Predictions of widespread violence fell through election night, but police and businesses across the United States are keeping the preparations in place as President Donald Trump falsely claims victory – a scenario that experts say presented greater potential for unrest.
Protesters gathered Wednesday evening in cities including Washington, Denver, Portland and Los Angeles, resulting in scattered arrests. Before the election, more than a dozen states activated National Guard troops, retailers barricaded windows, and anxious Americans loaded up with bulletproof vests and guns, worried about the violence.
The question now is whether conflict erupts as Trump sows distrust of the tally.
A Facebook group called “Stand Up Michigan to Unlock Michigan” issued a call to action on Wednesday, asking for volunteers to go to the TCF Center in Detroit, known locally as Cobo Hall, to challenge Michigan’s results which are counted there. The message told the group’s 79,000 members that hundreds of left-wing challengers were already at the scene.
Protesters, many of whom said they wanted to be poll observers, were initially blocked by police at the front door. The crowd entered the convention center through an unguarded back door and resumed chanting: “Stop the count!”
The leftist group Protect The Results is planning more than 100 protests to defend the integrity of the elections, in cities like New York, Washington and Los Angeles, both virtual and in person.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Central Park and outside the New York Public Library in Manhattan on Wednesday evening. They chanted “Count every vote” while holding up signs supporting Joe Biden.
Sporadic incidents occurred in several cities on Wednesday evening. Near downtown Denver, police dispersed protesters after windows were smashed at a check-cashing store, according to a video posted by onlookers on Twitter. The demonstrators, most of them dressed in black, held a banner that read “Death to fascism and liberalism which allows it”. Police were seen in the video detaining two people.
In Portland, Oregon, which has been the scene of regular protests since May after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, police have made at least eight downtown arrests. The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office reported “extensive damage” to part of the city center, as protesters smashed store windows, including the Wildfang clothing store and “vandalized goods.” Governor Kate Brown activated the Oregon National Guard to assist law enforcement.
Another group in Portland marched peacefully at the same time. It was not known which groups were behind the protests.
NBC reported that a crowd of protesters gathered outside the Maricopa, Arizona constituency center on Wednesday night amidst the counting of the ballots. At the Arizona State Capitol, a large group had gathered.
One of the main concerns identified by the Transition Integrity Project was a close election in which Trump adopts “a strategy of questioning the official election results.” In this scenario, supporters of Trump and Biden have been seen mobilizing on the ground, which the group says “dramatically” increases the possibility of violence.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Washington Police Chief Peter Newsham spoke of an incident in which three people were stabbed near Lafayette Square. Two men and a woman sustained non-fatal injuries. Newsham said the department was unaware of the policy of the suspect or the victims.
“If you assault someone because of their political affiliation, it would be a hate crime,” Newsham said.
New York Clergy
In New York, the clergy were preparing to support the protesters, despite a call from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office to stay out of the fray. The Park Avenue Christian Church is ready to deploy members and open its doors as a refuge. Rabbis have been trained in street chaplaincy and de-escalation, said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of human rights organization T’ruah.
Retailers also keep safeguards in place. “Many stores that have chosen to temporarily place protective panels on their windows remain open and we anticipate that the advice will remain in place until the news on the election results becomes more final,” said Jerome Barth, president of the Fifth Avenue Association. . Rich Gamble, president of the Magnificent Mile Association in Chicago, said the protections would likely be in place for at least a week. In Los Angeles, Rodeo Drive will remain closed at least Wednesday.
Even before the election, America was rocked by months of protests and unrest following the May murder of Floyd, an unarmed black man, by Minneapolis police. The past six months have seen a sharp increase in the number of armed groups, the vast majority of which are far-right organizations, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Oregon are most at risk of such activity, the group said in a recent report, followed by North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, California. and New Mexico.
Online calls for violence between right-wing organizations have also increased. This only worsened after Trump’s false statement on Wednesday morning that he won the election, which “sparked a positive and confrontational seismic response from pro-Trump and accelerationist far-right spheres. “said the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks the white supremacist’s online activity. and jihadist organizations.
“It makes sense to me that we didn’t see much yesterday,” said Roudabeh Kishi, director of research and innovation at the Armed Conflict Project. The risk of unrest rises later this week, she said, as votes continue to be counted and some groups dispute the results. “We’re not quite free at home yet,” Kishi said.