Police chiefs grapple with new Election Day threat: armed men at the polls

U.S. police chiefs grapple with new Election Day threat: armed men at the polls.

10/18/2020 9:29:00 PM

U.S. police chiefs grapple with new Election Day threat: armed men at the polls.

“I feel like I'm walking on the edge of a razor blade,” a Virginia police chief told NBC News.

, Ralph Northam of Virginia.In interviews with NBC News, more than a half dozen law enforcement officials across the country described their preparations for safeguarding the polls and their lingering concerns ahead of Election Day.“There's not a day that goes by where I’m not up late envisioning what the worst case scenario is to make sure that we are able to prevent it,” said Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock.

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Trump singled out Philadelphia in last month’s presidential debate, urging his supporters to go to the polls and “watch very carefully.”The district attorney’s office had by then already made plans to beef up its task force dedicated to election security. The unit, which consists of roughly 60 prosecutors and 30 detectives, is now focused in part on combating the threat of voter suppression and protecting polling stations from potential instigators.

Pennsylvania has among the most lenient gun laws in the Northeast. Residents can “open carry” a firearm everywhere except in Philadelphia, where a permit is required.Wellbrook said the authorities are prepared to take swift action against anyone who threatens to menace voters.

“Marching back and forth in front of a polling place with a gun is a pretty easy example of felony election intimidation,” he said. “There is no legitimate lawful purpose to be doing that.”But the situation is more complicated in places like Michigan.

State law prohibits anyone from carrying a firearm within 100 yards of a polling station. But what if armed men walk up and down a line of voters but stay beyond the 100-yard limit?“It’s a really tricky line,” said Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

Members of a militia group stand near the doors to the chamber in the capitol building before the vote on the extension of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's emergency declaration/stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Lansing, Michigan, on April 30, 2020.

Seth Herald / ReutersGrand Blanc Township Police Chief Ron Wiles said a 2018 state Supreme Court decision on the issue of guns in schools further complicates the picture for law enforcement. The ruling gave school districts the ability to set their own policies on possessing guns on school grounds, which raises a vexing question for Michigan police officials.

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“On Election Day, is it a school or polling station?” Wiles said. “It’s a whole other layer of complexity.”Michigan’s secretary of state issued a directive Friday that— including at schools — but Wiles said he expects the matter to ultimately be decided by the courts in the coming weeks.

The threat militia groups pose in states like Michigan is no longer theoretical.Earlier this month, 13 men linked to two militia groups werein connection with the alleged foiled plot to kidnap Whitmer, Michigan’s governor.The charges were brought six months after armed protesters, including some militia members,

descended on the Michigan state Capitolto protest the coronavirus lockdown.The toxic political climate, combined with the COVID-19 crisis and the national reckoning over police misconduct, increases the pressure on law enforcement ahead of the election, experts say.

“You’ve had social reckoning and social justice, extremist activity, and that combined with the economic downturn and the pandemic presents a unique combination that is truly unprecedented,” said former Seattle police Chief Carmen Best.Best said the situation requires a “modulated” response from the nation’s police departments to avoid intimidating voters and still provide adequate security.

To be sure, early voting has gotten underway in numerous states and there have been scant reports of voter intimidation or violence.But law enforcement officials believe the threats will grow as Election Day nears. Concerns are high even in states with strict gun laws and few, if any, active militia groups.

Major metropolitan police departments are taking steps to prepare for the potential of violent protests before and after the election.New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea sent an internal memo ordering all uniformed officers and even administrators to be ready to deploy for protest duty starting Oct. 25.

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“We should anticipate and prepare for protests growing in size, frequency and intensity leading up to the election and likely into the year 2021,” Shea wrote in the memo, which was obtained by NBC News.New York Police Department (NYPD) officers are pictured as protesters rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Times Square, N.Y., on June 1, 2020.

