Armed Pro-Trump Protesters Outside Counting Centers Post-Election Day

In the wake of a contentious presidential election, a number of U.S. cities saw protesters take to the streets. While some cities saw benevolent, celebratory gatherings, others saw marches of angry Trump supporters casting doubt on the validity of the results. Many of these protests were patrolled by armed members of right-wing groups.

On Wednesday, November 4th, current President Donald Trump began to claim he had won the 2020 election – long before all the ballots in key states had been counted. The president has spent much of the week claiming that liberals attempted to “steal” the election from him. Donald Trump has yet to produce any evidence of such a theft, but this hasn’t kept him from filing suits in a number of states which voted blue, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia.

The presence of heavily armed protesters, bearing military-style assault rifles, has been a point of concern for Professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss of American University. Professor Miller-Idriss studies extremism and in a statement to the Associated Press, said, “The more [of these armed protests] we see, the more people see it as a normal reaction – even though it’s not. There’s nothing normal about it.” The professor expressed concern that the normalization of guns at protests is normalizing the potential for violence at these events.

While National Public Radio, the New York Times, Al Jazeera, and a number of individuals on social media reported armed protesters at these rallies, none of the rallies so far have escalated into large-scale violence.

Salem, Oregon saw Trump supporters direct targeted violence at those they suspected to be “members of Antifa,”* a left-wing militant group. A cameraman who was taking pictures of the event was assaulted when Trump supporters marked him as a “member of Antifa.” A man in a Proud Boys outfit pepper-sprayed another person he claimed was a member of Antifa, and a counter-protester was punched. According to New York Daily News, two people were arrested by the Oregon State Police. Pictures and videos of people armed with assault rifles, baseball bats, and homemade shields circulated on Twitter.

Phoenix, Arizona saw a crowd of about 150 Trump supporters, a number of them armed. Al Jazeera reported many were holding rifles and wearing holstered firearms while they taunted local media crews. The group in Phoenix made a number of conspiracy claims ranging from votes being thrown out to dead people’s ballots being used to social media companies interfering with Trump’s campaign. Like many Trump supporters, they declared the pandemic a hoax. Many in the crowd referenced QAnon, an internet group spreading a conspiracy that Trump is the sole person fighting a secret war against child sex trafficking.

In Philadelphia, two men were arrested with handguns on Thursday, November 5th near the convention center where the votes were being counted. The Associated Press reports the men had driven up from Virginia and did not have permits to carry guns in Pennsylvania. The two men also had a military-style rifle in their car.

In Detroit, pro-Trump protesters demanded a stop to the counting of ballots after Trump filed a lawsuit to halt ballots being counted in Michigan. Protesters in Detroit were armed as well. Michigan’s Secretary of State made an attempt in October to ban weapons from being openly carried near polling stations and counting centers, but the order is caught up in court.

Police intervention at these protests was minimal. Police in Salem attempted to separate the opposing sides with bikes. Sheriff’s deputies could be seen at the front of the crowd in Phoenix, watching.

The presence of armed groups, militias, or even police officers at polling stations is a danger to the freedom of speech the U.S. prides itself on. Intimidation in any form can be oppressive, but armed intimidation is especially effective. The presence of an armed force sends a message to voters that they are being watched, and that there is potential for violence. Often, these armed groups are comprised of white men – a group which has had little trouble partaking in America’s democratic process. However, that is the demographic that has proven to be the most threatening and intimidating, especially to the most disenfranchised voices in this country.

If we do not remove armed groups from polling stations and counting centers, we are continuing to allow an open democratic voting process to be prevented. Voting should be understood as a right, not a privilege. Every adult citizen should be given a safe and unhostile space to exercise their right to vote.


* Editor’s note: “antifa,” which stands for “anti-fascist,” is an adjective, not an organization. While antifa is often militant, one “is antifa,” not “belongs to Antifa.”