What a time.
The United States of America is seemingly on the verge of being more divided than ever as one of the most consequential presidential elections in modern history is set to take place just two days from now. But there is a growing sense that things could get even worse depending on the election’s outcome and, perhaps more importantly, how that outcome is reached.
What exactly “worse” means is up for debate.
But with politically partisan tensions already at boiling points in key pockets of the country, fears of election-related violence have been lent further credence as the president’s racist politics of fear continue to embolden his base of far-right, white supremacist militias and otherwise violent racists that has all the ruminations of a looming civil war.
Of course, none of that is guaranteed. But if a series of reinvigorated anti-police protests, blatant instances of voter intimidation and suppression as well as surging gun sales amid provocative rhetoric across the board were any indication, the country could very well erupt in post-election violence.
A good amount of attention has been given to the prospects of violence surrounding the election, with research and polling offering a series of warnings about the parts of the country most susceptible to election-related violence. The crucial battleground states of Georgia, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were found to have the highest risk for “reactionary violence,” according to a report on right-wing militia groups and the election released by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project and MilitiaWatch. Other states that have been flagged include California, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
In particular, far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Boogaloo Bois have already unabashedly demonstrated they’re not afraid of committing acts of violence in the name of politics, with the latter being accused of staging it to place blame on Black people.
But the threat of violence is far from limited to just hose states, as shown by businesses in the nation’s capital boarding up their premises to minimize any damage from the very realistic possibility of D.C. experiencing any civil unrest.
Throughout it all, the common instigating denominator has been Donald Trump, who has urged his followers to be “poll watchers,” a loaded term that can be open to interpretation from white supremacists and far-right militiamen vehemently opposed to the idea of having a Black woman be second in command of the country.
In New York City, for instance, the Guardian Angels — a long-established group of unarmed anti-crime volunteers recognized by their signature red berets — announced Saturday its plan to patrol the five boroughs in anticipation of the worst. “The Guardian Angels will be protecting the city against rioters, violent protestors, and militias, who may be planning on capitalizing on protests on Election Night,” the group said in a press release.
Trump’s administration is seemingly complicit with the anticipated violence as the FBI has withheld its annual report on the terror threat posed by white supremacist groups. While it’s always horrifying, the report’s absence on additional significance during an election year in which a suspected white supremacist is running for re-election. The report was supposed to be released in June, just as nationwide protests against police violence, racism and what is oftentimes the deadly combination of both were breaking out following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Just as the FBI has decided against not publishing the crucial data on the terror threat posed by white supremacists, the amplified anti-police sentiment could also leave law enforcement — a group Trump has long encouraged to not be “too nice” — turning a blind eye to violence in a self-serving effort to prove their departments should not be defunded.
Looming large in the above political violence equation are the nation’s gun sales, which have surged since the beginning of the pandemic, the proliferation of which critics readily attributed to the Trump administration’s delayed response and intentional downplaying of Covid-19’s true threat. Regardless of whom is buying the guns along the partisan divide, the fact remains that there are more guns in homes — and presumably on the streets — than there were at the beginning of the year, exacerbating the threat of gun violence as citizens prepare to protect themselves from the unknown.
And as we continue to witness once-invincible major companies crumble from the coronavirus’ horrifying effects, Walmart has decided it will not be one of them by continuing to sell guns. On Friday, the megastore reversed its one-day-old decision to take guns off its shelves because of fears it could play a role in any election-related violence. The move to keep selling guns despite continued talk of a pending civil war places a priority on profits over peace at a pivotal time in the nation’s history.
With that said, it’s not just white folks buying guns.
Data show that Black people across the country are also fueling gun sales, specifically out of fear of election-related violence. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has reportedly found that Black people in America “represent the largest demographic increase in gun sales in 2020, and found that 40 percent of all firearm purchases are to first-time gun owners.”
Among them could be members of heavily armed NFAC (Not Fucking Around Coalition), an all-Black paramilitary group that has been making headlines in recent months for its strategy of being present at race-conscious events such as one following the racist vigilante shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and another protesting the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Lousiville. And while the group has seen its membership grow in response to recent police violence against Black people, the NFAC could also play a vigilant role in protecting Black voters amid reports of voter intimidation and suppression tactics at the hands of Trump supporters.
NFAC’s leader, John Fitzgerald “Grandmaster Jay” Johnson, who has repeatedly said his group only responds to threats instead of posing them, suggested as much during a recent interview with CNN.
“Nobody says anything when other demographics pick up weapons, decide to arm themselves and confront the government over anything from wearing a mask to being cooped up in the house, but when certain demographics arm themselves all of a sudden people tend to act as if the Constitution doesn’t matter,” Johnson said.
The NFAC has not been responsible for any violence, unlike white militias, including the ones recently busted for plotting to kidnap Democratic governors and overthrow the states’ governments. The threat of like-minded groups reacting similarly to election results — whenever they come in — remains very real.
Chances are likely that if Trump was not running, fears of such election-related violence would be overblown. He has been blamed for encouraging his Twitter followers to “LIBERATE” Michigan and Virginia, the two states at the center of the kidnapping plots. Critics have said Trump’s supporters heard him loud and clear and acted on his orders.
The president doubled-down during his first debate against Joe Biden and ordered the Proud Boys to “stand by” while encouraging his supporters to be poll-watchers. Trump has warned that mailing ballots all but constitutes fraud even though that’s how he’s voted this year, pushing a conspiracy theory that the election could be “stolen.”
Experts say planting those seeds of doubt into his followers’ heads can lead to pro-Trump violence, experts say — especially if Biden is declared the election’s winner. That’s why police, the national guard and the military are all preparing for the worst.
But the U.S. sinking back into another civil war — that would be waged for unfortunately comparable reasons to the first one — is unlikely, according to Richard Hanania is a research fellow at Defense Priorities, and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. He explained in a column for the Washington Post that his research determined the risk of civil war was little to none because, unlike in the 1860s, there are now bureaucratic pieces in place to prevent its repeat.
“Those predicting civil war have correctly identified serious problems in American society: Ever-widening divisions based on factors including race, geography and partisanship make it difficult to respond to such varied threats as pandemics, economic crises and climate change,” Hanania wrote before continuing later: “But the sooner we realize that civil war is highly unlikely, the sooner we can focus on real problems.”