Conspiracy theorists latched onto an employee of Dominion Voting Systems, and their threats upended his personal life and cost him the job he loved.
Eric Coomer helped make the company one of the largest providers of election software in the country, but a 2016 Facebook post was leaked -- by an acquaintance, he suspects -- to a right-wing podcaster who cited that post, and some exaggerated or false claims about him, were "100 percent" proof "the election was rigged," reported the New York Times Magazine.
"I don't give a damn if you're friend, family or random acquaintance," Coomer had posted in response to a relative's birther claims. "[If you] pull the lever, mark an oval, touch the screen for that carnival barker ... UNFRIEND ME NOW."
"The Conservative Daily Podcast," and its host Joe Oltmann, claimed he had infiltrated what he described was an antifa phone call in which Coomer had revealed his alleged scheme, and the increasingly wild claims rocketed around social media and were cited in some of the lawsuits brought by Donald Trump's attorneys that were eventually tossed out of court.
"By the way, the Coomer character, who is close to antifa, took off all of his social media," said Rudy Giuliani in one infamous news conference. "Aha! But we kept it. We've got it. The man is a vicious, vicious man."
The 51-year-old Coomer hit the road as the threats poured in, sometimes reaching his brothers or parents, taking a rifle and moving from one isolated location to another, with occasional visits to close friends, and he received word that Newsmax had settled a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion and recanted its claims about him -- but the threats and invasions of privacy persist.
"I think Dominion as a company would be facing all of the same things they are right now without me," Coomer said. "But I was an accelerant and, for lack of a better word, I was a perfect villain."
Conspiracy theorists have scraped up bits and pieces about Coomer from his now-deactivated social media accounts, posts on rock climbing message boards and other digital spaces, and have shared personal information about him, family members and his ex-wife, who've all experienced harassment.
Coomer has filed his own lawsuit against Oltmann and 14 other individuals who shared his conspiracy theories, but he was forced out of the company he helped build and his former colleagues miss his guidance and expertise.
"There's this concern — I don't want any phone record," said former colleague Jennifer Morrell, who has also received threats. "Even though everything seemed crazy and outlandish, and you knew it was false and built on lies and conspiracy — you didn't want to do anything that could jeopardize other places where you are providing support."