LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada’s two U.S. senators have joined calls for an investigation of comments by the Republican Party chairman in rural Nye County that they warn could incite violence and insurrection against elected officials.
Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both Democrats, said in a Monday letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray that county GOP chief Chris Zimmerman’s open letter “denies basic facts about the 2020 election and falsely claims that President (Donald) Trump — not President-elect (Joe) Biden — will be inaugurated” on Jan. 20.
“We are urging that the threats described in this letter be taken seriously,” the senators said after pointing to the storming of the U.S. Capitol last week Trump loyalists, and the deaths of six people.
“The letter describes being in a ‘battle for our republic’ and ends by saying that, ‘It’s 1776 all over again!’ ” the letter to Wray said.
Zimmerman did not immediately respond Tuesday to an email request for comment.
“Let me be clear: Trump will be president for another four years,” he wrote in the unsigned Friday letter posted on the party website and the internet. “Biden will not be president.”
“Now the American public is awake and ready to take back their long forgotten responsibilities to hold the elected officials accountable,” the message said. “I have heard from many of you how upset you are with the obvious and willful disregard for the truth and for justice.”
In a follow-up posted Sunday, Zimmerman acknowledged authorship and said he had been barraged with calls and emails.
“Nye County has always been Trump country, so we don’t see it as out of the ordinary to believe our president when he says he will never give up,” his Sunday message said. “There was nothing in the letter that included, implied or supported anything seditious.”
Nevada’s governor and state attorney general also criticized Zimmerman’s comments, along with U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, who represents the sprawling rural county. All are Democrats.
“I’m calling on my Republican colleagues to condemn Zimmerman’s letter, affirm the election results, and reject any and all forms of insurrection against our federal government,” Horsford said on Twitter.
Gov. Steve Sisolak termed Zimmerman’s letter “an embarrassment to the entire state” and declared Monday that “false allegations against the integrity of the election … need to end.”
“Do I condemn it? You bet I condemn it,” the governor said during a televised news conference called to talk about coronavirus vaccinations.
“Language from party officials and community leaders that incite insurrection and violent uprisings and promote blatant falsehoods are especially dangerous at a time like this,” he said.
Sandra Breault, FBI spokeswoman in Las Vegas, said she could not confirm or deny an investigation. But she added, “We take all reports of threats seriously and work with our law enforcement partners to protect the public.”
Nye County is home to Nevada’s vast former nuclear proving ground. Its biggest town is Pahrump, with about 37,000 residents about an hour drive west of Las Vegas. Trump drew more than 69% of the 25,000 votes cast in the county during the November presidential election.
County elected officials including the district attorney, Chris Arabia, and the County Commission issued statements Monday distancing themselves from Zimmerman’s comments.
Arabia said he believed the political party chairman did not incite violence and his comments were protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
“Regardless of what you may have heard or read,” Arabia said, “people should know that Sheriff (Sharon) Wehrly and I are unaware of anyone in Nye County planning political violence or any illegal action against any political opponents or governments, either here or outside the county.”
Associated Press reporters Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas and Sam Metz in Carson City, Nevada, contributed to this report. Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.