With far-right, pro-Trump militia groups and caravans terrorizing the country this election year, we need to talk about violence associated with the presidential election.
By Melanie Moyer
Venessa Ramirez, a junior at SMC, says she’s afraid to leave her dorm room after the results of the election results are announced. She says “with the election, the feelings and emotions around this are just an amplification of what every single minority, BIPOC, and member of the LGBTQIA+ community have been feeling over the last four years. That feeling is constant fear. It is the fear that the President is going to encourage someone to look at them and want to harm them, and with the messages he’s sent out to his supporters, that fear feels all too real right now. On election day in 2016, I volunteered at the polls in my hometown. This year I stocked up and stayed inside.”
Objectively speaking, Ramirez has every reason to feel as if she could be put in an unsafe situation as a result of the election. Headline after headline has described the different ways groups have become violent in the name of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Further, most of these violent groups identify with racist, anti-LGBTQ+, xenophobic, or misogynist sentiments. This shouldn’t come as a surprise after Trump told the Proud Boys, a far-right and neo-fascist male-only organization, to be on standby after the election.
Days before the election, caravans of Trump supporters wreaked havoc across the nation. In New York, a pro-Trump group blocked traffic on the Governor Mario M. Cuomo bridge two days before the election. Participants waved flags bearing Trump’s name and screamed hateful chants in an attempt to make their presence known. Something similar occurred near Lakewood, New Jersey when another pro-Trump caravan blocked five miles of traffic on the northbound Garden State Parkway. Many smaller caravans have also been reported around the country. This dangerous behavior on busy roads and bridges seems to have few purposes except for the intimidation of those who oppose Trump’s presidential campaign, for, unlike protests that occurred earlier this year that advocated for the lives of Black folks, these protestors simply want a president reelected.
Violence was also targeted at the Biden campaign, with a caravan of pro-Trump supporters surrounding a Biden-Harris campaign bus in Texas. During this confrontation, one pickup truck collided with an SUV driving behind the Biden-Harris bus. Biden’s campaign team confirmed that neither Biden nor Harris were in the targeted vehicle, but the campaign canceled further events in the state in response to the violent encounter.
Though the events of 2020 have desensitized many to the different historical markers of the year, it should outrage anyone who respects democracy to see a presidential election be wrought with violence in this way. It would be unthinkable that one of the two presidential candidates would be indifferent to these events, especially when comparing this election year to that of Obama and Romney in 2012. However, Donald Trump has gone so far as to defend participants of this road-based violence, calling them “patriots.”
Violent, right-wing sentiments have also gone beyond responding directly to the election. In October of this year, it was revealed that thirteen people associated with the Wolverine Watchmen—a far-right militia group in Michigan—plotted to kidnap and possibly assassinate Governor Gretchen Whitmer in an attempt to overthrow the Michigan government. A week after this plot was revealed by the FBI, Trump traveled to the state and encouraged a crowd to chant “Lock Her Up” in reference to Whitmer. A week before the election, former presidential advisor Steve Bannon continued the pattern of violence against those who oppose Trump by suggesting the director of the FBI and Dr. Anthony should be beheaded and put onto pikes in front of the White House.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Trump supporters feel validated and prepared to participate in violent acts in the name of his presidential campaign. When violence against those who oppose Trump is encouraged in the way it is, we cannot pretend that those who become targets based on their race, sexuality, gender, and political leanings are not living in constant fear.
As far as we have seen with events occurring on election day, it is apparent that violent Trump supporters have been present at polling locations. Many videos have surfaced with people donning pro-Trump banners and attire attempting to block polling locations with their cars. There have been many reports of violent altercations happening between those who identify with the two opposing presidential parties. Further, it has been reported that many altercations have occurred in response to pro-Trump poll watchers not wearing a mask, an act that leaves voters susceptible to contracting COVID-19. Say what you will about someone’s right to choose what they do with their bodies, but intentional negligence in making a polling location a safe place to vote is antidemocratic. To name this poll-related violence and negligence as anything other than attempted voter-suppression would be a fallacy, for the presence of unsafe behavior deters voters from going to the polls to cast their ballots.
After the election results were announced on Saturday, thousands took to the streets to celebrate Donald Trump being removed from the presidential position. These celebrations were met with counter protests, including some with armed participants. Many different reports about these encounters becoming violent have been recorded. Further, the Proud Boys leader posted that the group was “rolling out” and that the “standby order has been rescinded.” Two armed men were arrested outside a convention center in Philadelphia after the FBI tipped off local police about a potential attack. Due to events of this nature, the FBI has warned that white supremacists and domestic terrorists harbor the country’s greatest threat of “lethal violence” in response to the election.
Those who want to defend this election based violence are most likely asking about how this violence compares to the protests and riots associated with the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this year. First of all, we need to distinguish the intentions of each social movement. BLM protests and riots are in response to the institutionalized oppression of Black people in the US, specifically that which makes routine police encounters a death sentence for Black men. Pro-Trump protests are advocating for the reelection of a president; more specifically, a president who perpetuates systems of oppression contributing to the deep facets of white supremacy, male dominance, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia in our country. There is no way to draw a comparison between the motivations of a movement advocating for people’s lives and the reelection of a president.
However, we should acknowledge which side is objectively more violent. Thomas Zeitzoff, a politics professor at American University, told The Atlantic that “we have two different, large protests: the protests against police racism and […] far-right militia groups. And [we] have a president who is prepping and priming his supporters to delegitimize his results. Objectively, there’s been more violence and more lethal violence committed by the far right.” With motives and actions in mind, it is apparent that arguments for a comparison between Black Lives Matter protests and Pro-Trump protests are not solid ground in an argument for the validity of far-right violence.
Thus, violent, far-right protests in the name of reelecting Donal Trump intimidate voters and make this election an unsafe time for Americans. It is time for our country to wake up to what we are letting happen during this election. Ramirez leaves us with some hope, saying “I want to see those with hate in their hearts lose their platform. I do not want to live in a country where bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and transphobia are normalized. While there is a lot of work to do to create a more accepting society, if we continue to have these difficult conversations, we will be headed in the right direction.
Please read the below articles for further information regarding the research of this article.
Gretchen Whitmer on Donald Trump’s continued violence against her and her family:
Olga Khazan on election-related violence:
White Supremacists, Domestic Terrorists Pose Biggest Threat Of ‘Lethal Violence’ This Election, DHS Assessment Finds
Melanie Moyer '22,