A new report says five states, including several that are presidential battlegrounds, are at a high risk for activity by armed groups of civilians around the Nov. 3 election.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and MilitiaWatch warned about such movements leading up to and following the election in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Oregon, especially in state capitals and surrounding towns, medium-sized cities and suburban areas.
“Militia groups and other armed non-state actors pose a serious threat to the safety and security of American voters,” the report said. “Throughout the summer and leading up to the general election, these groups have become more assertive, with activities ranging from intervening in protests to organizing kidnapping plots targeting elected officials.”
The report, titled “Standing By: Right-Wing Militia Groups and the US Election,” takes its name from President Donald Trump’s response in a recent debate when he was asked to condemn white nationalist groups and militias. Instead, Trump told one such group, the Proud Boys, to, “Stand back and stand by,” which several right-wing groups took as encouragement.
Armed groups use “hybrid tactics” ranging from training for urban and rural combat to using public relations and propaganda to acting as “security operations” for events.
“There is an increasing narrative and trend that groups are organizing to ‘supplement’ the work of law enforcement or to place themselves in a narrowly defined ‘public protection’ role in parallel with police departments of a given locale,” the report said.
Pennsylvania Homeland Security Director Marcus Brown said security during the election is a main topic during discussions among his agency, the Pennsylvania Department of State, state police and the Pennsylvania National Guard.
“The safety and security of people going out to vote is one of the issues we discuss every week,” Brown said.
Pennsylvania is an open carry state, but there must be a balance between Second Amendment rights and the rights of voters to not feel threatened or intimidated, Brown said.
“The intimidation factor is the voter that’s showing up,” he said. “Do they feel comfortable going into that polling place?”
Brown acknowledged that officials are aware of the potential problems such groups might cause, but said the focus is not so much for Election Day. “The concern is less leading up to the election and Election Day than it is after the election if there is disagreement as to who won the election,” he said.
ACLED and MilitaWatch identified nine, large multi-state right-wing groups that could present problems to Pennsylvania and other states, including Three Percenters, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Light Foot Militia, Civilian Defense Force, American Contingency, Patriot Prayer, Boogaloo Bois and People’s Rights.
Sam Jones, an ACLED spokesman, said his organization and MilitiaWatch have tracked more than 80 armed groups since the start of the summer, most of them right-wing groups, and identified the risks related to each, such as their propensity for violence.
“Still, these risks do not mean that violence is inevitable,” Jones said. “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.”
In Pennsylvania, the report says that groups to watch include Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, American Contingency, Civilian Defense Force, Light Foot Militia and Mountain Top Watch, an unaffiliated group specific to Pennsylvania.
There is also the Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia, the Domestic Terrorism Response Organization, a coalition formed this summer as response to the Antifa movement, and the Carlisle Light Infantry linked to the DTRO.
The Civilian Defense Force was formed this past summer to train volunteers for “potential combat,” the report says, and the Mountain Top Watch Militia held a recruiting event just outside Scranton, the hometown of Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, in September.
Armed individuals and groups have also frequently appeared at Black Lives Matter protests, claiming an intent to protect residents and property from possible rioting.
The report noted that armed groups appeared at BLM events in Juniata County and Berks County in the summer and in July several gathered in Gettysburg to allegedly protect Civil War monuments after a social media hoax fueled rumors that Antifa was planning a flag-burning event there.
Brown said officials know that there has been armed civilian activity across the state. “We have seen this touch areas from Scranton to Erie and then in smaller, more rural areas,” he said. “We’re going to be monitoring all of it.”
This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Election violence: States are at high risk for armed groups around election