Election Day and the Looming Threat of Civil Unrest

In the wake of election day, many Americans fear that a “civil war” is coming soon...and they could be right.

Photo Credit: Colin Lloyd

Airielle Lowe HU News Service

In cities across the country, businesses are boarding up their windows and doors with plywood in fear of the civil unrest that could ensue after the results of the 2020 presidential election are announced. After the fatal shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. by police in Philadelphia October 26, riots that had broken out in the city led to Walmart briefly removing firearms and ammunition from their shelves, only to return them hours later. Elsewhere across the nation, Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter activists have clashed in altercations that at times have quickly taken a turn for the worse, and Black Americans across the country are purchasing guns at accelerated rates. Following the death of more Black Americans at the hands of police this summer, many waited for the verdicts that would hold accountable those responsible for these unjust deaths. But they never came. Now, on Election Day, Americans wait yet again – this time, to find out who will lead the country for the next four years. 

There has been prevalent discussion of tremendous civil unrest following the election, particularly if Trump loses. Now, as law enforcement agencies prepare for the night and advocates on both sides rally together, this fear of unrest may not be looming more imminently. According to Time magazine, for the first time in 25 years, the International Crisis Group released a report  warning that “the country faces an unfamiliar danger,” citing the recent political turmoil, racial tensions, and other factors that led to this point, as well as ways in which violence can be prevented by government officials. The country stands heavily divided, and the president has fanned the flames of discord throughout the week, as also cited by the International Crisis Group; “Beyond the implications for any Americans caught up in unrest, the election will be a harbinger of whether its institutions can guide the U.S. safely through a period of socio-political change. If not, the world’s most powerful country could face a period of growing instability and increasingly diminished credibility abroad.”

Further, the International Crisis Group has cited several reasons to identify the likelihood of violence this election season, three of which being especially prominent over the course of time leading up to election day: “pre-existing ethno-sectarian or racial tensions, the existence of armed non-state actors or militias with easy access to weapon, [and] a political leadership that fuels divisions rather than defuses them.” The pre-existing racial tensions are evident not only in America’s history of racial segregation and discrimination, but also the mere existence of the Black Lives Matter movement, whose creation followed the death of Trayvon Martin in 2013. Further, the death of George Floyd several months ago sparked outrage among Black Americans, causing protests that often received criticism from right-wingers. On top of the rise in police brutality, BLM protestors have often clashed with Trump and All Lives Matter protestors–a majority of which are white–such as the white St. Louis couple who made headlines after being caught on video aiming weapons at BLM protestors passing by. These negative interactions have only further succeeded in adding to the already developing racial tension and divide present.

The existence of armed militias is evident on both sides. Nationalist groups such as the Proud Boys are often seen carrying guns at the rallies they attend, and as reported earlier, and the growing interest in Black Americans in obtaining guns had allowed for those a part of the BLM movement to obtain weapons as well. However, the easy access to weapons for the opposing groups could quite easily turn violent, as what has often happened in past incidents where BLM protestors and right-wing militias come into contact. As a result, this has proved to be a probable cause for concern on election night in itself.

The political leadership that has fueled the division caused by racial-tensions has been prominent within the leadership of President Trump as well. On Aug. 12, 2017, when addressing the violent Charlottsville protests that occured between white nationalists and protesters, Trump came under fire for refusing to forcefully condemn the white nationalists present at the protest, stating that their was “violence on many sides…on many sides,” essentially placing blame on both sides for the conflict, as well a claiming there were “very fine people” among the white supremacists and the counter-protesters. Between this, and Trump’s declaration to white nationalist group Proud Boys to “stand by” in his first presidential debate, the comments made by the president in regards to the racial violence within the nation has also been cause for further division among American citizens.

Universities in the District of Columbia, including Howard University and George Washington University, have cautioned students to  remain safe ahead of potential disturbances. Conflict experts warn of “alarming” signs of violence and tensions among Americans of differing political parties. Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy has many right wing supporters openly walking the streets threatening Black Lives Matter protesters, often without reproach. An envoy of Trump supporters forced vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris to cancel campaign stops in Texas this week, after they surrounded the campaign bus on a highway headed to Austin. The lack of accountability for the president, the growing racial tensions due to recent events including police brutality among Black Americans as well as violence among right-wing and left-winger supporters, as well as the ready access militias have to guns under the United State’s second amendment are all fueling factors in the possibility of a civil war at worse, following the results to be released.