Mike Segar / Reuters fileThe Los Angeles Police Department has informed its officers that regular days off may be adjusted and work schedules rearranged to ensure maximum staffing levels during the week surrounding the election.“We don’t know what to expect,” a veteran Los Angeles area law enforcement official said. “Things are going to happen, but to what extent and for what duration, nobody knows. We are preparing for the worst.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has set up election-focused command posts in every one of its 56 field offices in an effort to more quickly collect and share intelligence and react to a wide array of potential threats, including cyber intrusions.Two FBI officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said it’s unlikely the FBI would dispatch agents in response to a complaint about armed men intimidating voters. Federal agents with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are in large part hindered by laws that leave election oversight in the hands of states, guarding against a federal presence at polling places.

“To be clear, the Department of Homeland Security has limited authorities in this area,” said Chase Jennings, a spokesman for DHS.Both agencies, however, have intelligence-gathering capabilities that allow them to monitor extremists groups that have discussed violent acts.

Jennings said DHS is “not currently aware of any specific or credible violent threats to polling locations or election-related facilities.”In anticipation of potential Election Day intimidation efforts, Mary McCord, a former senior Justice Department official now at the Georgetown University Law Center, has advised police and local officials in about a dozen states on the laws prohibiting private militias and paramilitary activity.

In Green Bay, Wisconsin, a swing city in a key swing state, police Chief Andrew Smith said his department is preparing for a range of Election Day scenarios but plans to maintain the same public posture as usual to avoid putting off voters.Among the department’s assets is a captain who served in Afghanistan with the Army Reserve and helped protect the polls during country-wide elections.

“He knows tactics and logistics, and he thinks about things we wouldn’t have considered because of his vast experience,” Smith said. “We want to be prepared for anything, but for the voters, we want it to be the typical voter experience.”In Montana, a state with a long history of militia groups, armed demonstrators have gathered in cities like Helena, Billings and Kalispell to protest Covid-19 measures and monitor anti-police-brutality rallies.

Protesters gather outside the Montana State Capitol in Helena, Mont., on May 20, 2020 criticizing Gov. Steve Bullock's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.Thom Bridge / Independent Record via AP fileLewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said the heated political climate has led his office to step up preparations for the prospect of armed agitators showing up at the polls.

State law bars anyone from possessing a firearm within 200 feet of a polling station.“We have a plan that if someone is within that range, they’ll be approached by an unarmed person first,” Dutton said, likely an election judge. “We won’t be called right away. But if there is a sense of resistance, we’ll get the call.”

In southwest Virginia, Clair, the Marion police chief, is planning to position his officers at all five polling locations in town. The officers, Clair said, will maintain a “highly visible but distanced presence.”This nuanced approach is a response to the competing pressures facing law enforcement across the country.

On the one hand, there are concerns that an increased police presence at polling places could discourage communities of color from voting, Clair said.“At the same time, the message is we need adequate law enforcement to give voters confidence they can vote in an unimpeded fashion,” he said. “It just creates this balancing act that I think is some of the most nuanced any of us have ever seen.”

The situation is particularly acute in his little town in Appalachia country. The night after the first Black Lives Matter protest, a burning cross was left on the front lawn of the organizer, Travon Brown, 17.A local man named James Brown was later arrested on federal charges of lying to federal agents and criminal interference with fair housing based upon the victim’s race. He has not yet entered a plea and his lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

The election is taking place more than four months after the summer events in Marion, but they’re still fresh in the mind of the town’s police chief.“I’ve never seen a political climate like this,” Clair said. “So now as a law enforcement leader, nothing surprises me. Not now.”

“We’re going to be prepared for every contingency we can be,” he added.Andrew BlanksteinAndrew Blankstein is an investigative reporter for NBC News. He covers the Western United States, specializing in crime, courts and homeland security.Tom WinterTom Winter is a New York-based correspondent covering crime, courts, terrorism and financial fraud on the East Coast for the NBC News Investigative Unit.

