White nationalists plot Election Day show of force
Neo-Nazi leader Andrew Anglin plans to muster thousands of poll-watchers across all 50 states. His partners at the alt-right website “the Right Stuff” are touting plans to set up hidden cameras at polling places in Philadelphia and hand out liquor and marijuana in the city’s “ghetto” on Election Day to induce residents to stay home. The National Socialist Movement, various factions of the Ku Klux Klan and the white nationalist American Freedom Party all are deploying members to watch polls, either “informally” or, they say, through the Trump campaign.
The Oath Keepers, a group of former law enforcement and military members that often shows up in public heavily armed, is advising members to go undercover and conduct “intelligence-gathering” at polling places, and Donald Trump ally Roger Stone is organizing his own exit polling, aiming to monitor thousands of precincts across the country.
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Energized by Trump’s candidacy and alarmed by his warnings of a “rigged election,” white nationalist, alt-right and militia movement groups are planning to come out in full force on Tuesday, creating the potential for conflict at the close of an already turbulent campaign season.
“The possibility of violence on or around Election Day is very real,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Donald Trump has been telling his supporters for weeks and weeks and weeks now that they are about to have the election stolen from them by evil forces on behalf of the elites.”
It is difficult to know at what scale these plans will materialize because Anglin and his fringe-right ilk are serial exaggerators, according to Potok. And rather than successfully uncover widespread voter fraud — for which there is a lack of compelling evidence — or successfully suppress minority turnout, Potok said the efforts are most likely to backfire.
“If on the morning of Election Day it turns out that we have white supremacists standing around looking threatening at polling places, I think it would arouse anger,” he said. “People would vote just to prove they’re not being intimidated by these radical racists.”
Despite Trump’s claims that American democracy is compromised by massive voter fraud, so far in this election only one person — a Trump supporter in Iowa who attempted to vote twice — has been arrested for it. That has not stopped fringe groups already inclined to believe that minorities are stealing the election from heeding Trump’s call to monitor voting in “certain areas.”
In an email, Anglin, the editor of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, said he had already led a “big voter registration drive” and that he was “sending an army of Alt-Right nationalists to watch the polls.” Anglin said he was working in conjunction with the alt-right website TheRightStuff.Biz.
A representative of that site wrote in an email: “We are organizing poll watchers in urban areas to cut down on the most traditional type of voter fraud. We also will have stationary cameras hidden at polling locations in Philadelphia, to monitor anyone that comes in to vote and make sure that the same people are not voting at multiple locations. If we see people voting in multiple locations the footage will be submitted to the FEC as well as put out on social media to undermine the legitimacy of Clinton should she steal the election.”
The representative, who did not provide his name, went on to explain, "Many polling locations are in schools, and black schools are so disorderly that pretty much any official-looking white person with a clipboard can gain access to them ahead of time and set up a hidden camera. You don't really ever even have to speak with an adult. Simply walk in like you belong there and no one even asks you why you are there. So we usually go in teams of two, one person driving and one person dressed as a blue collar worker with a clipboard, and we set up a hidden camera in the school cafeteria. Go during lunchtime and the teachers are all so busy trying to contain the kids that no one says anything. We already have a few set up."
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
A senior Trump adviser told Bloomberg Businessweek last month that the campaign is working on a three-pronged voter suppression strategy that includes an effort to depress black turnout. Though other Trump advisers later pushed back on the report, Anglin’s partners say they are hoping to put Trump over the top by doing just that.
“We also have some teams going in to the ghettos in Philly with 40s and weed to give out to the local residents, which we think will lead to more of them staying home. We have had success with this in the past,” wrote the representative of TheRightStuff.biz, who said four teams of two employed this tactic in Detroit during the Democratic primary in an effort to help Bernie Sanders. POLITICO could not independently verify his claims.
It remains an open question whether the neo-Nazis’ plans materialize, and to what extent.
