President Trump has hardly shied away from tacitly (and not-so-tacitly) encouraging his supporters to take a more, shall we say, "aggressive" stand on his behalf. From ordering the hard-right Proud Boys street gang to "stand by" to defending Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old aspiring militia member who is charged with murdering multiple Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, earlier this summer, the president's rhetoric has veered increasingly toward violence, even as he falls further and further behind in the polls.
But how likely is it that come Election Day, there will be instances of actual armed conflict from the right-wing militias the president counts among his supporters? According to a new study from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project and MilitiaWatch, there are five states around the country that are the most primed for some form of violent outbreak.
"Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Oregon are at highest risk of increased militia activity in the election and post-election period," the report, officially titled Standing By: Right Wing Militia Groups and the U.S. Election, concluded (emphasis theirs). "North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, California, and New Mexico are at moderate risk."
As the study notes, the threat of election-related violence comes as the traditionally anti-government militia movement has increasingly aligned itself with Trump, creating what it describes as the "further entrenchment of a connection between these groups’ identities and politics under the Trump administration, with the intention of preserving and promoting a limited and warped understanding of U.S. history and culture." As a part of that entrenchment, the study concludes, groups that would ordinarily be competing with one another are suddenly find themselves in a relatively united front.
"Still, these risks do not mean that violence is inevitable," ACLED spokesman Sam Jones explained to USA Today. "Voters should not be intimidated. Rather, we hope people are able to use the data to evaluate their own threat environment and organize locally to stay safe, reduce polarization in their communities, and, ultimately, mitigate the risk of violence."
Still, given the recently disrupted militia attempt to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), and the ongoing clashes between right-wing gangs and protesters in Portland, Oregon, it seems wholly within the realm of possibility that any contested, or even simply unpopular, election results could lead to violence in places where conditions are ripe. Indeed, during a recent interview with conspiracy-monger Alex Jones, Oath Keepers militia leader Stewart Rhodes pledged that members of his group would be on hand to "protect" Trump-supporting voters at the polls, and were — if needed — ready to kill the "street soldiers" of the "radical left."
In preparation for Election Day, the FBI has reportedly begun working on establishing a command center from which it can monitor any potential unrest at voting sites around the country.