‘Calm before the storm:’ Washington DC braces for possible post-election disorder
Protective wood boards are placed on the front of the McPherson Building on October 28, 2020 near the White House in Washington, DC.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images
Washington DC is bracing itself ahead of the 2020 presidential election on Tuesday.
Three people who live in the capital told Business Insider that while Washington is still pretty quiet, there’s a “tension in the air” and an atmosphere of “uncertainty” as more people fear post-election violence.
Some businesses in the capital have started boarding up, while law enforcement officials are planning for confrontation as several groups have already applied for demonstration permits.
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Two days before the US election, Washington DC is holding its breath.
The nation’s capital is no stranger to seeing demonstrations unfold on its streets, but this time around, the uncertainty and anticipation surrounding the 2020 election outcome feels different.
“It feels like the calm before the storm,” Taylor Rea, a 27-year-old consultant who lives in Washington, told Business Insider.
“I am just nervous about the results of the election … there’s a lot of uncertainty of what’s going to happen regardless of who wins” she added.
Rea, who lives in a neighborhood close to the White House, told Business Insider that while she doesn’t fear for her safety, she has a backup option if the aftermath of the election does become violent.
“Thankfully, my parents and boyfriend live nearby and both have cars, so I do have the option of leaving if I feel like I need to,” she said.
Protective wood paneling is installed at a CVS pharmacy as businesses near the White House for secure stores as worries about election unrest mount in Washington DC, on October 29, 2020.
Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
According to a recent YouGov poll, 74% of Americans think there will be violence following the results of the 2020 presidential election, half (53%) of which say there will be a lot of violence, while 21% say they expect a little.
But while the fear seems to be there, the city looks relatively calm from the outside.
Pictures of Washinton DC on social media on Friday showed becalmed streets, police officers setting up concrete barriers in front of Lafayette Square, and some business owners boarding up their shops out of precaution.
“There is definitely some tension in the air. Downtown shops are boarding up again, which they did before when some of the BLM protests in early summer turned a bit violent,” Laura Garcia, 24, who also lives in Washington DC, told Business Insider.
Garcia, who was living in DC during the 2016 election, says she has noticed a shift among her social circles regarding people’s involvement in politics.
“I do feel like people, in general, are a lot more passionate about politics than they were four years ago, which is a good thing,” Garcia said.
“I just kind of want to get it done and over with,” she added.
The city is preparing itself in the run-up to the election
Police announced this week that street closures and parking restrictions will cover much of downtown in the days to come.
George Washington University has sent students a message recommending they stockpile a week’s worth of food and supplies to prepare for Election Day, according to the Washington Post.
City officials have advised shop owners to sign up for crime alerts in their area and to keep their insurance information on hand.
The CEO of ServiceChannel — a company that connects national retail chains to local contractors that protect and repair stores and the assets inside them — told Business Insider on Friday that the firm has seen an influx of requests for preventive board-ups and enhanced security measures.
“What [the retailers] determined is that regardless of who wins, there’s likely to be some turmoil around the election,” CEO Tom Buiocchi told Business Insider. “That turmoil has manifested itself, at least this year, in social unrest and protests, so they decided they need to get in front of it and protect their key locations.”
Washington DC sees an increasing police presence
But it’s not just businesses that are preparing themselves for possible unrest.
According to NBC News sources, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have been told for the first time by the Department of Homeland Security to remain on standby to protect federal property in the capital, on or after Election Day.
Protest against the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd outside White House in Washington
“It is widely believed that there will be civil unrest after the November election regardless of who wins,” DC Police Chief Peter Newsham told lawmakers earlier this month, according to the Post.
“It is also believed that there is a strong chance of unrest when Washington, DC, hosts the inauguration in January,” Newsham added.
While law enforcement officials say there have been no specific threats, they have said that several groups have applied for demonstration permits in the city starting Sunday and for days after the election.
‘Militia groups and other armed non-state actors pose a serious threat’
According to Viana Ferguson, a former Facebook content moderator who spoke at the Real Facebook Oversight event last week, users have become more vocal about the “violence they are willing to execute” toward people in the previous few months.
“We’ve applied lessons from previous elections, hired experts, and built new teams with experience across different areas to prepare for various scenarios,” a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider.
Other organizations are also keeping a close eye on any groups that could incite violence.
“Militia groups and other armed non-state actors pose a serious threat to the safety and security of American voters,” the nonprofit organization Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project told the Washington Post.
In a recent report published by the organization, researchers tracked more than 80 extremist groups in recent months. They said that Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Oregon “are at highest risk of increased militia activity in the election and post-election period.”
In Portland, Oregon, the scene of months of violent protests, right-wing armed group plans to show up at ballot drop-off sites on Tuesday with weapons in plain view. Left-wing organizers are preparing to be there as well.
A counter-protester raises his hands in front of a far right militia as various militia groups stage rallies in downtown Stone Mountain, Georgia, U.S. August 15, 2020.
“There have been demonstrations on the streets for so many months now, and all over the country, so there is no doubt in my mind that think there will be some sort of protests,” Joshua Blatt, a 27-year old graduate student, told Business Insider.
“The very fact that we’re talking about the potential of any sort of violence, shows the massive changes that have occurred in the last few years. Nobody is laughing off the possibility anymore, which is worrying,” he said.
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