Election Violence Fails to Materialize—So Far

Trump's demand to stop the count fuels the risk of violence, but armed extremists have so far stayed in their bunkers

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Far right militias and other anti-government and pro-Trump extremists appeared to be staying  home Wednesday, despite the president’s claim that the election was being stolen and his demand that vote counting be halted.

An intense confrontation broke out between partisans at a voting center in Detroit where ballots were being tabulated, with a crowd of the president’s supporters chanting, “stop the count,” but widely feared expectations that heavily armed pro-Trump backers would show up to intimidate voters at polling stations or threaten Democratic officials had not materialized by Wednesday evening.

Still, Kyle Murphy, a former senior analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned early Wednesday on the Just Security website that there remained an “increased risk” of violence due to Trump’s “false claims that he was winning decisive states, had won the election, and that his opponents were attempting to steal the election.” 

Murphy, who resigned in August after witnessing federal troops roughly clearing protesters from Lafayette Square across from the White House, called Trump’s claims “antidemocratic and incendiary.” He also noted that senior Republican leaders “have largely remained silent in response to the president’s claims.”

A few others agitated for more direct acton. Arizona Repubican Rep. Paul Gosar put out a “call to action” for “red blooded American patriots” to attend a rally to “protect our president” at the Maricopa County election center, according to a Daily Beast report. In Nevada, the news site added, “a Trump supporter interrupted a registrar of voters press conference by declaring ‘the Biden crime family steals this election.’

Numerous recent reports said that far right extremists were arming for battle around the elections. A deeply reported piece in the Atlantic in late October, for example, recounted how the pro-Trump Oath Keepers group had recruited “thousands of police, soldiers, and veterans” to its ranks.

And on Tuesday, SpyTalk reported on a private study saying that a “wide variety of individuals and groups, ranging from gun-rights activists to anti-government vigilantes, anti-Black Lives Matters protesters and far right, highly armed intimidators like the Boogaloo Boys” were “gearing up to thwart an imagined ‘coup’ attempt by Democrats and liberals to deny President Donald W. Trump reelection.” 

After monitoring over 90,000 social media posts and email exchanges among extremists in late October, the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue reported that the “boogaloo, militia and firearm-related communities … [had] discussed the possibility of post-election violence in different areas across the U.S.” 

Some of the 13 men charged with plotting to kidnap and possibly execute Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer embraced the anti-government Boogaloo cause, according to an NBC News analysis of social media posts.

Wired magazine reported Wednesday that the FBI had formally accused a Boogloo-affiliated West Virginia man of  “selling more than 600 3D-printed plastic components of automatic rifles through his website.”

With such developments in mind, and votes still being counted over Trump’s objection, no one was breathing easy yet.

“This, in some respects, may be the calm before the storm,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told Time magazine. 

“We know that a big part of this election,” she said,  “will be proper handling and counting of absentee ballots.”