Mark Pitcavage, who monitors extremists for the Anti-Defamation League, said Anglin lacks a track record of organizing real-world action and that he was skeptical he could “get even close” to what he was promising.
More concrete, said Pitcavage, are the plans of the Oath Keepers, a militia movement group formed in 2009, that has thousands of active members drawn largely from the ranks of former military, law enforcement, intelligence and first responders and a track record of mustering heavily-armed members in public places.
The group issued a statement last month claiming that James O’Keefe’s latest Project Veritas video provided evidence of “a well-orchestrated campaign of criminal vote fraud on an industrial scale,” and urging members “to form up incognito intelligence-gathering and crime spotting teams and go out into public on Election Day, dressed to blend in with the public.” The group said it believed most vote-rigging was “leftist” but that it would seek to expose fraud committed by anyone. Last week, the Washington Post reported that the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law would ask the Justice Department to investigate the group’s Election Day plans.
Stone, who first began advising Trump in the ’80s and describes the alt-right as “the new mainstream,” has also come under scrutiny for his Election Day plans. The Republican operative — less concerned with fraud committed by voters than with vote-rigging by elections officials —is organizing a volunteer exit-polling operation that he hopes will reach 7,000 precincts he sees as prone to rigging because of the voting methods employed and their one-party control. Stone said the precincts targeted included 2,000 in Philadelphia as well as some Republican-controlled areas in Ohio, though he declined to specify where. “If I told you I would be warning the [Republican Gov. John] Kasich machine,” he said.
Stone said he planned to present his findings to Trump and that he would consider any deviation of more than 2 percent between his exit polls and the posted precinct totals to be suspicious, citing the State Department’s standard for monitoring foreign elections.
But it is doubtful that a hastily assembled volunteer effort could result in reliable exit polling data, and Potok warned, “Anything he would produce would merely create more conflict and not lead us any closer to the truth of what happens out there.”
Other groups are combining poll-watching with more traditional forms of politicking, including leafleting, rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts
Jeff Schoep, the leader of the National Socialist Movement, said he was organizing a Saturday rally at the Pennsylvania state house in Harrisburg, where he expected between 75 and a few hundred people to show up, to mobilize supporters ahead of the election. Schoep said the party, which has not officially endorsed Trump though its members overwhelmingly support him, would deploy “informal” poll-watchers through its roughly 50 chapters across the country.
William Johnson, the chairman of American Freedom party and an advocate of deporting non-whites from the United States, said his party members were working through Trump’s operation rather than organizing their own efforts.
“We have some of our members that are doing poll-watching, but they’re not doing it as American Freedom Party members,” he said. “They’re doing it through the Trump campaign.”
“We have a lot of people that are involved with the get-out-the-vote through the various Trump organizations,” said the Los Angeles-based Johnson, who added that the party’s California members were focused on aiding the Trump campaign in Nevada.
Members of the party were also working with an Ohio car dealer to throw an Election Day party in Las Vegas at a rooftop location overlooking Trump International Hotel but could not pull together the financing for it, according to Johnson, a lawyer who made headlines this week by commissioning robocalls in Utah that attack Evan McMullin as a “closet homosexual.”
Meanwhile, members of white nationalist Traditionalist Workers Party will descend on Ohio to hand out leaflets hailing Trump as “the peace candidate,” according to the party’s leader Matthew Heimbach.
Though a pale shadow of its former self, the KKK is also mobilizing for Election Day. Thomas Robb, National Director of Knights of Ku Klux Klan, which considers itself the national standard-bearer of the KKK, said party members across the country would be working to get voters to the polls for Trump.
And Louisiana Senate candidate David Duke — a former KKK grand wizard who supports Trump but was disavowed by the New York businessman in February after some hesitation in a CNN interview — said his supporters plan to monitor polls with an eye toward “some of the more inner-city areas” that he said exhibited suspicious voting patterns in the state’s 1991 governor’s race.