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Politics Trump’s Crew of Far-Right Vigilante Poll Watchers Is Coming

03:10  01 october  2020
03:10  01 october  2020 Source:   thedailybeast.com

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President Donald Trump has urged his supporters in North Carolina to "be poll watchers " to guard against voter fraud. That ' s not how poll watching works.

Experts have already warned that Trump ’ s encouragement of people to scramble to polling stations Trump ’ s answer fits with similar comments throughout his presidential campaign and presidency. “Then, after that , many more of these vigilante far - right groups, who are declaring themselves as

The truck-revving, banner-waving, loudspeaker-blaring pro-Trump rally took place, conveniently, on Sept. 19, the first Saturday of early voting in the swing state of Virginia, in a parking lot where voters in Democratic-leaning Fairfax County were lined up to cast their ballots. Some Trump supporters drove circles around the voters while others—many without face masks—mingled with the line, chanting and waving flags.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty © Provided by The Daily Beast Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty

“We had a couple poll observers there that had to actually escort voters in because we saw people that would get to the edge of the parking lot, and see this giant group of Trumpers yelling and screaming,” Jack Kiraly, executive director of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, told The Daily Beast, adding that the scene reminded him of the volunteers who escort people past anti-abortion protesters outside women’s health clinics.

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Trump refused to commit to accepting the results of the 2020 election, instead telling supporters to "go into the polls and watch very carefully." People who follow Trump ' s advice and hang around watching polling places will be prosecuted, Nevada's attorney general says.

Trump , who has repeatedly speculated that the election might be “rigged” in favor of Democrat Hillary Clinton, is using that fear to recruit poll watchers . The rulings were victories for Democrats and civil rights groups that few Republicans saw coming . A voter-ID law in Pennsylvania, which a leading

So during Tuesday night’s remarkably unhinged presidential debate, when President Donald Trump urged his supporters to take unsanctioned actions at polling places, Kiraly was reminded of what Fairfax County voters had witnessed earlier this month.

During the debate, Trump appeared to tell the far-right paramilitary group the Proud Boys to “stand by” and urged fans to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” for voter fraud, an exceedingly rare phenomenon Trump has crafted into a cornerstone of his political identity. For close observers of the far right, as well as officials like Kiraly, the remarks amounted to the latest warning that an embattled president might use his supporters to impede fair elections, or to cast the results of those elections in doubt.

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Donald Trump ’ s campaign website implores voters to “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!” by signing up as observers. That ’s also the case in Oklahoma and West Virginia, both of which go a step further by banning watchers from polling places during voting hours.

As Trump has watched his poll numbers slide, he has increasingly argued, without evidence, that the November election is at risk of being derailed by fraud. Democrats are pushing for more expansive voting by mail, a response to the pandemic that continues to plague the country.

If the prospect of election-related violence was already looming over the first presidential contest since Trump effectively welcomed the paramilitary far-right into the Republican Party, the debate made the alarm bells ring even louder.

“The two things that concerned me most were the remarks about the Proud Boys, basically incentivizing these armed militiamen who are loyal to him to show up at polling places,” Kiraly said, “and then his comment saying they’re going to have observers there. They are related. I think he was incentivizing those Proud Boys to go inside.”

The Proud Boys are an explicitly violent right-wing group with extensive ties to white supremacists and disturbing connections to more mainstream Republicans. Trump’s comments about the group came when debate moderator Chris Wallace asked him to condemn “white supremacists and right-wing militias.” Trump’s debate opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, specifically urged Trump to condemn the Proud Boys, who are often visible in Portland, Philadelphia, and New York, where two members were convicted of gang assault and other crimes in 2018.

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Donald Trump wants his own private Belarus, with his own private militias at polling places, and in the streets if he loses. In Philadelphia they went to watch . They are called poll watchers . They were thrown out. It was coming from the manic bully who is presently the President* of the United States.

Both witnesses said they were afraid of poll watchers bringing assault weapons to the polls . Officials across the political spectrum, including Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general under Republican president George W Bush, raised concern last week about vigilante poll watchers

Trump did not do so. “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”

On Wednesday, Trump attempted to walk back the comments, claiming that he did not know who the Proud Boys are, and that they should stand down. (The current leader of the Proud Boys sat directly behind Trump at a 2019 rally, and was a Florida director of Latinos for Trump as of last year.)

