Tensions are mounting as the US election race draws to a close, with threats of violence and street demonstrations hanging over the final day of the campaign and after November 3.
In anticipation of protests related to the election, fencing was added to the perimeter of the White House on Monday. Businesses in Washington DC also prepared by boarding up storefronts and windows to prevent property damage.
Federal authorities have installed more barriers and temporary modular homes inside Lafayette Park which is just north of the White House.
The Metropolitan Police Department said a handful of groups have applied for demonstration permits on Election day and the following days.
Meanwhile, a prominent group of experts that monitors violence around the world has issued an unprecedented warning ahead of Tuesday’s election.
In a 30-page report, threat trackers at the International Crisis Group (ICG)- an organization that frequently reports on instability in failing states and war zones- warned that a bitterly polarized America faces “unfamiliar danger” in the coming days.
“While Americans have grown used to a certain level of rancor in these quadrennial campaigns, they have not in living memory faced the realistic prospect that the incumbent may reject the outcome or that armed violence may result,” the group wrote.
ICG listed several factors that could result in violence on and around Election Day, including the proliferation of online disinformation and hate speech, recent controversies surrounding racial justice in America, the rise of armed groups, and the possibility of a close or contested presidential election.
The group also placed the blame for potential violence at the feet of President Donald Trump, writing that his “toxic rhetoric and willingness to court conflict to advance his personal interests have no precedent in modern U.S. history.”
Battleground election states like Pennsylvania, with a history of both leftist activists and armed, far-right groups, are being watched closely for potential violence. So too are Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia and Oregon.
Many police officials and extremism experts said that they were more worried about the period after November 3, especially if no clear winner emerges.
“Unlike other elections, it’s the time after November 3 that we have to be very, very sensitive to,” said Charles Ramsey, former police chief in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia
Some adherents of the far right view the election as an opportunity to incite violence and accelerate their goal of a civil war.
“If President Trump or the right-wing media begin putting out the message that there is voter fraud or something irregular, that could be something that could bring people out to polling places pretty rapidly,” said Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst on extremist groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Cities and businesses are also taking steps to prepare for possible riots or looting. In Beverly Hills, officials said that they would shut down glitzy Rodeo Drive, warning stores that they might want to board up their windows.
Walmart on Thursday confirmed it had pulled guns and ammunition from the sales floor to head off the potential theft of firearms should stores be ransacked amid any post-election unrest, but the decision was reversed on Friday with the firearms beginning to return to the floor.
National Guard units were also being called out in various states, including New Jersey, Wisconsin and Texas.
In Houston, Police Chief Art Acevedo said that this year is the first in his long career when members of the public have asked about election safety.
“You have a sitting president already calling into question the election itself and whether or not it’s a fixed election,” he said. “So you’re worried about if he loses, people actually believing that the election is fixed. And so when you put all that together and all the conflict in the country, we are worried. I think that most police chiefs are worried.”
More than 93 million votes have already been cast, through early voting or mail-in ballots, which could lead to delays in tabulation. President Trump has spent months claiming without evidence that the votes would be ripe for fraud and refusing to guarantee that he would honor the election result.
Rita Osakwe/Agency reports