Donald Trump has inspired a loose army of white supremacists, extremists, domestic terrorists and so-called 'militia'. Will they answer his call on election day and beyond?
Good evening. Voting in the 2020 presidential election concludes in 25 days.
Whether it’s the steroids or his precipitous drop in the polls, Donald Trump is lashing out. As CNN’s Marshall Cohen has pointed out, in just a matter of days he has accused Barack Obama and Joe Biden of treason, demanded his attorney general pursue indictments of Obama, Hillary Clinton, and James Comey, lashed out at his Secretary of State for failing to release information about Hillary Clinton, criticized the FBI chief he appointed for refusing to repeat his lies about voter fraud, and again claimed Joe Biden should be disqualified from running. Ross Rosenfeld, a columnist in my favorite hometown tabloid, the New York Daily News, summed it up: “Trump just went full fascist.”
It’s easy for some to dismiss these rants- after all, aren’t we used to this President saying crazy things? But occasionally something brings the importance of words back into perspective. This week, it was the FBI’s announcement that it had scuttled a violent plot to overthrow Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Indeed, the thirteen extremists arrested in the probe clearly supported Donald Trump, and it was not lost on observers that he tweeted in April “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”, two words in which NBC News reported “some of his most fervent supporters in far-right communities — including those who have agitated for violent insurrection — heard a call to arms.”
The dashboard is blinking red. The International Crisis Group, an independent organization that tries to prevent wars, rarely focuses on domestic politics in the United States. But this month, its President & CEO, Robert Malley, made the US election the focus of his introduction to month’s Crisis Group report.
I asked some of my colleagues a simple question: through our 25 years of work across the globe, what factors have we identified as warning signs of potential election-related violence? Among the points they flagged were these:
High-stakes elections, with stakes that both sides see or portray as existential;
A polarized electorate;
The proliferation of hate speech and misinformation, including through social media;
Pre-existing ethno-sectarian or racial tensions;
Elections that both sides are convinced they will win unless the other side cheats;
Electoral institutions or processes that are distrusted by one or both sides;
Highly segregated sources of information, with each side dismissing the truthfulness of the other’s;
Potential for narrow margins of victory;
Proliferation of weapons;
Existence of armed non-state actors or militia;
A political leadership that fuels divisions rather than defuses them; and
The potential for contested electoral outcomes.
All of these factors are indeed present, to some degree, in the United States in October 2020. The Republican Party has already done the organizing and built an infrastructure for (racist, vile) voter intimidation and suppression across the country. Now we face a prospect that the President will use his Twitter account to initiate violence and that an irregular army is ready to receive his commands.
On Monday my American Interregnum co-editor Melissa Ryan will chronicle what technology platforms are doing to prepare for this possibility, and for scenarios where the outcome is in dispute. Until then, though, follow the links below- and marinate for a while on the very real possibility of bloodshed on election day and beyond in this country. No matter who wins, right-wing extremism is on the rise. We need to face it, and find solutions. The answer cannot be, “don’t vote.” Make a plan now to get to the polls safely, and early if you can, or to vote by mail.
Tracking the Conversation
While Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists was the talk of the debate, his decision to skirt the subject is precisely in line with how he’s historically addressed violence on the part of hate groups and his supporters: He emboldens it. As far back as 2015, Trump has been connected to documented acts of violence, with perpetrators claiming that he was even their inspiration. In fact, almost five dozen people, according to reports from the Guardian and ABC News, have enacted violence in Trump’s name.
Cellphones in hand, 'Army for Trump' readies poll watching operation. Jarrett Renshaw, Joseph Tanfani. Reuters.
The mission, the officials said, is to capture photos and videos Republicans can use to support so-far unfounded claims that mail voting is riddled with chicanery, and to help their case if legal disputes erupt over the results of the Nov. 3 contest between Republican incumbent Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
The Trump deployment is the culmination of months of detailed planning, aggressive volunteer recruitment, and reconnaissance trips to key states. President Donald Trump has been personally briefed on the program, which is overseen by nearly two dozen full time staffers. It underscores how — to the alarm of voting rights advocates and Democrats — Trump and his reelection effort have turned the idea of voter fraud and irregularities into a centerpiece of the campaign. The prospect of a prolonged vote-counting fight that will extend far beyond Nov. 3 appears very real.
