Racist militia and vigilante groups interpreted Donald Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists during the Sept. 29 presidential debate — and blaming “antifa and the left” for violence — as a warm embrace. When Trump asked Fox News moderator Chris Wallace, “Who would you like me to condemn?” Democratic candidate Joe Biden could be heard saying, “Proud Boys.” Trump responded by saying, “Proud Boys — stand back and stand by.” Members of the group quickly adopted Trump’s phrase as their new slogan and considered the president’s remarks as a green light to incite further violence. When Proud Boys members gather, they often carry firearms, bats and protective gear, and some have been convicted of assaulting progressive and anti-racist protesters.
In recent months, Trump and his supporters have called for military veterans and off-duty police to come out on election day to monitor polling stations in inner-city precincts for what the president describes as an election at risk for widespread fraud, despite the fact that it’s illegal in all 50 states to engage in militia activity. Voting rights groups fear that this effort is actually intended to intimidate Democratic voters by targeting communities of color, and could provoke violence.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Adele Stan, director of People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch project. Here, she discusses rising concern that Trump’s call for the support of armed white supremacist groups during the election, combined with his refusal to agree to a peaceful transfer of power if he should lose, could result in an attempt to stop the vote counts in some battleground states and steal the election.
ADELE STAN: Even If they are small in number, you know, their aim is to disrupt and it doesn’t take a lot of people to disrupt through violent means as we’ve seen, unfortunately in the U.S. with, you know, all of these mass shootings, you know, many of them pinned to right-wing hatred. But the other thing that happened in that debate was that he also calls for his people, quote, unquote, to show up at the polls to be poll watchers, but not necessarily in the official way. Right? I mean, he didn’t say, “Oh, make sure you get registered to be an official poll watcher.” No, he said go to Philadelphia because “bad things happen there.” And why would he say that? Because he wants to intimidate Philadelphia voters because Trump does not have a path in the Electoral College that his campaign can see without winning Pennsylvania. And Philadelphia, of course, you know, like most urban centers, is the Democratic stronghold. So you have this blending of this sort of, “Hey, Proud Boys, standby” and then this call, “Hey, my people, you got to go watch these polls in Philadelphia ’cause bad things happen there.” And then all of the misinformation, disinformation on vote by mail and you have just a setting for post-election conflagration. And it seems like, you know, he feels like that could work for him.
SCOTT HARRIS: Adele, although Donald Trump tried to walk back his refusal to condemn the white supremacists in the debate, a few days after that, few Republican legislators came forward to even mildly criticize Trump — just a few. What does that say about the Republican party these days?
ADELE STAN: Well, it says that the Republican party is about power, whatever it takes. And Donald Trump, you know, they think he’s got the recipe for it, so they’re gonna stick with them. And, it means that they really don’t care a lot about the fate of our nation. I mean, this is descent into authoritarianism. We have already seen the kind of a rape and pillage of the economy that Trump has done long before we had the pandemic. And they’re all fine with it. A few of them, like before he passed, David Koch kind of turned up his nose at Trump, but they reaped the benefits of Trump’s election. So there’s a lot of Koch money going into shoring up Republican candidates who will support Trump.
SCOTT HARRIS: Well, we only have time for this last and difficult question for, I think any of us to answer it, Adele, but I’ll challenge you with it. How can our listeners prepare for a contested election and a possible coup attempt, violence and the like, which may follow chaos on Election Day. What would you suggest our listeners do right now to prepare themselves?
ADELE STAN: You know, I don’t have a magic wand and I just don’t know what there is to do, Scott, other than to be prepared to go into the streets and to demand what is yours, but try to avoid confrontation with armed people. You know, and it’s not easy. It won’t be easy, but it means organizing within any group that you are a part of, whether it’s a church group or a yoga studio or whatever it is, you know, whatever connection you have to other people. Try to make a pact within your group that says, “Hey, things get ugly like this, we are going to meet here and we’re going to march here and we’re going to join up with other people here and there.” And that’s going to be the only thing that I can imagine that can be done. And it will be you will have to assess the risk for yourself and your family in doing so. But if you can take that risk, it’s really important that you do.
For more information, visit Right Wing Watch, a Project of People For The American Way at rightwingwatch.
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