As tension builds toward Election Day, law enforcement officials in Washington and elsewhere are preparing for the prospect that this year’s long, hot summer of unrest won’t end on Nov. 3, regardless of who wins the presidency.
If anything, officials worry that pressure will only build in the coming weeks, faced with the possibility of a contested election, spiking gun sales and ongoing civil unrest over institutional racism and police violence, all driven by a tsunami of social media misinformation and conspiracies from the right and left, not to mention from foreign adversaries.
“I can say that we have no specific, credible threats at this time,” said Joshua Murphy, the assistant special agent in charge of the Seattle office of the FBI, where he oversees counterintelligence. Before that, he ran the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Even so, federal, state and local officials have participated in “tabletop” exercises outlining possible scenarios for post-election violence and mayhem. At least 300 National Guard soldiers, recently deployed overseas, are being trained to handle civil unrest. They will be placed on alert with hundreds of other Guard members who have already been trained for handling such disturbances. Police leaders in Seattle, which has hosted some of the country’s largest racial justice protests, have canceled time off for officers.
“Given the atmospherics and the civil unrest this summer since the May riots, we’ve focused and increased our resources,” said Murphy. Agents anticipate more unrest like that seen in the aftermath of the mass protests that sprang up in the wake of the May 25 video-recorded death of George Floyd while handcuffed and restrained by Minneapolis police.