With tensions rising ahead of Tuesday’s election, civil rights groups have set up resources for voters to report intimidation at the polls and potential extremist activities.
David Goldenberg, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Midwest region, said his organization is being careful not to “give oxygen” to fanatics while also getting across to elected officials, law enforcement and members of the public “that the environment is ripe for these types of incidents of election-related, extremist-motivated violence to occur.”
Both the ADL and the American Civil Liberties Union are part of a coalition overseeing the Election Protection Hotline — a nationwide resource to report voter intimidation — which you can access by calling 866-OUR-VOTE or by going to 866ourvote.org. The ADL is also manning a text line (text “hatehelp” to 51555) for voters to report allegations of election-related extremism and providing a “toolkit” to officials to prepare.
Goldenberg said his team is “keeping an eye” on Illinois and other surrounding states — though he made it clear there’s been no indication as of Monday afternoon of any direct threat before the polls close. He explained that researchers have merely seen reports of intimidation at polling places but no “widespread amount of violence before the election.”
However, Goldenberg acknowledged that militia members and other extremists have joined recent demonstrations pushing back against coronavirus-related shutdowns and decrying police violence. That includes Kyle Rittenhouse, an Illinois teenager accused of fatally shooting two protesters and wounding another in August after joining an ad hoc militia group amid the unrest that followed the police killing of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“We’ve seen online organizing activities of extremists turn into real life violence,” said Goldenberg. “And that’s why all of us need to take this seriously.”
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said researchers are seeing “elevated chatter” from extremists in the lead-up to the election. Nevertheless, the “calls to violence” they expected haven’t materialized.
Still, Levin explained that America is entering a “new era” of extremism that could ultimately include “an insurgency by far-right [actors] and white supremacists.”
Levin specifically pointed to Steven Carrillo, an adherent to the “boogaloo” movement, a loosely organized militia group allegedly pushing to spark a civil war. Carrillo was charged with killing a federal security contractor and a sheriff’s deputy and wounding three others in a pair of ambush-style attacks this summer in northern California, including one that happened during a protest in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
Levin noted that extremists have started moving away from joining organized, “hierarchical” groups following the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Instead, they’re unifying around specific causes and “increasingly ensconcing themselves in wedge places of controversy,” like battles over pandemic regulations or conflicted elections.
Meanwhile, members of a white nationalist group whose members marched in Charlottesville appear to have left flyers on cars in Lincoln Square over the weekend, including one that used iconography associated with the Ku Klux Klan to describe those involved with the Black Lives Matter movement.
That group, the Proud Boys, has recently been emboldened by President Donald Trump, who specifically told the group to “stand back and stand by” when he was asked to disavow white supremacists and militia members during a September debate.
Elsewhere, fears that many Americans can bring guns to polling places have reverberated throughout the county. And this weekend, one incident of alleged political intimidation has embroiled the presidential race — and earned the praise of Trump.
The FBI is investigating an incident of alleged harassment by Trump supporters of a Biden campaign bus in Texas.— Bloomberg QuickTake (@QuickTake) November 2, 2020
The vehicles with Trump signs veered close to the bus and yelled profanities. Trump called the supporters “patriots” who had done “nothing wrong.” pic.twitter.com/bQpWfJ6wn0
On Sunday, the FBI announced that its San Antonio field office is investigating a video showing a caravan of Trump supporters following a campaign bus belonging to his Democratic foe, Joe Biden. Trump has since tweeted that his backers “did nothing wrong” and instead urged the FBI to probe the “terrorists, anarchists, and agitators of ANTIFA, who run around burning down our Democrat run cities and hurting our people!”
But according to Goldenberg, it’s now “incumbent on leaders to tone down the rhetoric” and prepare voters for the possibility that the results of the election could be delayed as election officials deal with an influx of mail-in ballots. He specifically credited leaders in Minnesota, where Gov. Tim Walz and three of his predecessors released a public service announcement to get that very message across.
“It’s going to take a time to count these ballots,” Goldenberg said of the ad’s message. “And if there’s a delay in it, it’s not because somebody’s trying to fix the election. But instead because this is how elections work.”