George on Georgia – Proud Boys and Black Panthers
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I had visions of white guys with baseball bats rolling through Clarkston looking for hijabis to assault after Trump won the election. It felt like America had become 1928 Germany overnight. As a practical matter, I was more concerned about an upgunned ICE agency kicking in doors on Buford Highway.
So I had a quiet conversation with activists around DeKalb about how to protect this community from the racism of the Trump Administration to come.
We organized an ad hoc early warning network. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Most of the time, its existence and other activities like it inhibited abuses. It is helpful that the enemies of democracy and equality are stupid and feeble. In retrospect, some of our fears were hysterical. Some were not.
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When Donald Trump refers to antifa, please understand: this is what antifascism looks like in practice. It’s not generally a bunch of street toughs lighting fires and getting into gunfights.
Those are the other guys. The ones Trump told to stand by on Tuesday.
Between that and his open call for people to “watch the polls,” though, I think it’s worth a serious talk about local vigilance during this election.
Last night, Judson Hill, a former state senator, responded to a discussion about election violence here to say, “It will be peaceful if Dems don’t rig the ballots. That’s the concern and reinforced by the daily news across America of ballots ‘issues’ already.”
That kind of commentary excuses violence. And we’re hearing more of it. 4Chan lit up with calls by the far right to arm themselves Tuesday night when the president told the white supremacist Proud Boys to “stand by” while talking about how “bad things” happen in Philadelphia.
That’s probably an oblique reference to a popular discussion point in far right circles about two men from the New Black Panther Party who harassed voters at a predominantly-Black polling place in Philly in 2008. I hold no brief for this group, but the context matters: they were two men of 300 Black Panthers who fanned out across Philly that day, hoping to deter anti-black racist hooligans from affecting the vote in a swing state.
Magical thinking abounds on the far right; that the cops will be on their side here, that the Army wouldn’t mow them down in an actual firefight, that every white guy with a rifle will rise to their martial defense and that they’re not outnumbered and possibly outgunned by the typical 3 a.m. clientele of DeKalb County’s Waffle Houses.
A federal court barred the Republican National Committee from conducting “ballot security operations” in 1982. Their conduct in a gubernatorial election in New Jersey was found to violate the Voting Rights Act.
The RNC posted official-looking signs at precincts in Black neighborhoods that read: “WARNING THIS AREA IS BEING PATROLLED BY THE NATIONAL BALLOT SECURITY TASK FORCE. IT IS A CRIME TO FALSIFY A BALLOT OR TO VIOLATE ELECTION LAWS.”
They recruited off-duty cops, conspicuously armed and wearing armbands, to challenge and question voters, blocking some of them from entering the polls. Democrat James J. Florio lost the gubernatorial election to Republican Thomas H. Kean by 1,797 votes.
Well, a federal judge allowed the consent order to expire in 2018. Congress hasn’t reinstated preclearance under the Voting Rights Act, because Republicans in the Senate won’t allow it to pass.
Georgia is a swing state this year. And DeKalb County represents about 2 out of every 15 Democratic votes in Georgia. Maybe more. Stacey Abrams won about 10,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton did.
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Georgia has fairly restrictive formal poll watching laws. The parties can register two people per precinct. They have to wear name tags. And they can’t challenge voters directly. Anyone who does is breaking the law. But I’m not worried about legal, authorized poll watchers. I’m worried about freelancers who think Pizzagate was a real thing, hearing Trump’s rhetoric and taking matters into their own hands.
In a close election, knocking DeKalb back by 10,000 votes might be the margin. Now, if it’s that close here for Trump, he’s probably boned nationally, regardless. But intimidation would be enough to throw the Ossoff-Purdue U.S. Senate race into a runoff, if not costing Jon Ossoff a win outright.
Assuming they don’t just steal it by force.
Let me lay a marker down here, today. Consider what happens as Election Night drags on and there’s been no call in Georgia. Trump will likely declare victory and suggest that the votes still being counted across the street from the DeKalb Sheriff’s office are somehow fraudulent, or that ballot boxes are being stuffed, or something equally unfounded.
The stupid could metastasize, leading guys in MAGA hats to roll trucks into the parking lot of the elections office to burn ballots.
I have no idea what the institutional response is for acts of political violence. I have no idea what the planning by elections officials, if any, looks like.
I know that the far right is making plans. Increasingly, it seems, whatever passes for the “conventional right” is, too. I wouldn’t be writing about this if I wasn’t seeing these conversations across the community.
Vote early, if you can. Drop your mail-in ballot off at the elections office. And be prepared for things to get very weird.
– George Chidi is a political columnist and public policy advocate.
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