Brenda BreslauerBrenda Breslauer is a producer with the NBC News Investigative Unit.Rich SchapiroRich Schapiro is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit.Julia Ainsley and Ken Dilanian Read more: NBC News »

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No person or persons should have weapons on them or near them during a visit vote period. Polls are typically at schools or government bldgs. No gun zones. No matter what, they would be on private property and no one will be allowed to loiter around a polling location. This is highly unlikely scenario on a large scale. getreal

Can someone please explain why you need a gun to vote? StopTheViolence GunControlNow BidenHarrisLandslide2020 Revise2ndAmendment The so called president is trying to rig the voting in his favor and the actions of right wing armed militia's prove the point; our Democratic Republic is at stake. These right wing extremists are abusing their 1st and 2nd amendment rights in an effort to intimidate voters.

You mean domestic terrorists with tiny brains and tinier dicks. gunskilltheirowners Vote USA citzens! It's your right and your responsibility! Be brave vote Republican! Vote for jobs for our children and a better world! Not rolling blackouts no electricity and the removal of fossil fuels by California! USA stop the influx of cheap China goods, build for our kids

Trump supporters want to stop people from voting. We already know the President does not want this to be a free fair election. This is a good thing people want to be safe from antifa and blm intimidation. Don't you think? It’s quite simple - let everyone know that only cops with guns are allowed at voting stations. Anyone else will get arrested. Oh ... but of course that won’t happen because trump wants white terrorists with guns at voting stations.

AND if militia wannabes show up what is it they're supposed to be watching ... CLOSELY? Americans exercising our right to vote? 😒 WE need to ignore scare articles like this. WE need to continue absentee/early voting. WE need to CLOSELY WATCH thatfellaintheWH's divisive lies. Lot to grapple with when you show up to the polls looking to arrest antifa but only find off duty colleagues in hawaiian shirts armed to the teeth

Grapple... What’s to grapple? There is no grappling!... Keeping the peace is literally what they get paid to do! Intimidation at polling places is against the law, they get paid to enforce the law!... It shouldn’t even be a question as what to do! Unless they join in! Lock them up Forbid weapons at polls? Might actually work

isn’t it convenient that the majority of republicans plan to vote in person and not by mail that all of sudden armed men at the polls is a threat?. this is BS just another reason to vote against them you have to be blinded not to see what’s going. NUREMBERG them all. I’m flipping those sissies off! Trump caused the grounds for attempted kidnapping event to occur. He also has NEVER addressed Putin's 'ISIS, Taliban and $-bounties' on U.S.A. soldiers' lives overseas. Treason, isn't it? Armed Men at Polls? He never apologized for, 'Solders who died are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers'!'

wake up people it’s another ploy by the left, so when they lose they can say that is was trump supporters voter suppression. open your eyes. they have no decency notthing is off limits for the left. even voting 🗳 What do these losers think they are going to accomplish? That is what Trump has done to America

“I feel like I’m walking on the edge of a razor blade,” Clair said in an interview. you really don't have to be a genius to anticipate that this election will set a record for 'violence at the polling stations' armed WHITE men. I fixed it for ya. It’s the Republican “GOD & GUNS” POLICY! SO HYPOCRITICAL! OANN FoxNews CNN

🐘 Trump’s America? / Nine Inch Nails GREAT MUSIC! VOLUME UP! 🐘 RVAT2020 In Florida, it’s — 🐘 We are coming apart. Why in the world would we have guns at polling places? It should be illegal! UROCKlive1 1. Never thought I'd read about a US city being grateful their chief had experience in Afghanistan protecting polling places 2. GOP previously used off-duty armed police to intimidate at polls. Worthwhile to know what your city's policy is now.

UROCKlive1 Is this the new Venezuela? Armed right wing nutcases at polling sites is insanity. These guys need frontal lobotomies. I have yet to meet a BIDEN supporter that is off the rails like the MAGAts. UROCKlive1 Armed men at the polls Did anyone ever think there’d be such a thing ever? In the USA?

