How a former leftie fell into the pro-Trump conspiracy rabbit gap

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This story accommodates profane and violent language all through.

POWNAL, Vermont

Earlier than Harry Anzbock began threatening to kill election staff, he did his personal analysis.

The Vermont barn restorer went on-line after the 2020 presidential vote and watched a stream of movies. He noticed loads of proof of voter fraud, he later recalled, together with footage of individuals “clearly doing shady issues” at polling locations. He stated he discovered that balloting machines switched votes from Republican Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden – and that Biden took cash from China to govern the U.S. election.

All of those claims have been bogus conspiracy theories, promoted by Trump’s political allies and attorneys as they sought to overturn Biden’s victory. Anzbock embraced them as reality. The movies enraged him. He believed Trump’s voters had been robbed. Democracy was on the road. Somebody wanted to avoid wasting America. So, just a few weeks after the election, Anzbock picked up a hard-to-trace pay as you go cell phone and began making nameless calls.

He known as Vermont’s election-administration workplace and left a message telling officers their days have been numbered: “This could be a great time to place a fucking pistol in your fucking mouth and pull the set off.”   In one other message, he shouted at staff at Dominion Voting Techniques, the ballot-machine maker falsely accused by Trump of fraud: “We’re going to fucking kill you all, you motherfuckers.” Practically a 12 months later, he threatened Vermont election staff once more, together with two Reuters reporters trying into his threats.

Harry Anzbock’s spree of political intimidation is a part of the pro-Trump proper’s embrace of violence, rhetorical and actual, starting from the U.S. Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021, to a marketing campaign of concern waged in opposition to election directors. His threats in opposition to voting officers are amongst greater than 900 Reuters has recognized because the 2020 election.

The information group first reported the nameless threats final 12 months. Round that point, based on native regulation enforcement sources, the Federal Bureau of Investigation started analyzing the messages.

Till now, Anzbock’s identification, and his story, have remained a thriller. Reuters lately recognized the 60-year-old, tracing him to a motorhome and trailers he owns on a swampy property behind a veil of timber in Pownal, a city of three,260 folks. The lot was strewn one current day with greater than a dozen decaying vehicles, motorbikes, previous boats, propane tanks, scrap tires, a mattress and soiled dishes.

In lengthy exchanges with the 2 Reuters reporters – eight hours of cellphone interviews and greater than 200 textual content messages – Anzbock described how he got here to behave on Trump’s claims of a stolen election and confirmed making the hostile calls. He stated he did nothing mistaken. “No one can contact me,” he stated.

Anzbock’s journey into American political extremism is in some methods distinctive. Born in Austria, he was a member of the famend Vienna Boys Choir earlier than emigrating to the US as an adolescent. Remarkably, although he views himself as a defender of democracy, he’s by no means voted, not even for Trump, he stated.

“This could be a great time to place a fucking pistol in your fucking mouth and pull the set off … Your days are fucking numbered.”

Different features of his journey are emblematic. Like some blue-collar Trump supporters, he as soon as leaned left. In his twenties, buddies from that interval stated, he had an anti-government streak shared by many leftists. In his forties, Anzbock stated, he favored the Democratic politics of Barack Obama however grew disillusioned.

Seven individuals who know him say Anzbock has lengthy been irascible and liable to conspiracy theories, reminiscent of these surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In recent times, he embraced a fast-growing universe of other media, together with the video websites BitChute and Rumble, that declare to champion unfettered free speech and are crammed with pro-Trump conspiracy narratives. He stated he got here away satisfied that Trump was a sufferer, unfairly maligned by the media as racist and corrupt, and later cheated of victory.

These concepts and dozens of different falsehoods permeated his exchanges with us. In conversations, Anzbock repeatedly urged Reuters to look into the claims and theories he espoused. So we analyzed his texts and conversations with us, and located that he cited 112 conspiracy theories or statements that have been both unfaithful, deceptive or unsupported by proof.

