Ruby Freeman, the mother of Wandrea ArShaye "Shaye" Moss, a Fulton County, Ga., elections worker, attends the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol fourth hearing to present previously unseen material and hear witness testimony in Cannon Building, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Their family received threats after being accused of a ballot scam. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

“Be glad it’s 2020,” an anonymous caller told the Georgia election worker Shaye Moss, “and not 1920.”

The phrase “my blood ran cold” is sometimes figurative language. But not Tuesday afternoon, as Moss, an African American woman whose only offense was to work for the Fulton County Board of Elections, related the vile threats she received after Trump consigliere Rudy Giuliani accused her and her mother, Ruby Freeman, of introducing fake ballots into the count on Election Night 2020.

Anyone who grew up in the South knows what was happening in 1920, and knows what the caller was doing—not simply trying to intimidate one worker or one African American family, but to invoke the violent history of southern segregation—a period that saw 450 human beings hanged, mutilated, and burned in that one state alone, and that saw the right to vote systematically destroyed across the South. 

That historical crime was carried out by terror— threats, intimidation, and murder against ordinary people like Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman. Trump attacked Freeman 18 times in a phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In taped testimony, Freeman described her years of working and being known in her community as “Lady Ruby”:

I’ve always believed it when God says that he’ll make your name great. But this is not the way it was supposed to be … For my entire professional life, I was Lady Ruby; my community in Georgia, where I was born and lived my whole life, knew me as Lady Ruby. I built my entire business around that name, Ruby’s Unique Treasures, a pop-up shop catering to ladies with unique fashions. I wore a shirt that proudly proclaimed that I was, and I am, Lady Ruby. I had that shirt on—actually I had that shirt in every color. I wore that shirt on Election Day 2020. I haven’t worn it since and I’ll never wear it again … I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation and I’ve lost my sense of security, all because a group of people starting with Number 45 and his ally Rudy Giuliani decided to scapegoat me and my daughter Shaye. To push their own lies about how the presidential election was stolen.

Moss, too, told a story of personal devastation after being targeted by Trump:

It turned my life upside down. I no longer give out my business card, I don’t transfer calls, I don’t want anybody knowing my name, I don’t want to go anywhere with my mom ’cause she might yell my name out over the grocery aisle or something, I don’t go to the grocery store at all, I haven’t been anywhere at all. I’ve gained about 60 pounds, I just don’t do nothing anymore, I don’t want to go anywhere. I second-guess everything I do … All because of lies, of me doing my job, the same thing I’ve been doing forever.

Moss has left her job with the elections board. Freeman had to go into hiding until after January 6. Unable to find either woman, a white mob forced its way into Freeman’s mother’s home, screaming that they had come to make a “citizen’s arrest.”

It is terror as old as the United States, and as fresh as January 6, 2021. It lives among us. 

The committee heard still more testimony that made it clear that the terror was not incidental or accidental. It was part of a strategy engineered from the top to bend the elections machinery to the president’s will. Though I suspect Lady Ruby will be remembered most vividly of the day’s witnesses, the committee also heard powerful testimony from two white Republicans. The first, Rusty Bowers, is the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives. He related repeated calls and a visit from Giuliani and his associate, Jenna Ellis, in which they insisted that he had the power and the duty to call a special session of the legislature to set aside the vote on Election Day and designate a slate of Trump electors as the official result of the vote. No matter how many times he refused, they persisted. 

Bowers, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, cited his faith as he withstood their pressure. Bowers read from his journal: 

It is painful to have friends who have been such a help to me turn on me with such rancor. I may, in the eyes of men, not hold correct opinions or act according to their visions or convictions. But I do not take this moment in a light manner, a fearful manner, or a vengeful manner. I do not want to be a winner by cheating. I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to with any contrived desire towards deflection of my deep foundational desire to follow God’s will as I believe He led my conscience to embrace. How else will I ever approach Him in the wilderness of life, knowing that I asked His guidance only to show myself a coward in defending the course He led me to take?

The idea was also present in the testimony of Brad Raffensperger and the Georgia Elections Division director, Gabriel Sterling. This was the idea of an oath, of a solemn pledge to do their duty. In this life, we may never hear anything quite as close to the parable of the temptation of Jesus in the desert as the transcripts of then President Trump’s phone calls, first to Frances Watson, the Elections Division’s chief investigator and later to Raffensperger himself, in which he pleaded for 11,000 more votes—each of them would be praised and rewarded but … find those votes

Tuesday’s witnesses harked back to the testimony of Greg Jacob, the counsel to Vice President Mike Pence who recalled the unrelenting pressure Pence and he were subjected to by Trump, Giuliani, and the “constitutional lawyer” John Eastman. Jacob related that at that moment he recalled the ordeal of the prophet Daniel, who, the story goes, was thrown into the den of a lion because he insisted on praying to the God of Abraham and Isaac—but who was not harmed, because God found him blameless.

Pardon me if all this Bible talk speaks to my own secular humanist self. I was raised by teachers and a grandmother who introduced me to Daniel and the lion, and to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who went through the fiery furnace rather than bow to Nebuchadnezzar and who were also saved by God’s miraculous presence. 

These are myths, to be sure; but myths are what we live by, no matter what faith we assert or deny. It is good to be reminded of their power. The witnesses on Tuesday had walked through their fiery trial—and, as Freeman tells us, they were burned, though not destroyed. Their narrative calls to the parts of ourselves that are not polluted with partisanship or poisoned with lies.

Each of us faces the question that Speaker Bowers asked himself: Whomever we must face and account to, man or deity, will we be able to say that we did our duty? 

Our nation, too, is still within its fiery trial. May we as citizens find the strength to fight this fight; to run this race; to keep, whatever ours may be, our faith. 

Garrett Epps

Follow Garrett on Twitter @ProfEpps. Garrett Epps is legal affairs editor of the Washington Monthly. He has taught constitutional law at American University, the University of Baltimore, Boston College, Duke, and the University of Oregon. He is the author of American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution.