A Missouri public school employee incensed by an Arizona state elections official calling Donald Trump “unhinged” is now facing federal charges over a menacing message that could put him behind bars for the better part of a decade, according to prosecutors.
Walter Lee Hoornstra, 50, was indicted Tuesday on one count of communicating an interstate threat and one count of making a threatening telephone call, which carry maximum prison terms of five years and two years, respectively.
Hoornstra, who goes by “Butch,” works as the Gainesville, Missouri, R-5 School District’s technology director, district Superintendent Justin Gilmore confirmed to The Daily Beast, declining to comment further. Hoornstra does not yet have a lawyer listed in court records, and was unable to be reached for comment.
Although the indictment does not identify Hoornstra’s target by name, the object of his alleged ire was in fact Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, his office told The Daily Beast. Richer “was informed yesterday, August 16, 2022, by the Phoenix FBI, of the indictment,” his assistant, Justin Heywood, said in an email, adding, “Recorder Richer wishes to express his thanks to law enforcement for their vigilance on behalf of election officials and election workers across the nation.”
The case against Hoornstra can be traced back to the spring of last year. At the time, Maricopa’s election results were undergoing a sham audit of the 2020 election by Cyber Ninjas, an inexperienced and subsequently discredited Florida firm working at the behest of Trump-supporting Arizona Republicans who refused to accept the former president’s loss to Joe Biden.
“Nobody stole Maricopa County’s election,” Richer later wrote in an open letter to his fellow Republicans. “Elections in Maricopa County aren’t rigged.”
But on May 15, 2021, Trump issued one of many public statements casting unfounded doubt on the election results with debunked conspiracy theories alongside flat-out lies.
“The entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED!” Trump—who had by then been banned from Twitter for inciting violence—posted to his personal website. “This is illegal and the Arizona State Senate, who is leading the Forensic Audit, is up in arms. Additionally, seals were broken on the boxes that hold the votes, ballots are missing, and worse. Mark Brnovich, the Attorney General of Arizona, will now be forced to look into this unbelievable Election crime. Many Radical Left Democrats and weak Republicans are very worried about the fact that this has been exposed.”
Of course, none of it was true.
“Wow,” Richer wrote. “This is unhinged. I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now. We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5. If we don’t call this out…”
This apparently was too much for Hoornstra to bear. On May 19, 2021, the feds say he called Richer’s personal cell phone and left the following voicemail:
“So I see you’re for fair and competent elections, that’s what it says here on your homepage for your recorder position you’re trying to fly here. But you call things unhinged and insane lies when there’s a forensic audit going on. You need to check yourself. You need to do your fucking job right because other people from other states are watching your ass. You fucking renege on this deal or give them any more troubles, your ass will never make it to your next little board meeting.”
Sixteen months later, Hoornstra would be in handcuffs.
“The FBI is committed to vigorously investigating and holding accountable anyone who threatens election workers,” Assistant FBI Director Luis Quesada said in a statement. “These public servants protect our fundamental right to vote by administering fair and free elections. Any attempts to interfere with our elections by intimidating election officials, their staffs, and volunteers with threats of violence will not be tolerated.”
The ex-president has continued to rile up supporters about the 2020 election, the outcome of which was not affected by widespread fraud, as Trump insists. Trump’s relentless public statements, which span myriad topics but primarily center on his claims of being treated “unfairly” time and again, have already had serious real-world consequences.
Earlier this week, a Pennsylvania man was arrested for threatening to murder as many federal agents as he could, after allegedly becoming infuriated by the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club for sensitive government documents taken from the White House. Days before, an armed man attempted to storm the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office, subsequently dying in a shootout with cops. The suspect, 42-year-old Ricky Shiffer, had been active on social media prior to his death, doubting the 2020 election and calling for “war against the communists who chemically nueter [sic] prebuscent [sic] children and call it gender transitioning.”
On Wednesday, Richer took to Twitter again to comment—this time, on Hoornstra’s arrest.
“Thanks to @FBI for acting on this one,” he wrote. “Very meaningful. Unfortunately, I have PLENTY more to keep them busy. And, even worse, so too do some of the non-public facing members of @RecordersOffice and @MaricopaVote.”
In addition to prison time, Hoornstra, if convicted, also faces fines of up to $500,000.