“I simply go on the Web,” Anzbock stated. “It’s proper there at your fingertips.”

Conservative media have amplified such conspiracy theories. And Trump and his associates wielded them after the election, serving to spark the U.S. Capitol riot. These false narratives stay simply as potent, some misinformation researchers say. “It’s a cultural and political second,” stated Kate Starbird, co-founder of the College of Washington’s Heart for an Knowledgeable Public. “Many people have relations who’re simply so profoundly disoriented down these rabbit holes.”

Misinformation underpinned Anzbock’s threats. His abuse disturbed one Vermont election staffer so deeply that the person took three months off and underwent counseling for signs of post-traumatic stress dysfunction, based on Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos. This January, spurred by the Reuters report that first featured Anzbock’s threats, Vermont lawmakers launched laws that might make it simpler to cost suspects for intimidation and toughen penalties after they goal public officers. The invoice
was signed into regulation in Might. Not less than 9 different states and the U.S. Congress have handed or drafted related statutes.

As Anzbock’s grievances started to echo Trump’s, his personal life – which included a damaged marriage, repeated run-ins with police, menacing encounters with strangers and buddies, and a tragedy involving his solely son – was rising darker.

It hadn’t at all times been that manner.

‘Loopy, fun-loving man’

When he was 12, Harald “Harry” Anzbock emigrated along with his grandmother to the US from Austria, the place he as soon as sang within the Vienna Boys Choir, he and two relations stated.

Anzbock’s mom had emigrated a number of years earlier than. His father remained in Vienna, remarried and had one other son – whom he additionally named Harald. The older Harry not often speaks to his father and says he doesn’t know why his half-brother was given the identical title. “You’re going to should ask my father that,” he stated. Anzbock’s father and half-brother declined to remark.

Within the Seventies, as Trump was making his title in New York actual property, Anzbock moved in a counterculture crowd that rejected mainstream mores and establishments. In his early maturity, Anzbock – then a tall, muscular, blue-eyed man with soiled blonde hair – was carefree and rebellious, three individuals who knew him stated.

“We smoked plenty of pot. We have been simply trying to stay and let stay,” stated Silke Wedding ceremony, who met Anzbock when she was in faculty. “Politics was the very last thing we ever spoke about.”

Of their early twenties, Wedding ceremony stated, she and Anzbock lived out of a pal’s van in Queens, the New York Metropolis borough the place Trump grew up, cruising native highways and incomes money by serving to folks whose vehicles had damaged down. “That’s how we obtained our pizza cash,” stated Wedding ceremony.

Victor Maineri, who met Anzbock after graduating from highschool, remembers bonding over their shared love of vehicles. “We’d simply get collectively and take a look at vehicles and speak about vehicles, stuff like that,” Maineri stated. “He was only a loopy, fun-loving man.”

Anzbock married in June 1983, at age 21. He had a son 5 months later in New York. The couple break up just a few months later and finally divorced, based on public information and interviews with relations. From the mid-Nineteen Nineties to the early 2000s, Anzbock instructed us, he lived on a 40-foot boat, the “Cheerio,” in a Lengthy Island marina. He labored as an automotive mechanic and an offshore fisherman earlier than he started repairing barns, which is how he makes a dwelling at present.

Each Wedding ceremony and Maineri finally misplaced contact with Anzbock however often heard about his more and more remoted life. “Harry dropped off the radar,” Wedding ceremony stated. “He was simply utterly off grid.”

Each stated they have been shocked to listen to of his lurch into right-wing extremism.

“I’m actually blown away by listening to this,” stated Wedding ceremony. “I’d think about he could be one thing like a democratic socialist, at most.”

A decade in the past, that might have been shut. Though Anzbock has by no means voted, he favored Obama throughout his 2008 barrier-breaking marketing campaign to rework Washington, he stated. However the Obama presidency disenchanted him. The U.S. navy remained entangled in abroad conflicts, he stated, and life appeared no higher after eight years of Obama’s administration.