This America ,Black,White,Green or Blue,America is Coming out of their Houses and Will Vote,White Supremacist, Good Ole Boys,Proud Boy, Racist,aren't going to Scare or Stopped Americans This can never be a problem in my state and a few others. zeropollingplaces Police need to show up at the polls. Not just go hide.

Banana republic KyleClark Send in psychologists. Police are too violent, I hear. All the clowns are out on full display! 🤡 Grappling ? Situation ? Just sit back on the side no need to seem like storm troopers &. If (When) they show up polls with Guns & other intimidation tactics just arrest them PROBLEM SOLVED. When they get out of jail this nightmare will be over

Are you trying to alarm or inform? San Francisco just chilled a bunch of those goofs — they and their “foes” wanted to rumble, we gave them a really nice sunny day and a lot of calm well-trained cops who escorted them out. Let them show up, arrest them, next! Is ANTIFA going to be there to shoot down innocent UN-armed people like before?

Voter intimidation, gerrymandering,Voter suppression,USPS slowing down the mail system,ballot harvesting,illegal drop boxes.Republicans SHAME ON YOU. YOU’RE A BUNCH OF LOSERS. Armed men at the polls is illegal. Here’s what you do—arrest them. And if they won’t drop their weapons shoot them—even if they’re white guys that you went to high school with 🙄

This is not acceptable! You have to send officers along side it, absolutely, just in case one of the people are crazier and trigger happy That goes for polling places, too... Then it's the responsibility of the police chiefs to have a visible protection of those polls. Even if it means swat teams deployed. No armed civilians should be pretending to be law enforcement. Militia have no right by constitution to deploy without authorisation.

I thought the left didn't want cops at all? Have then handle it themselves. *white men Stop spreading fear. How is this in any way legal? And if it is, what’s to stop all of us from arming ourselves when we go to vote? Actually this is a 12 year old problem. You mean like the black panthers at certain polling locations last presidential election?

What sort of screwed up attempt at democracy is this when armed citizens are allowed at polling Stations. Straight intimidation. All they gonna do is stand there looking fat and stupid. Who cares '... and here's why they're poker buddies with them' Of course, he is. It is your fault as well. It is your fault that so many police have been killed over the last few months. We are on to you. It is your fault he is dealing with this.

Whats wrong with being armed? ➕ *armed Republicans. Don't bullshit this. We all know who the fuck these people are. you should be afraid of the cops Why are guns allowed in a house of elections? Do your damn job..protect the citizens of this country! It seems to me that the best recourse is to have each Governor call up their respective state's National Guard and have them protect the polls and the people, along with other local and state law enforcement.

“Terrorists” fixed it for you Disgusting Arrest those Jerks what’s your problem ? You afraid of a person with a gun ? USA is taking steps backward under trumP. Don't be intimidated by trumPs goons. Vote. Why? Police throughout the country just LOVE those armed, militaristic white supremacists. Because THAT'S WHO JOINS POLICE DEPARTMENTS.

Joe_Glidden Because it is I l l e g a l. They needs to have real police there all this is getting Out of hand with these pole watcher trying to cheat Yah if I tell them to go home it will make Thanksgiving really akward 2nd amendment doesn't give everyday Americans the right to threaten nor intimidate ppl. This is another perversion of law. This is an explosion awaiting a spark. Nonsensical nonsense proven by history. Rs always ***backwards on any issue.

IF They are ARMED then Lock them Up. They definitely won’t get any help from Trump, because he’s the one who incited it. There ought to be a law against the POTUS, blatantly creating a atmosphere of hostility. Meh. The Black Panthers did the same when Barry was running. *Correction: Armed white MAGA men. Trump told them to come, and they're not bringing fruit punch and chips!

jcarroll5231 Hopefully by election day there will about 7 people who haven't voted yet so these guys can just intimidate each other. No worries, 4 years ago there were black panthers at the polling place I went to standing out on the sidewalk with clubs. Walked right past them and voted. All they did was mean mug me. They're all cowards. But thanks for worrying.

