Bracing for possible civil unrest on election day, the US Justice Department is said it’s planning to station officials at a command center at FBI headquarters to coordinate the federal response to any disturbances or other problems that may arise across the country, unnamed officials told the Washington Post.
Though the Justice Department monitors elections to ensure voters can cast their ballots unimpeded, officials’ concerns are more heightened this year in that America’s toxic politics, combined with the potential uncertainty surrounding vote tallies, could spur violent demonstrations or clashes between opposing factions, the publication reported further.
Preparations have been underway in recent weeks to deal with a wide range of possible problems, the officials said. Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
Prelude To Violence
The US summer was marked by sometimes violent unrest — with those at racial justice protests frequently clashing with far-right groups — and officials fear the election could be the battleground of new rounds of demonstrations.
“The Department of Justice takes election security and integrity seriously and this year is no exception,” said Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman.
The FBI said in a statement that, as in previous years, it is “committed to protecting the American public’s right to a fair and safe election by securing it,” and that officials “are working closely with our federal, state, and local partners so everyone involved with safeguarding the election has the information and resources necessary to respond in a timely manner to any violations that may arise.”
“Of course our preparations for 2020 take into account the current climate of the country, As always, the FBI has a responsibility to plan for a host of potential scenarios.”
Trump’s Fear Mongering
Plans to use the command center had been underway before Tuesday night’s presidential debate, when Trump called on his supporters to “monitor the polls” while notably declining to condemn white supremacists, saying the far-right Proud Boys group should “stand by.”
The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee (RNC) already had promised to recruit tens of thousands of poll watchers to monitor voting locations on election day, and Trump’s comments will seemly to draw extremists to the effort, the Post reported.
A federal law enforcement official said the department and the FBI always engage in “extensive election planning,” including for the “the possibility of violence leading up to the election and occurring at polling places.”
“Those discussions are particularly intense this year because of the unrest the country already has seen, the unique nature of the election during the covid-19 pandemic and the possibility of fraud.”
“There have been concerns raised about the possibility of civil unrest, and those are concerns raised on both sides, for different reasons, and because of that, we’re paying particularly close attention to that possibility,” the official said. “I think that we would be remiss if we didn’t take the monitoring of election security and integrity particularly seriously.”
Election Day is the most sacred event in our Democracy. Our POTUS SHOULD NOT SAY ANYTHING TO JEOPARDIZE the peaceful exercise of voting. But, he did and now DoJ is planning for violence! #VoteHimOut2020 #VoteBlue #VoteLikeYourLifeDependsOnIt https://t.co/Ak06y5xNZT
— Kampfplan (@kampfplan) October 2, 2020
In addition to watching for possible violence, officials will also monitor and assess possible cyber threats to election infrastructure and reports of voter fraud or intimidation, the officials added.
‘Ready For War’
“I still have shivers,” Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, wrote in a post Wednesday. “He is telling the people to stand by. As in: Get ready for war.”
The Trump campaign and the RNC have rejected accusations that they are inciting intimidation by encouraging poll watching, which is legal and meant to ensure voters rights are protected.
An RNC spokesman said those dispatched to the polls would be trained to “interact politely” with voters and poll workers.
Trump also has controversially proposed using law enforcement to patrol polling places, telling Fox News in August:
“We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to hopefully have US attorneys and we’re going to have everybody, and attorney generals.”
That tactic historically has been used to scare voters of color, the Post reported, though Trump is limited in his ability to make good on his threat.
Armed Poll Monitors?
Federal law prohibits US government officials from sending “armed men” to the polling places, and the Justice Department has determined that a US attorney cannot order FBI agents or US Marshals to the polls.
Justice Department policies and tradition also call for federal law enforcement to keep a low-profile when it comes to elections, as the states, rather than the federal government, are responsible for making sure the voting process is conducted fairly.
The Justice Department does, however, deploy unarmed, specially trained poll monitors to watch for problems with voting.
The Trump campaign and the RNC had already promised to recruit ‘tens of thousands’ of poll watchers to monitor voting locations on election day, and Trump’s comments will seemingly draw extremists to the effort, the Post reported.