Over the subsequent 4 years of Trump’s presidency, Anzbock stated he misplaced religion within the media, which he accused of overblowing Trump’s ties to Russia. Then got here the pandemic.

Like hundreds of thousands worldwide, Anzbock was deeply skeptical of vaccines and immersed himself in COVID-related conspiracy theories. In his interviews and texts with us, he cited 44 false or unproven claims about COVID-19. They included the claims that vaccines are poisonous and that they comprise “quantum nanotech injectable self assembling computing techniques.”

‘Blood in all places’

Anzbock’s tangles with the regulation started properly earlier than the election.

In October 2010, Emil Vlassopoulos sued Anzbock after he was bitten within the leg by Anzbock’s unleashed dog, a rottweiler, whereas strolling his personal dog in Flushing, New York. “There was blood in all places,” Vlassopoulos stated in an interview.

Vlassopoulos stated that after the dog assault, Anzbock fled on his bicycle. Vlassapoulos chased him for 5 blocks, finally catching up behind an house constructing, the place he noticed Anzbock making an attempt to throw the rottweiler over a fence. Police responded, took a report and let Anzbock go, based on Vlassopoulos, who stated he was taken to the hospital and acquired rabies pictures. A choose ordered Anzbock to pay $25,000 to Vlassopoulos, based on courtroom information. Vlassopoulos stated he by no means acquired the cash.

“I’m not going to pay him a fucking cent,” Anzbock stated. “My dog obtained off the leash. His dog ran in between his legs and chafed his inside thigh.” He added: “In the event you assume that’s value $25,000, then I don’t know what planet you’re on.”

Anzbock’s outbursts ruptured friendships as properly. Dana Cole owned Vern’s Fish Fry, a restaurant that Anzbock frequented in Bennington, a university city not removed from his property. Each automotive fans, they attended auto reveals collectively and rode their bikes round city, Cole stated in an interview. At some point in November 2014, Cole known as police after discovering his tires had been slashed, based on a Vermont State Police report. Two days later, Anzbock known as police and accused Cole of stealing his dust bike.

Anzbock turned “extraordinarily upset,” leaving a number of messages at Cole’s residence and office, the report stated. Anzbock instructed the investigating officer that he felt like he was “going to blow up and kill” his pal, the report stated.

Anzbock acknowledged leaving the messages however denied they constituted threats. “They have been good, screaming messages at 4 o’clock within the morning,” he stated.

Cole denied stealing the bike. Fearing for his household’s security, he filed a no-stalking order in Vermont Superior Court docket. A choose ordered Anzbock to avoid Cole for a 12 months, based on courtroom information. Anzbock would neither affirm or deny he slashed Cole’s tires, saying solely: “That was the declare, wasn’t it?”

In July 2019, Anzbock pleaded responsible to a misdemeanor cost of sheltering a 15-year-old runaway little one and was fined $100, based on courtroom information. The teenager, stated a police report, had escaped from the Vermont Faculty for Women, a residential therapy program in Bennington that gives care for ladies who’ve skilled trauma. The varsity, citing privateness legal guidelines, declined to remark.

The woman instructed police that, after fleeing the varsity in February 2018, she started strolling till she was picked up by a person a number of miles away. Anzbock stated he was driving along with his girlfriend to the grocery store after they noticed the woman on the aspect of the street and picked her up.

“It’s raining, it’s chilly, she’s sporting a sweatshirt,” stated Anzbock. “I requested her, ‘Pay attention, what the hell is happening?’”

Anzbock stated that out of concern for her security, he allowed the woman to remain for greater than every week in a motorhome on his property in Pownal, about eight miles from the varsity. That is the place Bennington cops discovered the teenager 9 days later.

