
Raffensperger, it got even worse, Barron said. And it just
By the end of January, dozens of stories in far-right and
conservative publications had repeated Trumps allegations
against Moss and Freeman. On Parler, Freemans name featured in
1,512 comments and 204 posts, according to a Reuters review of
archived posts on the social media platform.
Only a matter of time before some vengeful person slips in
through an open window of Ruby Freemans home and bludgeons her
to death with a voting machine, read a Parler comment on Jan.
On Jan. 25, Barron emailed Fulton County police chief Wade
Yates and other officials. The family needed protection, he
said. Can we do anything to help her and her family with
security? he asked, referring to Moss, in the email, reviewed
by Reuters. Yates suggested hiring an armed guard at a cost of
$22.50 per hour, according to an email. We can work out funding
details next week, he said.
The women, however, never received funding for security,
Barron said. And the cost was too high to pay for themselves, he
said, exceeding Freemans $16 hourly wage.
Asked why Freeman and Moss didnt receive a security detail,
Fulton County Police said in a statement that it cant approve
budgeting in such a case and referred questions to the county
government. The county government said it did not provide
security for the women because the messages they received did
not rise to the level of criminal threats that could be
prosecuted. The decision was not financial in nature, it added.
In February, Moss told NPR about some of the harassment
aimed at her and her mother for a report about the Trump camps
pressure on Fulton County. After that, she kept a low profile.
In the spring and summer, Moss worked remotely a few days at
a time to avoid going out in public. She spoke of feeling like
she was being followed, Barron said. Moss also took sick days
when the stress became overwhelming. Threatening calls came to
an old cell phone of hers, which her teenage son used for remote
school learning during the pandemic, he added.
Freeman left her home and went into hiding in an undisclosed
location after Trumps Jan. 2 call triggered more threats,
Barron said. Moss blamed herself for upending her moms life,
Barron said, and expressed regret for asking her to help with
The threats continued through the summer. In a July 1 email,
Moss told Fulton Countys senior election officials she was
shaken. A few weeks earlier, someone had put photos of her car
and license plate online, Barron said, and strangers were
contacting her family and friends.
They are impersonating people like reporters, journalists,
etc. to get info on me from them saying they are attempting to
make a citizen's arrest, Moss wrote in the email. My mom is
currently in a safe house, she added.
On Aug. 14, a fresh Gateway Pundit article repeated Trumps
old allegations against them. These two election workers took
ballots out from under a table on Election night and jammed
thousands of ballots into the tabulators numerous times, it
New threats ensued. One reader, posting a comment under the
story, evoked the history of lynching Black people in the
American South: Those two should be strung up from the nearest
lamppost and set on fire.
'TARGET ON OUR BACK'
Trumps conspiracy claims turned Fulton County, a Democratic
stronghold containing most of Atlanta, a majority black city,
into a hotbed of threats against other election workers.
Nearly 100 messages to election officials documented by
Reuters this year targeted officials and workers in the county,
whose fast-growing population is making Georgia more competitive
Between 2004 and 2020, the share of white voters in Georgia
dropped from 70% to 60%, and Democrats made significant gains,
winning last year in the counties around Atlanta and turning the
once-reliably Republican state into an electoral battleground,
with Fulton on the front line.
We know we have a target on our back, said Robb Pitts, 79,
chairman of Fulton Countys Board of Commissioners and a
two-decade veteran of Atlantas city council. Pitts, who is
Black, reported receiving threats himself, including a racist
email in his inbox calling for his execution. Who would have
thought that this kind of thing would be happening in this
The threats are happening elsewhere, too. In a Reuters
survey of 30 county election offices in six hotly contested
states in the 2020 presidential race, 13 said they were aware of
threats or harassment directed at local election officials and
Barron, Fulton Countys elections director for eight and a
half years, said he was sickened by the racial slurs and threats
against his Black staff members. This is the best group of
people Ive ever worked with, said Barron, who is white.
The son of a retired state judge, Barron began his career in
elections in 1999 recruiting and training poll workers in Travis
County, Texas. He served in other election roles before landing
the top job in Fulton Countys elections office in 2013. After
the intense scrutiny of the 2020 vote and the barrage of threats
against him and his staff, Barron says hes had enough.
He plans to leave his job at the end of the year. He said
hes disgusted by the vilification of election workers like
those on his staff.
Its not worth it anymore, he said.
But Moss is staying, Barron said. He says he understands
why. As a single mom, she needs the paycheck and the health
(Reporting by Jason Szep and Linda So; additional reporting by
Peter Eisler; editing by Brian Thevenot)