Far-right groups pose threat to election, report warns

By: - October 20, 2020 6:15 am
armed Trump supporter

Supporter of President Donald Trump outside the Nevada Legislature during the 31st Special Session in Carson City on Saturday, July 11, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent, pool photo)

No major voting issues have been reported in Nevada since early voting began Saturday, but the potential for voter intimidation and incited violence remains a real threat to the election process, a new report warns.

“The Danger Within: Right Wing Violence in Nevada” details the various far-right militia and white supremacy groups with a visible presence in the state, and warns these groups may attempt to show up as poll watchers or feel called to arms if President Donald Trump appears to be losing his reelection bid. The report is a project of three left-leaning organizations: the national think tank Political Research Associates, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) and Indivisible Northern Nevada.

Election Protection Hotline

The Election Protection Hotline is a national, nonpartisan coalition focused on protecting voter rights. Its local partners — the Let Nevadans Vote coalition — include the ACLU of Nevada, Silver State Voices and the Institute for a Progressive Nevada. Nevadans are encouraged to report voting problems to the hotline. The coalition will monitor the hotline and send nonpartisan observers to in-person polling places in Clark and Washoe counties.

1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683)

1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (1-888-839-8682 en Español)

1-888-API-VOTE (1-888-274-8683 Asian multilingual assistance)

1-844-YALLA-US (1-844-925-5287 Arabic)

Voters should also alert poll workers if they see voter intimidation underway. They can also reach out to their county election office.

“We basically just wanted to get out there that the threat of right-wing militia violence is real,” says Edmund Andrews, a former New York Times reporter and Douglas County resident who co-authored the report. “It is not a joke and it should be taken seriously — perhaps more seriously than most normal people think it merits.”

Andrews in the report and in an interview with the Current acknowledged that white nationalists and other violent far-right militants represent “a tiny minority.”

But the report adds that “even a tiny minority … could cause havoc both before and after the presidential election on November 3. White supremacy groups and Patriot movement militias are real in Nevada. They are active. Most dangerous of all, they have been encouraged by President Trump’s false claims about election fraud and his all-too-explicit message to ‘stand back and stand by.’”

These far-right groups include: The Proud Boys, a group which has been designated by the FBI as an extremist group and has been highly visible during recent political rallies in Northern Nevada; Boogaloo Bois, the decentralized group claimed by three white men who federal prosecutors allege crafted plans to firebomb an energy substation but later pivoted to plans to throw Molotov cocktails during a Black Lives Matter rally in Las Vegas; and The Three Percenters, a decentralized paramilitary group with deep ties to Nevada, including being involved with the Cliven Bundy armed standoff in Bunkerville.

Robert Futrell, a UNLV professor and author of the book “American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate,” says groups like these “come armed and ready for action” — often under the pretense of protecting property or keeping law and order.

“But their very presence heightens tensions and they know it,” he says. “It’s hard not to call these groups terrorist networks.”

Futrell shares concerns about the potential for voter intimidation and possible armed conflicts post-election. No far-right groups were present at his early voting site over the weekend, but he says he contemplated how he might have reacted if he’d heard they were there.

“I think I would have gone out of professional curiosity,” he said, “but I would have felt uneasy and that’s with my professional background. I think (their presence) does have an effect on comfort, and it could have an effect for people even showing up if they know they are there and armed.”

He adds, “It’s an act of voter suppression seen from that light.”

On Sept. 29 during the presidential debate, Trump said “I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it.” That same night he refused to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, instead saying “stand back and stand by.” (That quote quickly made it to Proud Boy merch, according to the far-right extremist report.)

In response, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford tweeted that Trump “wasn’t talking about poll watching. He was talking about voter intimidation.”

The state’s top law enforcement official added, “FYI – voter intimidation is illegal in Nevada. Believe me when I say it: You do it, and you will be prosecuted.”

Voter intimidation is a felony in Nevada.

Political advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle are pushing for people to vote by mail or during early voting, which runs until Oct. 30. Protecting voters from intimidation is one of the myriad reasons prompting that push.

In addition to the threat of voter intimidation, watchdogs of far-right groups fear the groups may attempt to incite violence if the outcome of the election does not swing in their favor toward Trump.

“They may believe the time has come to start defending America as they see it,” says Andrews. “That’s a dangerous thing. A lot of these guys are looking for an excuse to have a second Civil War.”

Futrell says it’s an ironic part of the evolution of these groups: They are historically anti-federal government but under the Trump administration they have begun shifting their view of the federal government. During the Obama administration, they feared massive government overreach or having their First and Second Amendment rights taken away.

“Now they see this ally (in Trump), this outsider who fights the deep state,” says Futrell, referring to a sprawling conspiracy theory about cabals within the government.

Andrews also fears that far right wing groups may incite violence and blame it on the left, particularly on vulnerable groups within the left who may be peacefully gathering to fight for social justice and civil rights for all.

“I think maybe the most important thing that ordinary citizens can do is stay clear headed and sane,” he says. “Don’t get sucked into some of the conspiracy theories, and do not get trapped into an outrage trap. We don’t want to overstate the importance of these characters. They are a minority of the population. I don’t think they have anything remotely withstanding the wherewithal to stage a coup. They do have the capability of disruption.”

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and two mutts.