When officers confronted Anzbock, he admitted to figuring out the woman was a runaway juvenile and stated “he would have picked her up once more if he had the possibility,” based on a Bennington police affidavit.

“It was purely a parental type of factor,” he stated.

In August 2020, police warned Anzbock to avoid Paulson Wooden Merchandise, a sawmill in Petersburgh, New York, after he verbally abused a employee there, based on a police report and a witness. Anzbock had been complaining concerning the high quality of the lumber and disparaging the enterprise as a result of staff wore masks through the pandemic, stated the witness, who declined to be recognized.

Later, Anzbock known as the enterprise and cursed in a threatening method at an worker who answered the cellphone, the witness stated. The worker was frightened Anzbock would return with a gun, the witness added.

Anzbock stated he doesn’t personal a firearm. When requested concerning the incident, he scoffed on the worker’s declare that he had acted in a threatening manner. “If I inform any person, ‘go fuck your self,’” he stated, “It’s not a fucking crime.”

‘You’re all going to fucking burn’

Relations give conflicting views of Anzbock. Some describe him as fast to anger, abusive and threatening; some turned estranged from him for years after bitter falling-outs.

One of many 5 relations who spoke to us described a gentler aspect, a person who loves animals, takes care of getting older family members and has at all times had sturdy views. “Harry could be very obsessed with the best way he feels with issues,” the member of the family stated. “However that’s simply because he’s making an attempt to get folks to open up their eyes.”

These folks finally included election officers who Anzbock concluded ought to face “penalties” for “fraud.”

In November 2020, shortly after Joe Biden declared victory within the election, Anzbock grew satisfied the vote was rigged. Trump had declared that ballot staff had stuffed poll packing containers. His attorneys, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, unfold the wild false declare that Dominion machines switched ballots to Biden in an elaborate plot.

Anzbock purchased it. He instructed us of his considerations over Dominion machines that have been utilized in Vermont’s election, saying he heard from “native folks” who stated “bizarre stuff was happening” with them. He cited debunked movies that purportedly confirmed voters in several states pushing a Dominion button for one candidate, and “then just a few seconds later, it switched” to the opposite candidate.

Dominion has repeatedly denied that its machines have been concerned in any fraud.

Anzbock started lashing out. On Nov. 26, he left his voicemail loss of life menace for staff on the Colorado headquarters of Dominion. 5 days later, he phoned in his “put a fucking pistol in your fucking mouth” message to the Vermont secretary of state’s workplace, which oversees elections. On Dec. 16, he known as Vermont officers once more, telling them “all you traitors are going to fucking dangle” and to “kill your self now.” 

Official name logs recorded his cellphone quantity. However he didn’t depart his title, and his identification wasn’t traceable as a result of he used two pay as you go cellphone numbers. Reverse-lookup providers offered clues, although, finding the numbers in Bennington, a city of some 15,000 folks close to Pownal in southwest Vermont.

After we known as these numbers final September, he picked up on one. Over three days of interviews, at instances tense and confrontational, he refused to determine himself besides as a person “within the woods.” Anzbock defined why he made the calls, citing the movies and different info he gleaned on-line, and solid his messages as an act of patriotism: “It was my obligation to name them up and inform them to do their fucking job and examine this.”

Anzbock stated he’s ambivalent about Trump. “Sort of a dick, actually,” he stated of the ex-president. He had virtually nothing to say about Trump’s insurance policies or views, however expressed admiration for his perspective. “He was making an attempt to face up for the American folks.”

Anzbock additionally stated that he has little curiosity in politics. When requested why, if that’s the case, he made menacing calls to election officers, he stated he was compelled by his “sense of honest play.” He stated he would’ve achieved the identical had one other candidate been robbed of votes.

Quickly after we began asking Anzbock about his threats, he turned on us. Between October and November 2021, he despatched 137 texts and voicemails, some accusing us of impersonating Secret Service brokers, others threatening violence.

