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Illustration by Security Management

U.S. Capital Prepares for Pro-Trump Protests, Potential Unrest

Washington, D.C., authorities are preparing for the possibility of violence on Saturday as far-right protesters plan to gather in the American capital in a show of support for U.S. President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election.

Several groups have organized events in downtown Washington, D.C., including March for Trump, Stop the Steal, and Women for America First. One event, dubbed the Million MAGA March, encouraged demonstrators to “stand up and fight against the fraudulent election and make your voices count" in a YouTube video.

Enrique Tarrio, chairman of far-right group the Proud Boys, said in an interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel that approximately 250 members were planning to attend Saturday's demonstrations. 

“Neither D.C. police nor the National Park Service have issued permits for the demonstrations, although the Park Service is processing a permit application from Women for America First, a pro-Trump group that has advertised ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies on its social media pages,” according to The Washington Post. “It estimated in a permit application that about 50 people would attend its event.”

Local activists are planning counterprotests, including the group Refuse Fascism, near where the pro-Trump demonstrations are planned.

“We are gathering nonviolently,” said Refuse Facism’s Lucha Bright in an interview with CBS affiliate WUSA9. “We are not intending to engage them. We want to overwhelm them with our numbers. If they attack us, that is not out of the realm of possibilities of what they do. But we are hoping, especially if we gather in large numbers, that we will overwhelm them with our strength.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the Metorpolitan Police Department will be onsite to ensure demonstrators can protest peacefully and exercise their First Amendment rights. After seeing chatter on social media about some of the protestors’ plans to bring guns with them to the demonstrations, however, Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham issued a reminder that open carry is illegal everywhere within the District. Individuals can conceal carry firearms if they have a permit to do so; but concealed carry of a firearm is prohibited in the area that protestors are planning to gather.

“Regardless of your issue, we are going to welcome you with open arms, but the rules are very clear,” Newsham said in an interview with the local NBC affiliate. “We’re not going to allow any violence and we’re not going to allow anybody to hurt anybody.”

The Metropolitan Police Department is working with the DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency to take a proactive approach to securing the protest area. Director Chris Rodriguez told NBC News that the department is closing more than 30 streets around the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday.

The demonstrations are scheduled for a week after Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden was projected to win the U.S. presidential election. As of Security Management’s press time, Biden had won 290 votes in the Electoral College (270 are required to win) and led Trump in the popular vote 77,478,263 to 72,301,478. Trump, however, has refused to concede the election—a standard part of the peaceful transition of power in the United States once votes are tallied to determine a winner.

On Thursday evening, members of the U.S. Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee and members of the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council released a statement that the 3 November election was the most secure in American history.

“When states have close elections, many will recount ballots. All of the states with close results in the 2020 presidential race have paper records of each vote, allowing the ability to go back and count each ballot if necessary,” the statement said. “This is an added benefit for security and resilience. This process allows for the identification and correction of any mistakes or errors. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

The statement added that other pre-election security measures—including certification of voting equipment and pre-election testing—helped to build confidence in the security of the systems used in 2020.

“While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too,” according to the statement. “When you have questions, turn to elections officials as trusted voices as they administer elections.”

Despite these numbers and assurances from those responsible for securing election systems, Trump has continued to question the results of the election and made a range of accusations without evidence that votes were deleted, switched, or cast illegally to allow Biden to win.

Trump’s campaign has filed a slew of lawsuits in U.S. state and federal courts in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania to stop vote counting or disqualify some cast ballots. The legal challenges are unlikely to move forward, according to legal experts who spoke with Time magazine.

“There’s literally nothing that I’ve seen yet with the meaningful potential to affect the final result,” said Justin Levitt, law professor at Loyola Law School.

These challenges and the spread of misinformation about the outcome of the election have raised concerns that civil unrest could break out in the United States between the election and Biden's inauguration on 20 January 2021. Security Management has previously reported on steps organizations can take to prepare their facilities for protests, as well as measures to address employee safety in the event a protest turns violent.

The ASIS Banking and Finance Community Steering Committee also published a tip sheet in October to help the financial industry remain secure in the event of unrest during and after the 3 November election.

“In my mind, there is going to be a tumultuous period after November 3—I just don’t see any way around it,” said Ray Fournier, CFE, head of corporate security and bank security officer at MUFG Union Bank, N.A. in an interview with Security Management, adding that as a result of COVID-19 more people would be casting mail-in ballots and tallying the results would take longer.

“So we’ve created a circumstance where it is virtually impossible that the American public will know the outcome of the national election at say midnight of Election Day, which is the tradition,” explained Fournier, who formerly worked for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security overseeing its embassy security program. “The one time we broke with that tradition, 2000, it was one state that was in question. This go around, in 2020, it won’t be just one state. It’s going to be a multitude of states, no less than five states. A disputed election is a highly probable outcome, and that opens the door for unrest and chaos across the country.”