What is this? Afghanistan? Seems like that what they are aiming for - hoards of angry men shooting their semis in the air and blowing loads in the town square because of some misconceived slight. Sharia type shit. Alt-Right isn’t much different. All police chiefs need to be replaced and their jobs up for tender to people with integrity!!

What's to grapple with? ARREST THEM. Donald Trump's 'Poll Watchers'. Boo Hoo. An armed society is a polite society. Cowards. They're called cowards. Antifa is a myth 😏 This is Bullshit. Are we in America or Russia people? Get this man out of the damn White House before he kills more innocent people!!! Are you kidding? The cops love Trump and voter intimidation. They will happily be members of his S.S.

There is NOT one infinitesimal doubt who is responsible for these actions. NONE. SHAMEFUL. People are exercising their First and Second Amendment rights at the same time. Great!! 1A 2A I can’t even bear to read beyond the headline. What a world we’re living in. Trump World. But you're not afraid of antifa burning down your town?

BDBgoldens3 I know they will be at my polling place. We'll go early these lazy pos don't get up until noon. Maybe everyone will have already voted. Meanwhile..the Biden Center failed to report a $22 million dollar gift from an anonymous donor from China. What have we here? shannonrwatts Trumps amerikkka

Sifill_LDF Call your local leaders to act now - this can be solved. Sifill_LDF Isn't there a national guard? A US military? Why put up with this? shannonrwatts Weapons are allowed in the polls in Virginia. Don’t be intimidated, don’t be afraid. There will be people at the polls that want to make sure you are able to vote .

morgfair One reason it's a good idea to vote early! shannonrwatts This sadly is why the gun Stores are empty. My Wife and I now carry 24/7 and we both think it is insane. shannonrwatts Arrest them. Anyone bradishing a gun at the polls is doing so for one reason: voter intimidation, a crime. Simple ,..yank their right to bear arms if any act of anarchy or voter intimidation is present

That is what YouTube what's showing the voters and scaring a lot of them and that's why I made the report to try and get it off YouTube. There should be no man carrying guns an election day. Easy: that's voter intimidation, and you aren't supposed to allow it. How is that hard to understand? What’s the struggle? Arrest them and toss them into prison, police are pretty good at doing that to black people so I’m sure they can do that to white supremacists.

You can pass a law to take voter rights away, then you can pass a law that guns aren't allowed on the premise. If they resist, shoot them dead. It's not speech, it is terrorism, voter intimidation. What happened to 'law and order' They show up armed to my polling place they better be ready to put up or shut up. Because I am. This is my right.

TheWarMonitor all it takes is one major attack by the far right on election day and Trump nationalizes the National Guard and stops the counting of votes. Um, fucking arrest them? AKA 'crazy ass white people who have lost their goddamn minds' There needs to be in big cities where antifa might show up. In the south there won't be any antifa. The soy boys would get there ass beat then arrested.

Every single day you should stress the importance of freedom. Every single day you should concentrate of the fact Trump doesn't accept freedom of speech. Every single day you should ask voters in the middle states if they think freedom of speech is important. My grandmother's neighbor was a child in Germany, under the Nazi regime. Then she was in East Germany, under communists. She said that people with guns escorted them to the polls. Interesting.

MECCA MEN? I think they need to “Hold the Blue Line” and protect voters. From an IraqWarVeteran🇺🇸 Vote What are they “grappling” with? Having to do their jobs? Or maybe having to arrest members their own department? their cult leader told them to stand by. no surprise. Lol LOCK THEM UP. Vote early and avoid the carnage...

Arrest them. There is no middle line on this one, no guns at or near voting locations. Do your jobs. Yep Guess they'll have to be there....in support of our election. In Florida there will undoubtedly be innumerable concealed carry - political party is irrelevant. It’s over pedophiles, we have the goods, no matter how much You try to hide it soon the truth will come to light. MSM is complicit, Make all the fake news You want. The time has come. Your days are numbered. A new day is upon us.

i guess nbc news doesn’t want women to vote at the polls for trump, don’t forget the only people afraid of guns are liberals if any thing this reporting will suppress the liberal and dem votes. 2nd Amendment mayhem. 1-866-OUR-VOTE call this number immediately if you experience voter harassment or intimidation. This is illegal and a violation of your rights!

