U.S. Cities Confront Unrest That Election Night Spared Them

Predictions of widespread violence fizzled on Election Night, but police and businesses across the U.S. are keeping preparations in place as President Donald Trump falsely claims victory -- a scenario that experts warned held a greater potential for unrest.

Protesters gathered Wednesday into the evening in cities including Washington, Denver, Portland and Los Angeles, leading to scattered arrests. Before the election, more than a dozen states activated National Guard troops, retailers boarded up windows and anxious Americans loaded up on body armor and guns in worries about violence.

The question now is whether conflict erupts as Trump sows distrust in the count.

A Facebook group called “Stand Up Michigan to Unlock Michigan” on Wednesday put out a call to action, asking volunteers to go to Detroit’s TCF Center, locally known as Cobo Hall, to challenge the Michigan results being tallied there. The post told the group’s 79,000 members that hundreds of left-wing challengers were already on the premises.

U.S. Cities Confront Unrest That Election Night Spared Them

The protesters, many of whom said they wanted to be poll watchers, were initially blocked by police at the front door. The crowd entered the convention center through an unguarded rear door and resumed chanting: “Stop the count!”

The left-leaning group Protect The Results plans more than 100 protests to defend the election’s integrity, in cities including New York, Washington and Los Angeles, both virtual and in person.

Hundreds of protesters gathered on Wednesday evening in Central Park and outside the New York Public Library in Manhattan. They chanted “Count every vote,” while brandishing signs supporting Joe Biden.

Sporadic incidents occurred in several cities Wednesday evening. Near downtown Denver, police dispersed marchers after windows were smashed at a check-cashing store, according to video that spectators posted on Twitter. The marchers, most dressed in black, held a banner that read “Death to Fascism and the Liberalism That Enables It.” Police were seen in the video detaining two people.

In Portland, Oregon, which has been the scene of regular protests since May after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, police made at least eight arrests in the downtown area. The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office reported “widespread damage” in a part of the downtown, as protesters broke windows of stores including the Wildfang clothing store and “vandalized property.” Governor Kate Brown activated the Oregon National Guard to assist law enforcement.

Another group in Portland marched peacefully at the same time. It was unclear what groups were behind the protests.

NBC reported that a crowd of protesters had gathered Wednesday night in front of the Maricopa election center in Arizona amid counting of ballots. At the Arizona State Capitol, a sizable group had gathered.

Violent Scenario

A leading concern identified by the Transition Integrity Project was a close election in which Trump adopts “a strategy of casting doubt on official election results.” Under that scenario, both Trump and Biden supporters were seen mobilizing on the ground, which the group said “significantly” increases the possibility of violence.

In a news conference Wednesday, Washington Police Chief Peter Newsham addressed an incident in which three people were stabbed near Lafayette Square. Two men and one woman suffered non–life threatening injuries. Newsham said the department didn’t know the politics of the suspect or the victims.

“If you assault someone because of their political affiliation, that would be a hate crime,” Newsham said.

U.S. Cities Confront Unrest That Election Night Spared Them

New York Clergy

In New York City, clergy were preparing to support protesters, despite a call from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office to stay out of the fray. Park Avenue Christian Church stands ready to both deploy members and open its doors as a refuge. Rabbis have been trained in street chaplaincy and de-escalation, said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of the human-rights organization T’ruah.

U.S. Cities Confront Unrest That Election Night Spared Them

Retailers also are keeping protective measures in place. “Many of the stores who have chosen to temporarily place protective boards on their windows remain open for business and we expect that boards will stay in place until the news on election results become more definitive,” said Jerome Barth, president of the Fifth Avenue Association. Rich Gamble, chairman of the Magnificent Mile Association in Chicago, said protections there would likely be up for at least a week. In Los Angeles, Rodeo Drive will remain shut through at least Wednesday.

Floyd Fallout

Even before the election, America was convulsed by months of protests and unrest after the May killing of Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police. The past six months have seen a sharp rise in armed groups, the vast majority of which are far-right organizations, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Oregon are at the highest risk of such activity, the group said in a recent report, followed by North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, California and New Mexico.

Online calls for violence among right-wing organizations have also risen. That only escalated after Trump’s false statement Wednesday morning that he had won the election, which “provoked a seismic positive, confrontational response from the far-right’s pro-Trump and accelerationist spheres,” said SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online activity of white supremacist and jihadist organizations.

“It makes sense to me that we didn’t see much yesterday,” said Roudabeh Kishi, director of research and innovation at the Armed Conflict project. Risk of unrest increases later this week, she said, as votes continue to be counted and some groups dispute the results. “We’re not home free quite yet,” Kishi said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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