Meet the Americans 'standing by' for possible election violence
By Andrew Hay and Katie Paul
(Reuters) - Some Americans worried about possible violence after the US presidential election are forming community watch groups, others are working to de-escalate conflicts, and still others are buying guns, according to two dozen voters, online groups and polls by Reuters Data.
A common fear is that the competition between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will remain undecided on November 3, leading to protests that could lead to riots or even sectarian conflicts.
An example of these concerns came Thursday in Michigan on an announcement that 13 people had been arrested in alleged attacks to kidnap the state governor and attack the state's capitol building.
For Americans like financial advisor David Powell, the biggest concern is that they may be forced to take sides to protect civil rights, private property, and even life.
"I'm not part of a group, I don't want to be part of a group, I'm your normal guy who watches the news and really worries," said Powell, 64, of Raleigh, North Carolina. He said he was concerned about "anti-fascist thugs," a term US Conservatives use to describe left-wing anti-fascist activists. He said he was willing to "keep vigil" in his ward if necessary.
Some people plan overseas vacations around Election Day or go on rural retreats. Others bought weapons for defense. Firearms sales hit a monthly record high of 3.9 million in June, according to FBI data. Ammunition for AR-15 rifles is on reorder in states such as Washington and Colorado.
"I bought an AK-47," said a Denver attorney who identified himself as Ewing, asking not to use his full name. "The ammunition is cheap and I can still get it."
Some communities and groups try to ease tension, often knowing that many people have firearms and are ready to use them.
In Portland, Oregon, left activist Dre Miller reached out to the leaders of the right-wing Proud Boys to establish an open line of communication to resolve conflicts.
"We need to be able to call for a ceasefire if things get out of hand," said Miller, 37, organizer of the J.U.I.C.E. "As a black man, I can't sit back at the moment. I get up and stand ready," Trump repeated the words Trump used about the Proud Boys.
The primary "terrorist threat" to the United States, according to an October 6th report by the Department of Homeland Security, is single criminals and small domestic extremist cells potentially living out abuses.
A poll of political scientists in October, including Lee Drutman of the New America Think Tank, published in Politico, found that around a third of Americans have justified violence for political ends, twice as many as in December 2019.
"The most likely outcome is that the elections are taking place, there is no major violence, but the risk of severe or even minor violence is probably higher than it has been in a long time," said Drutman.
Future vigilantes have organized themselves through Facebook groups and other online platforms, on which members share misinformation as well as videos about violence and property damage caused by political opponents.
Facebook Inc <FB.O> expanded its rules to ban militia groups celebrating violence in August and demolished 6,500 pages and groups over the next month, but less explicitly militarized communities of hundreds of thousands of people remain online.
"This is what leads militia groups and other armed people to believe they have a role to play in this moment of major social change," said Joan Donovan, a misinformation expert at Harvard.
In Colorado Springs, business owner Michelle Morin has taken self-defense classes and is organizing with fellow conservative neighbors to protect each other's homes and send a message to left-wing "thugs" that they are not welcome in their community.
"Self-defense and pushing back is more than guns," said Morin, 51, a registered Republican and gun owner.
Stephanie Porta is advising the people of Orlando, Florida that an election result on November 3rd is unlikely and don't panic. She teaches election workers and voter protection officers to defuse confrontations should they arise.
"We train people in de-escalation," said Porta, 41, executive director of the social justice group Organize Florida, which identifies as "anti-fascist".
(Reporting by Andrew Hay and Katie Paul; additional reporting by Eric Johnson, Rich McKay and Deborah Bloom; editing by Bill Tarrant and David Gregorio)
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