Generally republicans vote on election day. In effect trump is sending his 'army' to intimidate his own voters Are they worrying that ANTIFA and BLM Leaders will be there. They are the ones who have been burning and looting our cities all summer. You know the ones NBC said were mostly peacrful Blame it on the candidate loads of them are endorsing

Trump lives and loves to promote National and Racial division and hate. He promotes home grown terror groups and will not come out against them as the terrorist and racist people love him . It is a fact Problem is - very little respect for the police in America. Too much at stake. Voting in sheriffs and judges is a bad idea. Only a miniscule part of the population can assess the best person to be a judge or police chief.

Only in America. At what point will there be gun control? Answer: never! Politicians are bought by the nra. It’s a joke. In the us, money Is more important than lives. Take em all to jail. Let God sort it out...can't afford bail? Too bad. Got a lawyer? Sue the state & lose cause felony election interference. All of the above? Give exactly no fu*ks for musketeers!

The Second Amendment was not written to encompass intimidating voters. These armed men will surely be breaking a fundamental freedom law! Should be a law no one with guns other than police should have guns within 1/2 mile of any polling place.. JOE BIDEN AND HIS SON ARE CRIMINALS You mean armed terrorists. When you start using the right verbiage people will understand that realDonaldTrump is taking away their rights and is having his army of losers doing the dirty work. Stop normalizing this dictator.

The GOP is creating so much danger and failing America. Vote for new leadership in DC. Mask up, vote and care for all. = America. Shit’s catching up to you Yep Your ballot is made in secret. Why would one feel intimidated? Just do your vote and ignore them. Such a beautiful Tatto design az_garden2007 I wouldn't call shaking their hands, giving them drinks and snacks, and telling them you appreciate them grappling

Armed white men Vigilantism Let there be no mistake NO PRIVATE ARMY, Like in MI & folks in entire country will go against police, who are good people except few rotten who give bad name to police. In light of a complete lack of desire for any type of gun control and continued unfettered support of the “right” to bear arms how can they say this will be a threat?

You mean domestic terrorists? Arrest them. It’s straight up voting intimidation and it’s illegal 😂😂 Who do they hope to intimidate? That Biden voter that swears he’s voting for trump just so he can get past these fools? 😂😂 Armed groups should be considered a threat to the integrity of the election and shot on sight.

Remember when Fox news and Republicans had a conniption because three black panthers were just standing outsite a polling site? Armed Black Panthers still OK? People should be concerned about republicans strategy to suppress the vote. Advertising for a poll watching army to create fear. When they pull this shit, you know your vote counts. Democracy requires action. Don't be conned. Get your family, friends, co-workers to VOTE BLUE

Lol...that pesky Constitution....man we have a ton of pussies in this country. and its another form of voter suppression, these thugs and racists think they can intimidate voters from voting. have you noticed there hasn't been any issues at all during early voting? its a scare tactic. Don't let stupid men with micropeen scare you away from voting.

They're not Racists ... They're Constitutionalists and right now the US Constitution is being threatened by the Radical Left ... Vote early and don't give them anything to do on Nov 3... BoycottNov3 VoteEarly Every state needs to join Michigan in banning open carry in or near polling places NOW. We are not a banana republic yet. Granted, we are trending in that direction.

They’d better be prepared for some armed voters then too. If I see one trumpet outside my polling place, I’m going to be prepared. Joke's on them! We already voted!! It’s pretty simple, one does not allow armed pedestrians at polls. 😂🤷‍♂️ A lot of polling locations are schools are they going to allow armed men to be on school property?

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” A metaphor for how literally these white folks will do anything to prevent change from happening.

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