Election 2024

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Politicians are reporting more harassment. Just ask candidates in Washoe County races.

It’s nationwide, but some link the problem in Northern Nevada more directly to right-wing activist Robert Beadles’ aggressive quest to shape local government.
Carly Sauvageau
Carly Sauvageau
Election 2024Local GovernmentNorthern Nevada

Washoe County Commissioner Mariluz Garcia says she expected some mudslinging when she ran for her District 3 seat as a Democrat in the 2022 election.

What she didn’t expect was the harassment — so severe that it prompted her to move to a cul-de-sac two years later so she could monitor who was coming and going, a step she felt was necessary so people would stop approaching her special needs children.

“My primary and general elections were both like combat sports,” Garcia said.

Surveillance at commission meetings. People following her home. Persistent accusations that she is not living in her district, even after a district attorney cleared her of residency concerns and she released documentation of a valid, in-district residence. The harassment hasn’t stopped since she was elected two years ago.

Some elected officials who spoke with The Nevada Independent said the situation is particularly acute in Washoe County local government, where election skeptic and wealthy far-right activist Robert Beadles has prioritized overhauling public boards, including helping fund a campaign to successfully oust a commission incumbent in the 2022 primary accusing him of cheating on his wife and selling drugs. Beadles declined an interview request from The Nevada Independent for this story.

Political harassment is also on the rise nationally, experts say. 

There is a “clear spike in threats to election officials, in threats to state and local politicians. And what we see more often than not, is those threats are connected to an increasingly mainstream set of conspiracies,” said Jon Lewis, a research fellow with George Washington University’s program on extremism, citing research from Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative.

Kelly Dittmar, an associate professor of political science at Rutgers University-Camden and director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics, added that women and people of color who are running for office are more likely to experience targeted harassment in accordance to their gender and race. 

That hits close to home in Nevada, which has the highest percentage of female state legislators in the nation and the second-highest rate of women in municipal office.

Garcia isn’t the only Washoe County politician who says they’ve been followed or harassed in recent years.

Commissioner Alexis Hill, a Democrat, and her opponent this election, Republican Marsha Berkbigler, also reported stalking so severe they were prompted to put cameras around their homes. Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve found a GPS tracker on her car in 2022, an incident that sparked a state law change and an ongoing legal battle.

“I was shocked. I honestly felt sick to my stomach,” Schieve told The Nevada Independent in December 2022 when the tracker was first found. “I would never want this to happen to a family member, a young girl. It’s an invasion of privacy. It’s stalking. It’s just super alarming.”

Robert Beadles outside the at the Washoe County Registrar of Voter's office on primary Election Day in Reno on June 14, 2022. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Who is Robert Beadles?

Beadles, who made his fortune on cryptocurrency and real estate, has in recent years used his money to shape Washoe County politics by funding campaigns and sending out mailers on candidates’  behalf.

Read more: GOP donor trying to reshape Nevada politics pushes radical conspiracy theories, repeatedly cites antisemitic propaganda

On his blog, he has referred to Washoe School District Trustee Beth Smith as “Death Smith” (Smith has battled breast cancer), called Republican County Commissioner Clara Andriola “Clara the Clown” and Hill, “Comrade Hill-insky.”

His PAC has sent mailers depicting Reno Councilman Devon Reese, who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, as a drag queen and claiming the councilman left his dying wife for a man — something Reese called a “breathtaking lie.

Beadles has also sued Washoe County officials, claiming the county’s voting process skewed election results while seeking to remove former Washoe County Registrar of Voters Jamie Rodriguez, County Manager Eric Brown and Hill. Beadles also wanted the county to switch to paper ballots, a voting method that has been proven to be more inaccurate and inefficient than machine tabulated voting.

The Nevada Supreme Court recently upheld a Carson City judge’s decision to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning it can’t be refiled.

Beadles also used his finances and platform to support attorney Joey Gilbert, who lost the 2022 Republican gubernatorial primary to now-Gov. Joe Lombardo by 26,000 votes. Beadles and Gilbert tried to overturn the results in court, claiming an “illegal formula” was used to tabulate votes — but their challenge was dismissed and Gilbert was ordered to pay $161,000 in attorney fees.  