Both parties prepare for possibility of contested election as chaotic White House race hurtles to a close. Amy Gardner, Rachael Bade and Elise Viebeck. Washington Post.
Campaign operatives, election lawyers and constitutional scholars say there are several scenarios that could push the outcome of the White House race to Congress for the fourth time in history — or to the Supreme Court, as happened in the contested 2000 election. While most agree such possibilities are slim, Trump has heightened concerns — and preparations — by repeatedly refusing to commit to conceding if he loses, while declaring that he wants the courts to play a role in deciding the race.
'Our worst nightmare': will militias heed Trump's call to watch the polls? Ed Pilkington. The Guardian.
“The militias will absolutely seize on [Trump’s comments],” said Steven Gardiner, who tracks militias at the progressive thinktank Political Research Associates. “The possibility of armed factions with military-style rifles showing up at polling places is very troubling.” Devin Burghart, the director of the anti-bigotry organization the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, had a similar sinking sensation when he heard Trump’s words. “My first thought was ‘Here we go’. This is the stuff of our worst nightmares.”
Thwarted right-wing plot in Michigan bodes badly for this fall. Greg Sargent. Washington Post.
It is not clear whether Trump’s rhetoric played any role in inciting this plot. But as journalist Heidi Przybyla pointed out in a Twitter thread laying out this spring’s timeline of events in Michigan, Trump did appear to time his public comments to incite already brewing right-wing unrest. He attacked local leaders such as Whitmer and urged rebellion against their efforts to protect their own people during a pandemic.
Former Special Forces sought by business group to guard polling sites in Minnesota, company says. Joshua Partlow. Washington Post.
A private security company is recruiting a “large contingent” of former U.S. military Special Operations personnel to guard polling sites in Minnesota on Election Day as part of an effort “to make sure that the Antifas don’t try to destroy the election sites,” according to the chairman of the company. The recruiting effort is being done by Atlas Aegis, a private security company based in Tennessee that was formed last year and is run by U.S. military veterans, including people with Special Operations experience, according to its website. The company posted a message through a defense industry jobs site this week calling for former Special Operations forces to staff “security positions in Minnesota during the November Election and beyond to protect election polls, local businesses and residences from looting and destruction.”
Facebook and the Group That Planned to Kidnap Gretchen Whitmer. Charlie Warzel. New York Times.
Still, taken together, Facebook’s pre-election actions underscore a damning truth: With every bit of friction Facebook introduces to its platform, our information ecosystem becomes a bit less unstable. Flip that logic around and the conclusion is unsettling. Facebook, when it’s working as designed, is a natural accelerating force in the erosion of our shared reality and, with it, our democratic norms.
The one awful word that describes Trump, GOP 2020 election scheme: ‘Deterrence’. Will Bunch. The Philadelphia Inquirer.
On the legal front, Republicans hope their control of state legislatures and increasing chokehold on the judiciary — bolstered by the more than 200 judges rammed through by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — can place legal restrictions on voting. They involves reducing hours or the number of polling places, eliminating dropboxes for mail ballots, making it difficult to count absentee votes — pretty much anything they can think of to make voting harder instead of easier.
Six Disinformation Threats in the Post-Election Period. Justin Hendrix. Just Security.
What you can do
If you’ve read this far, you may need an antidote to all this threatening stuff. Join the second night of a 2-part training to learn how you can start an election protection group in your community to ensure that:
a) Every vote is counted.
b) Any irregularities are investigated and remedied as appropriate.
c) The results of the election are respected.
You’ll learn the potential scenarios that might unfold between Election Day (Nov. 3, 2020) and Inauguration Day (Jan. 20, 2021), evidence-based strategies to respond, and steps you can take to act. You can read the full guide online at to get up to speed here.
A moment of zen
American Interregnum is a pop-up newsletter covering the issues and ideas that will define the Presidential transition period from Nov. 3, 2020, through (we hope) Jan. 21, 2021. It is written and edited by Justin Hendrix, Greg Greene, and Melissa Ryan. Have questions or comments? We love your feedback. Reply directly to this email. We read all responses and respond to most.
Did someone forward you this email? Don’t forget to subscribe: