Be Prepared to Defend Democracy

There is no easy way to say this, but far-right terrorists are threatening election violence. Stewart Rhodes, leader of the far-right terrorist paramilitary the Oath Keepers, said they are ready to kill Democrats on election day in efforts to maintain a Trump presidency.

The threat level has increased consistently during Donald Trump’s presidency; hate crimes are up, and law enforcement and intelligence services have thwarted a number of troubling plots including a plan to kidnap and execute a duly elected Governor.

When Donald Trump has been called to denounce these terrorist and extremist groups, he chooses instead to tell them “stand back and stand by.” Members of Trump’s team report their concerns for his willingness and potential use of those who offer violent support that Trump could leverage in pursuit of his illegitimate goals.

Everyone should be alarmed, but we should all know that we have important choices to make in how we respond to these threats. Walmart, for example, worried about civil unrest is temporarily pulling guns and ammunition from shelves in some stores.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden says, “In the final days, please keep your sense of empowerment. Keep your sense of optimism of what we can do together.”

We should be optimistic; the power of the people is stronger than any fraudulent effort that Trump can offer as he clings to power. But we should understand that Trump knows the only thing standing between his trial and likely conviction as Individual 1 is continued protection offered by the White House and his corrupt Attorney General. He is cornered and likely to fight when he sees no escape; we need a plan.

One of the most important things to understand is the bipartisan commitment to defending democracy that is already present. Significant numbers of prominent Republicans have endorsed Biden’s candidacy. More than 130 former and current former senior Republican national security officials released the statement: “We are profoundly concerned about our nation’s security and standing in the world under the leadership of Donald Trump. The President has demonstrated that he is dangerously unfit to serve another term.”

Trump’s efforts demanding loyalty to him over dedication to oaths many have sworn to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” are clear fascism. Trump’s appointee DeJoy has made cuts to the US Postal Service, his Republican governor allies have undermined efforts to have malfunctioning voter equipment repaired or replaced, and Trump and his fellow Republicans have worked to promote voter suppression. He has engaged in record-breaking dishonesty and misinformation—no American politician has ever lied as much as he does, he encourages voter intimidation and political violence, and he telegraphs plans to abuse his office and the executive branch to deny his defeat.

All citizens need to unite and pledge to defend democracy together. All ballots must be counted, period. Election results must be respected, but this can only happen when all votes are counted, even if some counties take longer than others. If evidence of voting irregularities does emerge, then impartial investigations must be implemented.

A response to efforts to subvert democracy must be swift. Identify which groups are closest to you and make plans for your participation. Plan for nonviolent action, know that discipline is key. Any violence will be used as justification for a violent, potentially militarized response, and will undermine the protection of democratic freedoms.

Protecting the election is not a partisan project, accountability is not zero-sum or winner takes all. We will all lose if the integrity of our system and the principle of “one person, one vote” is undermined. When we stay committed, we will ensure what Lincoln called “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Find your team. Figure out what you will do, and make your plan of action. Do your research, what addresses and phone numbers will you need to use to make sure everyone’s vote is counted? Share your information with your other team members. Develop and practice scripts, request meetings, make phone banks to call local officials, or hold rallies to defend democracy. Identify other means for leveraging people power; sit-ins and walkouts, strikes, and shutdowns are great nonviolent steps that can be made in escalating the message and generating media attention.

It is up to us to protect our rights and freedoms. We know that nonviolence can bring down dictators. A people united are stronger than Donald Trump and his terrorist thugs. We have a democracy if we can keep it, let’s all do our parts.

Wim Laven has a PhD in International Conflict Management, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Executive Boards of the International Peace Research Association and the Peace and Justice Studies Association.