Former Reno City Councilman Paul McKenzie, a Democrat, described Beadles as “viciously attacking candidates up and down the ballot” in a recent complaint he filed to the secretary of state alleging Beadles had failed to report recent political expenses through his PAC.

The Washoe County administrative office in Reno on Jan. 26, 2024. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

“A symptom of that broader disease”

Lewis says what is happening in Northern Nevada is just one example of a national problem, and that Beadles is “a symptom of a broader disease” that the United States is still learning to come to terms with.

“I don't think we've really figured out what to do when the call comes from inside the house,” Lewis said.

Lewis identified several other examples of people prescribing to disproven ideologies and performing extreme political acts, including a major Texas PAC that cozied up to white supremists and the attempted kidnapping plot targeting Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (that was later downplayed by President Donald Trump).

Nationally, Lewis said conspiracy theories gain traction because it appeals to a “primal us versus them” mentality that inspires people to take up arms against a fabricated threat.

Lewis also said large-scale stressors such as COVID can open up people to receive this kind of messaging because they are looking for answers.

“That creates the conditions for someone who is looking for that justification to go mobilize, whether that's trying to do violence, whether that's going to [COVID] reopen protests at the state capitol, whether it's going online and sending threatening messages to someone you think is a communist,” Lewis said.

Social media is also a contributing factor, Lewis said, because spreading misinformation is easy, accessible and often without consequence to the person posting it.

Dittmar added that the internet has been a factor.

“The modes are different now because of social media in part, and online services … the ease with which people can engage in this type of abuse has increased,” Dittmar said.

Washoe County Board of Commissioners meeting in Reno on July 19, 2022. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Research from the Brennan Center for Justice showed more than 40 percent of state legislators and 18 percent of local officeholders have experienced threats or attacks within the past year and a half. Eighty-nine percent of state legislators and 52 percent of local officials reported experiencing less physical forms of abuse, such as stalking and harassment, within the same timeframe.

According to a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report, people feel more justified in their attacks on local officials.

In February 2021, 19 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats believed it was justified to harass members of the opposing party. The report also found 1 in 5 Republicans and 13 percent of Democrats claimed that political violence was justified in the current political climate.

For comparison, in 1973, during the most violent period of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, 25 percent of Catholics and 16 percent of Protestants agreed that “violence is a legitimate way to achieve one’s goals.

However, Dittmar said harassment and abuse toward public officials is nothing new; data and politicians taking a stance against it is.

Dittmar also said that because research is so new, it hasn’t been determined if women in politics are facing more abuse than male politicians. However, Dittmar said it has been proven that harassment women officials experience is more gender-based. Similarly, politicians of color face more racially targeted abuse. 

“It's not so much always that there's more violence, but that we understand both the types of violence and the motivation for that harassment or abuse,” Dittmar said.

Washoe County Board of Commissioners meeting in Reno on July 19, 2022. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

What this means in Nevada’s female-led governments

Though female leadership is low in politics throughout the country, women have comparatively high representation in government in Nevada.

Not only does Nevada have a female-majority Legislature and two women senators, but almost all of the Silver State’s most populous cities have female mayors. Sixty-one percent of officeholders on the Washoe County Commission and on city councils in Washoe County are women. Women make up 42 percent of the same positions in Clark County. 

But this larger number of female officials could also mean more abuse.

Women officials are 3.4 times more likely to be harassed than their male counterparts, according to the Threats and Harassment Dataset developed by Princeton University. 

Additionally, women mayors are three times more likely to be attacked than mayors who are men. Female mayors also "experience far more violence" than any other politician.  

One high-profile example in Nevada came last year, when federal prosecutors charged a Las Vegas man for making a series of antisemitic, misogynistic calls to Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), allegedly threatening to “exterminate” her and “finish what Hitler started.”

A study published by the University of Chicago Press Journals suggests the increased likelihood of women experiencing political intimidation is tied to perpetrators' perceptions of powerful and visible women. 

Dittmar said the gender and race-based harassment is a public pushing back against challenges to the status quo.

“Politics has been the domain primarily of white men, for all of our history, and so when anybody else challenges or disrupts that status quo, it can create additional forms of backlash,” Dittmar said. “And some of the backlash comes in the form of harassment and abuse.”

Dittmar also said local politicians may face more, but less severe, harassment because of their proximity to their constituency.

“If you're a member of Congress, you probably have a higher magnitude of attacks and abuse, but it might be coming online,” Dittmar said. “You might not be in direct contact with those perpetrators as often because you are in D.C. versus in the district.”

Election workers inside the ballot processing room at the Washoe County Registrar of Voters office following the presidential preference primary on Election Day in Reno on Feb. 6, 2024. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Misinformation and harassment during the 2024 Washoe County election

On Jan. 30, the Washoe County Republican Party — of which Beadles is a board member — voted to kick out Andriola, saying she was no longer considered a Republican in Washoe GOP’s eyes (Andriola is still a registered Republican). 

During her time on the commission, Andriola — appointed by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo to fill a vacancy on the commission last April — has been seen as a swing vote who sometimes sides with Democrats on contentious issues brought to the county, even though she is part of the 3-2 Republican majority. 

Andriola has been criticized for voting with Democrats 90 percent of the time, but nearly 75 percent of all the commission's votes between April 2023 and February 2024 were unanimous. She’s split with the other two Republicans on the board on a number of contentious commission votes, including supporting Hill as chair of the commission and not supporting the restoration of a public comment period before commission meetings. 

Hill, the commission chair and only Democratic candidate running in a Washoe County Commission race this year, said she has experienced people following her home. 

“I started having weird cars come outside of my house and stopping and looking like they're filming so we got cameras installed all around the house,” she said. 

The surveillance stopped after she put up the cameras and signs indicating that visitors were being recorded, Hill said.

However, even being a part of the Washoe GOP doesn’t exempt candidates from harassment. Republican Berkbigler installed cameras around her house after she suspected she was being followed during the 2020 election and someone had poisoned her dog.

Though some politicians said the harassment has gone too far, others said they expect a certain level of harassment because they are public figures.

When asked if he had ever been followed, Washoe County District 4 candidate Mark Lawson, a Republican, said not to his knowledge, but the former Sparks fire chief said his time in public safety has always had him “looking in my rearview mirror to see who’s following me.”

“It's sad that you can’t enjoy a private life like that, but as long as you're always doing what's right … you got nothing to be ashamed of,” Lawson said. “It's become increasingly difficult, especially with social media. They like to catch that compromising picture, tell half the story.”

Beadles and others who speak during the commission’s public comment period frequently urge commissioners to make major changes to public policy, including how elections are run. In the vast majority of cases, municipalities in Nevada are limited in scope and power by the Legislature under what is called Dillon’s rule.

“There are legal parameters to which you know [county commissioners] have to abide by and I pride myself in being compliant and abiding by the law,” Andriola said.

The Sparks branch of the Washoe County Library in Sparks, Nev. on Feb. 15, 2020, the first day of early voting. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

Why candidates still want county seats

Despite the challenges, candidates are still running for local government. Even local officials who have been in the crossfires of harassment and stalking are putting significant funds and time into keeping their seats.

“To be able to serve not only my constituents, but the entire community, is more than rewarding,” Andriola said. 

“I love serving the community I grew up in. I love fixing problems and seeing how the county can be part of the solution,” Hill said. 

Dittmar emphasized that although public servants have been experiencing harassment all along, surveys seem to be showing politicians are becoming more vocal about the abuse they endure.

“We've seen a lot of women and probably not only women …  who have just silently endured it as part of the cost of being a public servant in a sexist and racist world,” Dittmar said.

As more research on harassment comes out, “people kind of frame it like this is new,” Dittmar added. “What's new is we're problematizing it, and thank God for that.”


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