Despite much concern over far right armed rallies and voter intimidation, the election has unfolded relatively peacefully. But those who monitor the far right do not believe we are out of the woods yet. Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud have the potential to convince his base that Joe Biden’s election is illegitimate, and to energize Trumpists into further action.
Last week, Trumpist crowds gathered outside some voting count locations, such as in Maricopa County, Arizona. But Saturday, rallies which had been planned in advance became even more aggressive after the announcement of Biden’s victory. In several cities, Proud Boys appeared after their leader, Enrique Tarrio, announced that “we’re rolling out. Standby order has been rescinded.” (Trump has previously told the notoriously violent group to “stand back and stand by!”) Violence predictably followed as Proud Boys showed up to rallies in Salem, Oregon, and Sacramento, California. Armed militias also came to a rally of 2,000 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which attempted to disrupt a pro-Biden gathering. But state authorities have intervened to stave off more serious violence. For example, in Philadelphia, which has been one of the contested hot spots, two men were arrested last week for possession of unpermitted firearms after police were tipped off about threats against the ballot-counting location.
How long this comparative level of calm will last, however, is not clear. According to a researcher using the Twitter pseudonym AntiFashGordon, antifascists monitoring far right communications have been paying attention to “Boogaloo Boys prowling outside the Convention Center in Detroit, where the votes are being counted, and militias threatening to mobilize as soon as they receive the signal, except that they’re not sure what the signal might be. Their rhetoric continues to be ‘self-defense,’ but they consider a Democratic electoral victory to be an attack.”
On Thursday, USA Today correspondent on extremism Will Carless noted on Twitter that he was “Genuinely surprised at the absence of large-scale militia activity so far.” In response, JJ MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, echoed AntiFashGordon’s concern, saying, “A triggering event (riots, violence from the left, proposed gun control legislation) could spark immediate violence, but a larger plot could takes weeks or months to plan out.” Furthermore, she says, “There are zillion factors to consider right now: conspiracy theories surrounding the election results, whether Trump admits defeat, lw [left-wing] violence, the new COVID wave/shutdown, the vaccine, renewed talk about gun laws, plus who knows what, that could set the militia world off.”
A number of monitors pointed out that there have been a series of recent FBI arrests: of a militia in Michigan who planned to kidnap the governor, two Boogaloo movement members, and two members of The Base, a pro-terrorism fascist grouping. These arrests have undoubtedly put potentially violent far right elements on notice that law enforcement has a close eye on them.
One reason for this relative quiet is that this election cycle comes as the white nationalist wing of the “alt right,” which has been a vector of violence, continues to implode. In November 2016, Richard Spencer made news with his speech proclaiming “Hail Trump! Hail Our People! Hail Victory!” Now, Spencer no longer supports Trump. At that time, Identity Evropa, a new fascist organization, was the “alt right” group closest to Spencer. But in a surprise move the day before the election, the group (rebranded as American Identity Movement) announced it was disbanding altogether. And Saturday the last major “alt right” fascist group, Patriot Front, held an unannounced rally in Pittsburgh. But rather than supporting Trump, they used the opportunity to denounce the two-party system.
Social media companies, especially Facebook, have taken measures to stop or slow the spread of disinformation, as well as the use of their platforms for organizing violent protests or disrupting the election. “Stop the Steal,” a Facebook group with over 300,000 members and which was “organized around the delegitimization of the election process” was removed, especially after some members called for violence. Twitter has labeled many of Trump’s tweets with warnings that they contain misleading statements, while TikTok and YouTube have also taken precautions.
However, as MacNab emphasized, while the far right may have no post-election plan right now, that situation could change. Before the election, some militia groups indicated that their attention was focused on what would happen afterward.
The potential remains of an unhinged Trump riling up a distraught base, who are convinced the election is stolen. Antifascist writer Shane Burley told Truthout, “The mix of the apocalyptic conspiracy rhetoric from Trump and their belief in the threat of the Left creates a high probability of violence from fringe people inside their movement.”
The most hopeful sign is that many media and political figures who had previously supported and enabled Trump are rapidly abandoning ship. Former New Jersey governor and Trump sycophant Chris Christie has suddenly cooled on him. Laura Ingraham of Fox News — which would a major vehicle for any rallying of Trumpist forces — has chastised Trump for his approach. Trump will need a layer of political support, in addition to his grassroots base, to pull off any major disruption; but the majority of elected Republicans are not rushing to his defense. And even the grassroots Trumpists, after seeing that the leader they’ve fanatically worshipped is actually defeated, may slink away, deflated and demoralized. At least we can hope — if not necessarily expect — that that’s how it will end.