Even if Trump were telling the truth on Wednesday, his words have already energized the far right around elections, according to Kathleen Belew, history professor at the University of Chicago and author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.

“He didn't tell the Proud Boys to stand down. He told them to stand back and stand by,” Belew told The Daily Beast.

“That's a call for readiness,” she explained. “Of course that leads us to a set of questions about readiness for what. One of the things to understand about this movement is that adherence to ‘stand back and stand by’ does not necessarily mean adherence to the person that gave that marching order, or to what might come afterward. I think part of the concern here is that he simply can't unring the bell in this kind of situation.”

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  Trump encourages supporters to monitor polling places — a federal crime What President Trump is urging his supporters to do differs from the duties certified poll watchers are tasked with."I am encouraging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that's what has to happen — I am urging them to do it," Mr. Trump said during the chaotic inaugural debate held in Cleveland, Ohio. The president continued, "There was a big problem, in Philadelphia they went in to watch, they're called poll watchers, very safe very nice thing — they were thrown out, they weren't allowed to watch," he said, adding, "You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things.

On Friday we reported that President Trump spoke to workers at a Whirlpool factory in Clyde, Ohio, to tout his efforts to restore America’ s manufacturing base. During the speech Trump also spoke about his work to reform prescription drug pricing by the pharmaceutical industry.

Trump also has no authority to deploy local law enforcement officials to monitor elections, although his On Friday, Kristen Clarke, who oversees the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Poll - watching is a common practice, and both parties use it. Observers monitor how ballots are cast

The Proud Boys capitalized on Trump’s comments even before the debate’s end, putting his words on memes and t-shirts. But the far-right glee at the prospect of presidential permission for election-related violence wasn‘t confined to one group.

Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, wrote a post-debate blog post that reiterated Trump’s baseless claims that Democrats would attempt election fraud, and claimed that “Trump is ready for a war in the streets.” (Anglin cannot personally participate in said war on the streets because he has gone AWOL while avoiding an ongoing lawsuit and tens of millions in civil penalties from previous lawsuits.)

Far-right interference with free elections has a long history, especially when aimed at Black people, Belew noted.

“During Reconstruction, after the Civil War, during the 1920s, during the Civil Rights movement, attempts to keep people from exercising their legal right to vote were as intrinsic to white supremacy and white power groups as a burning cross,” she said. “It’s one of the textbook, central strategies.”

Election trickery also has a history with less-fringe right groups. Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, a social justice non-profit, pointed to the so-called “Brooks Brothers Riot” in late November 2000. While election canvassers in Florida’s hotly contested Miami-Dade County gathered to count ballots, a mob of paid operatives pounded on doors and windows, and punched a Democratic official, intentionally interfering with ballot counting.

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Burghart noted that the riot was allegedly organized in part by GOP operative Roger Stone, who is now closely affiliated with the Proud Boys. The group has provided security for him, and in turn he has recently endorsed one of them for office in Hawaii and appeared to participate in a Proud Boy initiation stunt.

“Given the Trump orbit’s connection to the Proud Boys and given his advisors’ connections to previous voting meddling efforts,” Burghart said, “there is certainly a concern both for violence on Election Day coming from groups like the Proud Boys and, should there not be a clear victor on November 3, for potential violence and meddling in the electoral process after Election Day.”

Contacted via text message about Trump’s Proud Boy comments, Stone responded with a paragraph-long rant about anti-fascists, and did not respond to a follow-up question.

The threat isn’t just from Proud Boys, Burghart emphasized, but also from the larger network of paramilitary groups that have voiced support for Trump. Some of those groups are not cohesive militias, but recurring pro-Trump rallies, like a series of caravans in Oregon organized by pro-Trump Facebook pages.

Those Oregon events often begin much with truck caravans and Trump flags—much like the event in Fairfax County that saw pro-Trump activists cross through an early voting line.

“It’s no longer an election day, it’s an election season,” Kiraly said. “We need to be vigilant at all times, and we need to call out these instances of voter intimidation, of encouraging voter intimidation that way that the president did last night.

“We need to shame that stuff.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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