Gun sales are surging and businesses are boarding up in the capital, Washington DC, amid speculation that a possible political transition will not be smooth.
The residents of the US capital, Washington DC, are taking no chances when it comes to the aftermath of Tuesday’s US presidential elections.
Memories of the violence that followed US President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 are still fresh.
Back then, rag-tag groups of anti-fascist actvists and left-wing groups clashed with police officers trying to keep them away from Trump supporters who had gathered for his inauguration ceremony.
Cars were destroyed and shop windows shattered in the chaos that ensued.
Desperate to avoid a repeat, residents and business owners are boarding up store fronts and other vulnerable structures should violence break out. Rather ominously, even US officials have put up security fencing around the White House.
Trump’s tenure has been marked by frequent outbreaks of violence between left wing and right wing activists.
Those opposed to the president primarily object to his hardline anti-immigration stance and alleged racism, while those on the right see him as a strong defender of traditional American values and vociferous critic of the Washington establishment. A further far-right contingent sees the Republican leader, as the symbolic head for resurgent white supremacist ideals.
These opposing sides have often clashed throughout the past four years, most notably in Charlottesville in August 2017, when anti-racist activists tried to stop a rally organised by far-right groups. A resulting terrorist car-ramming attack by a white nationalist left one person dead and dozens of others injured.
Given this history, the fears surrounding what might have happened in the aftermath of the election are not without basis.
Some concerns voiced out loud by the liberal end of the spectrum is that the president might object to the validity of the results should he lose the election.
Again these concerns are not without a foundation. Trump has frequently, publicly, and unfoundedly floated the prospect that he could become a victim of mass electoral fraud, should voters elect his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.
The issue here is less how the US political and legal systems would respond to such a charge by an incumbent president; if such an accusation merited investigation or legal challenge, the US court system could respond to it definitively one way or the other.
Instead, the issue is how Trump’s core supporters would respond to the idea that their vote had been stolen.
Movements, such as subscribers to the QAnon conspiracy theory for example, are convinced there is a satanically inspired cabal that has been working against Trump to ensure he cannot root out corruption and ritual child abuse within Washington’s power circles.
How these people would react if they believe their man is cheated out of the presidency is a complete wild card. Many QAnon supporters are also gun right advocates who are tied to pre-existing militia movements and the far-right. Tens of thousands of Americans belong to militias, many of which are pro-Trump.
The perception that Trump will be cheated out of his presidency may further be fueled if reports claiming the president will declare victory prematurely materialise. In such a scenario, many Trump supporters will take the declaration at face value, only to have to later confront the reality, or not, of Biden actually winning.
The combination of these groups with left-wing and African-Americans increasingly taking up arms, the US is in a tinderbox situation, according to many mainstream analysts.
In a recent poll, cited by the New Yorker, 26 percent of Trump supporters said they would condone violence should he lose, while 21 percent of his opponents said the same should he win.
Speaking to Time magazine in September, former US counterterrorism official, Seth Jones, said the anger driving the current tensions was not going anywhere.
“The threat of political violence after an election has never been higher in modern American history,” Jones said, adding that the risk of violence stemmed from initially peaceful protests getting out of control.
Americans are facing an unprecedented situation and are responding in kind. The number of first time gun buyers was up 40 percent so far this year.
By September of this year, 28.8 million background checks, which are needed to purchase a gun, were carried out. That figure beat 2019’s all time yearly record of 28.4 million.
According to Cimajie Best of the OpEd Project: “This election is essentially a fight for the soul of this country.
“We never like to think of America as being weak, but in this moment we are seeing the fragility of our democracy strewn across the front page of every publication for the world to see.”