“We’re going to should go fucking medieval on you cocksuckers,” he stated in an Oct. 30 voicemail. “You’re all achieved. You’re all going to fucking burn.”

In one other message left with the secretary of state’s workplace on Oct. 17, he threatened the 2 reporters by title, together with election staffers:  “All you soiled cocksuckers are about to get fucking popped,” he stated. “I fucking assure it.” 

Later, he stated he wasn’t going to observe by means of and inflict precise violence, however wanted to clarify the results of spreading lies. We may very well be hanged just like the Nazi leaders after the Nuremberg trials within the Nineteen Forties, he stated, as a result of “1000’s of attorneys” have been calling for “Nuremberg 2.0.”

The far-fetched concept of a second Nuremberg is a meme on far-right websites. Movies discussing the concept – framed as mass trials of “elites” – have acquired tons of of 1000’s of views on BitChute, Rumble and Odysee, booming video-sharing websites that present right-wing alternate options to YouTube.

After listening to Anzbock’s nameless threats final 12 months, Bennington’s city supervisor, Stuart Hurd, stated he believed the caller ought to be prosecuted. State authorities didn’t determine Anzbock because the caller and opted to not examine, deciding his phrases didn’t represent a legal menace beneath Vermont regulation on the time. The FBI’s investigation of the threats continues, a Vermont state official stated. The bureau wouldn’t affirm or deny the existence of an inquiry.

Tick,tock,.tick tock,.tick,tock,. pathetic fucking clown

I TOLD YOU THAT YOU WERE GOING TO REGRET EVER CALLING MY FUCKING NUMBER, REMEMBER??, REMEMBER YOU FUCKING CLOWN.

I’m going to destroy you and that may be a menace, though not actionable.

Excerpts from textual content messages Harry Anzbock despatched to Reuters journalists on Oct. 18, 2021.

There’s a fantastic line between constitutionally protected political speech and doubtlessly legal threats, authorized students say. Anzbock stated he understands the regulation. “I do know the place that authorized line is,” he stated, “and I’d by no means cross that line.”

He defined that he at all times certified his statements that folks would face violence by saying that punishment would come solely after a authorized course of. A lot of his messages, nevertheless, contained no such qualifiers. Some did. For example, his 174-word diatribe left on a voicemail to Dominion – telling staff “we’re going to fucking kill you all” – included the phrases “after a good trial.”

4 students who reviewed his messages instructed Reuters such hedges wouldn’t protect him from legal fees. Laurence Tribe, professor emeritus of constitutional regulation at Harvard College, stated Anzbock is clearly simply “throwing that in” to keep away from prosecution.

“The actual query is: Is that this supposed to, and prone to, induce real concern of bodily hurt?” he stated. “The concern isn’t lowered by the truth that the speaker says: ‘I’m intelligent sufficient to understand how I can get away with these threats with out being prosecuted.’” Tribe stated he believed Anzbock’s messages have been “prosecutable, actual threats.”

Anzbock insisted he didn’t break any legal guidelines. “There’s not one legally actionable fucking phrase in there,” he stated.

Like father, like son

Anzbock turned down a number of requests to satisfy in individual. In the present day, he splits his time between Vermont and Pennsylvania, he stated. He’s constructing a workshop at his property in Pownal, the place he stated he plans to revive the previous automobiles he has collected there, which have prompted complaints from neighbors. “They’re not junk vehicles,” he stated.

Final fall, across the time Anzbock was threatening Vermont officers once more, his son, Jason, got here to stick with him, two individuals who know the Anzbocks stated.

Jason was a gifted artist, Anzbock instructed us, they usually shared a ardour for researching politics, the pandemic and different topics. However Jason was struggling: He was launched from jail in June 2021 after serving greater than two years on a conviction for sexually exploiting a weak grownup, based on courtroom information in his case. Jason had denied the allegation as a misunderstanding that arose from a consensual romantic relationship, based on a Vermont parole officer.

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