- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Law enforcement agencies from Washington to Los Angeles are bracing for planned protests, spontaneous demonstrations and potential rioting on Election Day when 2020’s political tension reaches the breaking point.

Thousands are expected to take to the streets for election demonstrations that will dovetail with racial justice protests still unfolding in cities such as Philadelphia and Portland. Police agencies won’t rule out civil unrest that rivals or exceeds the widespread upheaval that followed the death of George Floyd this summer.

“Law enforcement is really ramping up for the election not only in urban areas but suburban areas as well,” said Sgt. Betsy Branter Smith, an executive with the National Police Association. “If there is no clear winner, we are going to see violence and we are preparing for that.”

Ms. Smith estimates that 80% of the country could see some form of unrest, but doesn’t expect that it will all be violent. She said the demonstrations will likely range from peaceful protests to widespread mayhem and looting.

Law enforcement in major cities and small towns are planning for potential unrest the night of the Nov. 3 election and in the days that follow if there is not an immediate winner.

A pair of protests planned for Washington on Tuesday is expected to draw more than 10,000 people and potentially spark violence just steps from the White House.

SEE ALSO: White House says Donald Trump is ready to send federal help to stop rioting in Philadelphia

In New York, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea warned that most officers will be required to report for duty in uniform, including those who don’t normally work in uniform such as detectives. More than 1,200 officers have been deployed to polling places around the city.

A memo issued by Commissioner Shea told officers to “anticipate and prepare for protests growing in size, frequency and intensity leading up to the election and likely into the year 2021.”

Officials in Beverly Hills, California, announced it will close retail mecca Rodeo Drive to cars and pedestrian traffic on Election Day and the day after as a “proactive approach to possible protests.”

Local businesses in Washington this week began nailing wooden boards to cover windows as protection against rioters.

Chicago officials recently held an “all-hazards drill” to walk through how to respond to election-related threats and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said his department is creating deployment protocols for Nov. 3.

Small towns, too, are preparing for potential unrest, fearing their community could be the next Kenosha, Wisconsin, which became the epicenter of anti-police protests after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

The riots in Kenosha saw militia activity and two protesters killed during demonstrations in August.

“We are following the intelligence coming to us from the Chicago or state police,” said Tom Weitzel, the police chief in suburban Riverside, Illinois. “If they get concrete intelligence that there will be some type of violence, we will take steps.”

Law enforcement officials say they are not seeing a specific threat, but with the nation bitterly divided, it’s imperative to prepare for a worst-case scenario. Recent headlines reveal plenty of violence by the left and the right in the run to Election Day.

Earlier this month six men were arrested and accused of plotting to kidnap and kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, in part because of her onerous coronavirus restrictions. In September, federal prosecutors in California arrested a man they say firebombed the headquarters of a local Republican women’s organization.

There also is concern that distrust of the election results could spur violence by the losing side, regardless of who loses.

Both sides also fuel those worries, with Democrats warning of Russian meddling in the election and Mr. Trump warning that mail-in voting could be rigged.

The president called on his supporters to observe the polls as unofficial election monitors, which could lead to confrontations at polling places.

The Antifa movement, which has stoked unrest in cities this summer, will likely riot regardless of the election outcome, said Sgt. Smith.

“I think you are going to see cities burn regardless of who wins,” she said. “If Donald Trump wins and wins handily, they will take the frustration of the left and channel it into these demonstrations. If there is a Joe Biden victory, anarchists are not fans of Joe Biden.”

Michael Anton, a former senior national security official in the Trump administration, said the president will need to be more forceful with election protesters than he has been with racism demonstrations.

But Mr. Anton acknowledged that any action will be opposed by Democratic mayors and governors in those locations that resisted the president’s call for federal officers to quell rioting earlier this year.

“If cities are burning or being destroyed, I tend to think [Mr. Trump] would be a lot less lenient in the post-election environment than he was earlier this year,” Mr. Anton said at an event sponsored by the conservative Center for Security Policy.

“If cities are on fire, you have to get it under control. But it puts the president in a horrible spot because he’s taking action without the cooperation of the locations,” he continued. “It can be hard to know effectively what to do. It’s possible even the best-intentioned action could make things worse if you are opposed by people on the ground.”

Portland, Oregon, Mayor Ted Wheeler, who initially rebuffed Mr. Trump’s offer to use federal troops to stop the months of rioting, said Monday the city is working on a mutual aid agreement with state and federal law enforcement.

“It has to be done in a way that is not alarmist and doesn’t suggest that this type of activity is expected to be widespread,” Mr. Wheeler said. “And it needs to very carefully distinguish between peaceful protest and acts of violence.”

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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