County Supervisor Gates targeted by election deniers now struggles with PTSD

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates in a photo from his October testimony to Congress on the Cyber Ninjas investigation of the county’s 2020 election. Gates said threats to election workers and electoral systems continue to raise concerns about future elections. File photo by Diannie Chavez || Cronkite News

First came the misinformation. Then the relentless criticism and violent threats. Under attack, the county official struggled to cope with his anger.

Yvonne Wingett Sanchez

The Washington Post 

Anger and resentment welled inside the local leader as he surveyed the mourners at his friend’s funeral reception last year.

Bill Gates, 51, a lifelong Republican elected to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, stood with his wife and a friend and ticked off the names of those gathered around them who had betrayed him, their party and their country.

Gates stewed that they had done nothing as he and other leaders in Arizona’s most populous county faced relentless criticism, violent threats and online harassment for upholding the results of the 2020 presidential election. They helped spread baseless conspiracies about the voting process that turned him and his colleagues into targets. They stood by as his family lived in fear and briefly fled their home.

Because of their actions and inactions, Gates said, his integrity had been questioned. He was labeled a traitor who should be shot or hung. One person wrote on social media that his daughters should be raped. He worried his own parents, avid Fox News viewers, might believe the lies about him.

At the reception, Gates began wildly waving his arms as he ranted. He was out of control and on the verge of disrupting the solemn gathering. His friend walked away. His wife, Pam, grabbed his arm tightly and shook him.

“What the hell are you doing?” she asked. “You’ve got to stop this. Stop it!”

The intensity of the past two years had delivered Bill Gates to the brink. His usual cheerfulness and folksy humor were gone, and he had grown sullen and lonely as he detached from those closest to him. He wasn’t sleeping and had lost his appetite. He was always preparing for the next fight, and his ever-simmering anger would increasingly explode into view during public meetings, interviews with journalists and social gatherings.

A therapist would soon tell him he was experiencing classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition typically associated with wartime veterans and violent assaults.

Gates speaks to his therapist during a virtual session in his home in Phoenix on Feb. 7. (Rebecca Noble for The Washington Post)

Gates is among many election officials whose lives were upended as they became high-profile targets under the false notion that widespread fraud had tainted the 2020 election. It is an idea that continues to be promoted by former president Donald Trump and his allies.

Efforts to forcefully combat these false narratives — including when Gates testified before the House Oversight Committee in October 2021 — are nearly always accompanied with threats and harassment.


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May 2023