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Policy Summary: During the weekend of September 19, 2020, Fairfax County, Virginia was conducting an in – person early voting event when a large group of President Trump supporters arrived on the scene. A number of reports have said that the pro – Trump group was there to try and intimidate voters and create a climate of fear to persuade other voters to not come to the polling booth location.

On September 29, 2020 during the first presidential debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, President Trump told supporters “to go into the polls and watch carefully.”

And in a number of other incidents, President Trump has praised armed caravans that clashed with protesters in Portland, Oregon, defended 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse for the murder of two people and praised a number of armed vigilante groups, most recently a group that appeared in Idaho.

The U.S. election for President, congressional members and a number of state officials will be held on November 3, 2020.

Policy Analysis: Due to the frequency of incidents where the President has praised armed vigilante groups and statements that the 2020 election is ripe for fraud and calls for his supporters to “observe” the election, Georgetown University School of Law has compiled a fact sheet on the legality of armed militias in all fifty states and what can be done if a voter is confronted with an “armed observer” at an election site on Election Day.

First, the fact sheets from Georgetown definitively state according to the law in each state that armed militias are illegal in all fifty states. There is no exception despite the fact that certain segments of society believe that groups can collectively arm themselves and offer law enforcement services.

Militias were originally conceived as organized groups called forth by a state or federal authority to defend the state or the country. However, groups that have formed without the authority of a state or federal authority are considered an “unorganized militia” and are expressly prohibited by every state in the Union by their state laws. With the number of armed groups that have come forth and been in the news lately it is safe to say that they did not form with the authority of a state or federal government and are therefore illegal.

But that hasn’t stopped President Trump from publicly admiring these illegal groups from afar and giving them encouragement. Just the presence of the groups alone makes them in violation of the law but it is the encouragement from President Trump and his attempt to link their “protective activities” to the integrity of the upcoming election that is cause for high concern. The appearance of these “armed groups” will not make the conduct of any election or a polling booth any safer. On the contrary, roving bands of armed groups will only serve to suppress votes and intimidate voters into not coming to a polling booth because of fears of violence. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) even stated that these groups are specifically targeting minority communities of color and low – income communities in order to suppress the votes from those voting blocs. The political tactics of encouraging these armed groups to “safeguard society” mirrors the techniques that were so often used in the racist Jim Crow South to prevent blacks from voting.

With the information compiled by the Georgetown University Law School on illegal armed militias and possible voter intimidation tactics in the coming election, voters now have at their fingertips info into how to spot these groups and what steps can be taken if these groups appear at a polling site. Some situations listed in the fact sheet to watch for are non – law enforcement people acting like law enforcement, questioning voters and even turning some people away. Armed people who are not law enforcement officers cannot do this and are simply trying to instill fear into voters, as was the case with the group of Trump supporters in Fairfax County, Virginia last month. This does not have to happen and with the state – by – state information provided by Georgetown Law School the tactics used by these illegal groups and encouraged by President Trump can be prevented from having a role in the upcoming election. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

  • Georgetown University School of Law – infopage on danger of private paramilitary group with link to state – by – state factsheet on how to identify and report on illegal armed groups on election day.
  • Election Law Blog – blog on voting rights and voter intimidation issues.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

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