- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

While the Republican nominating convention in Cleveland in July has spawned the most fear of violence, security experts say the Democrats’ convention in Philadelphia a week later could be even worse because of the tensions between the two candidates’ supporters.

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has seen violent protests at his campaign rallies, and police in Cleveland are preparing for escalations. But analysts said not to discount the protests Sen. Bernard Sanders has drawn at his rallies, nor the way his supporters feel slighted by the Democratic Party.

Stan Kephart, an Arizona-based law enforcement expert who has helped coordinate security for events like the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, said both Cleveland and Philadelphia have the potential to get out of hand and both require proper planning.

“There are kooks and nuts on both sides of the political equation,” he said. “You can’t assume that you’re going to be safe just because you’re from one party or the other.”

Mr. Trump’s rallies have been disrupted by those opposed to his call for a temporary ban on Muslim visitors and his vows to crack down on illegal immigration — particularly taking aim at Mexico. Some protesters have waved Mexican flags, and one protest video showed protesters lighting an American flag on fire.

Mr. Sanders, meanwhile, has been interrupted by protesters who say he hasn’t gone far enough toward their agenda. Last week animal rights activists rushed the stage at a Sanders event in California, saying they weren’t protesting Mr. Sanders as much as trying to prod him to speak out more on their issues.

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“The people that do this — they don’t really care about the politicians,” Mr. Kephart said. “It’s whatever is most convenient for their organization and whatever’s most attractive in terms of the notoriety.”

Dan Bongino, a former member of President Obama’s secret service protective detail who is now a conservative talk show host, said Mr. Sanders’ own supporters make the Philadelphia convention the bigger security threat.

“I think the crowd control problem, given Bernie Sanders and his passionate following, and the superdelegate scam that’s going on within the party — you have a [witch’s] brew cocktail developing right now,” said Mr. Bongino, a Republican who ran for a U.S. House seat in Maryland in 2014.

The Philadelphia mayor’s office said the city is prepared for all aspects of the Democratic convention — protests and otherwise. Several applications for demonstrations already have been approved.

Both conventions have been designated National Special Security Events — meaning the U.S. Secret Service takes the lead in designing and implementing operational security, with help from local, state and other federal law enforcement agencies.

Secret Service spokesman Rob Hoback said planning for both conventions has been ongoing since October, and that there are a number of subcommittees covering all sorts of areas, including crowd control.

“I don’t think there’s a heightened sense of alert because of what’s been going on, only because the planning for these types of things has been going on for a long time,” Mr. Hoback said.

Ron Hosko, a former assistant director of the FBI who sits on the board of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, said police are going to have to guard against overreacting in a way that would get magnified and criticized.

“I think Philly and others, the collective law enforcement groups that will be out there, are going to be keenly aware of that,” Mr. Hosko said. “There’s this ongoing discussion about the ‘Ferguson effect,’ the ‘YouTube effect.’”

“Some of the protesters will absolutely, I would expect, be baiting the police into an overreaction,” he said. “Testing the boundaries — poking and prodding for weaknesses. Some of those folks won’t be in the mainstream, but they will be ignorant and lawbreakers.”

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