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Businesses Should be Preparing for Election Unrest

We assess the potential for political violence to occur on and thereafter November 3rd, 2020 to be very high. Protests and riots have been occurring since 2014 throughout the United States over a number of issues, primarily of perceptions of racial injustice among law enforcement use of force in the United States. However, in 2016 this began escalating into political violence stemming from the loss of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. On Inauguration Day 2017 anti-Trump militants vandalized businesses in the nation’s capital and elsewhere as part of DisruptJ20, an organized anti-Trump event. In Washington DC not only were rioters attacking businesses but protesters attempted to blockade a bridge and security checkpoints into the inauguration area.

Since then violence has steadily grew with incidents such as clashes between left-wing and riot-wing activists in Charlottesville, Virginia. These political clashes have continued throughout the last four years with the primarily left-wing militant group operating under the collective Antifa name. On the right the Proud Boys currently hold the spotlight. Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota riots broke out across the country. According to the Property Claims Services these riots have officially become the costliest in US history, at over $2 billion in expected insurance claims. [1] Adversarial countries are also stoking fires. Iranian officials managed to author threatening emails and use a Proud Boys associated e-mail account to send the messages. [2]

The potential for violence stemming from this election is almost certain. Public safety officials and academic researchers are extremely worried. New York City, which has been the site of a number of the largest protests this year had hundreds of businesses damaged or looted. The NYPD is already ramping up preparations and training for law enforcement. They have also begun coordinating with businesses within the city and warned them to prepare for unrest following the election. [3] The police department will deploy officers to more than 1,200 polling stations and hold hundreds more in reserve in the event of political violence. Over 100,000 in less-than-lethal equipment has been purchased in preparation. [4]

In Washington state at least 300 members of the National Guard have undergone recent training for civil unrest. They will be deployed as needed to assist local authorities. Seattle has canceled time-off for its police officers. Elected leaders and public safety officials are conducting a number of table-top exercises on various election-day scenarios. The FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle office said its agents anticipate more violence like that seen this summer following the election. During the summer rioters burned police cars, stole police weapons, invaded police precincts, and set up an anarchist zone within the city. Dozens of officers were injured. According to the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights multiple groups in Seattle have spoken about the potential for civil war if the election does not go the way they desire. [2]

Other states governments are also taking precautions. Michigan is barring weapons at polling stations as part of an emergency declaration while Indiana and Florida are activating emergency response centers in preparation for a crisis. [4] Some jurisdictions are going in the opposite direction of increased law enforcement readiness. Minneapolis forbids police to be within 100 feet of a polling place to prevent what they call voter intimidation. In Maricopa County, AZ law enforcement cannot enter to resolve an emergency until polling officials fail to do so. [4]

Academics researching the current situation have also reached troubling conclusions. Professor Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut and Jack Goldstone of George Mason University argue that no matter who wins the election that economic factors might still push the country to violence. They noted that the number of people on not only both sides of the issue but what they called an ‘accumulation of grievances’ within the country could push the nation toward a period of internal conflict. [5]

A Politico survey’s results showed one in three respondents stated the believed violence would be justified to advance political objectives. Nearly 44% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats stated they believed that violence would be justified if their candidate lost the election in a poll taken in September. This is an increase of 9% and 4% respectively from June, just four months ago. Researchers studying this noted a number of scenarios could significantly influence changes of perception and support for political violence such as if one candidate wins on election night but the other candidate supposedly wins due to mail-in voting. [6]

Amnesty International claimed that in more than 200 incidents reported during May through September that law enforcement failed to adequately separate combative groups or protect protesters from armed vigilante groups, or deploy enough officers to handle crises. [4] Citizens have lost faith that law enforcement will protect them due to what they have witnessed over the summer. Law enforcement seems in many cities to be sidelined by stand-down orders and lack of personnel and resources, leaving the average citizen to defend themselves. The public seems to be aware of the lack of government protection and responding. Gun retailers reported an 80% increase in purchases of firearms and a 139% increase in ammunition purchases. The FBI noted an increase of 93% of firearms background checks conducted in March through July of this year compared to that same time frame last year. [7] Businesses are taking their own proactive measures such as using plywood to board up windows, hiring private security, and modifying closing times on election day. [3]

It’s important to understand that the issues are ongoing and discontent groups may have significant staying power even after the election. There are groups on the right and left that are highly coordinated. Law enforcement across the country investigated claims about the pre-staging of pallets of bricks in key locations throughout their cities. While a number of these claims were never verified some cities such Kansas City, Missouri did conclude that there appeared to be such staging occurring in their cities. [8] On September 23rd, videos showed a U-haul rented to Holly Zoller, a known Antifa activist, and associated with the Louisville KY Bail Project, being unloaded of signs and shields. During the following unrest two officers were shot in the ensuing violence. [9]

The Rose City Antifa group is the oldest formalized Antifa group in the United States being founded in 2007 in Portland, Oregon. It is part of the Torch Antifa Network, a collection of anarchists, Maoists, and Trotskyites. They advocate the use of militancy and physical violence. [10] They are known for using weapons against counter-protesters and the police such as fireworks, rocks, frozen water bottles, bricks, balloons with feces and urine, as well as chemical weapons. [11]

The Proud Boys is an international multi-ethnic movement that can be loosely identified as a Western pride movement. In the United States its adherents support ideas such as closed borders, libertarian ideals, capitalism, and preservation of gender roles. They have been involved in a number of street brawls with groups such as Antifa. [12]

The Boogaloo movement, which is a confusing movement to say the least, in which it can best be described as simply antigovernment with adherents also being a mix of extreme right and extreme leftist has also presented some issues. Recently a Texas man was arrested for taking part in the Floyd riots in Minneapolis, firing a rifle at a police precinct. [13] Members of the movement appear at both right and left protests. The Boogaloo movement is an accelerationist movement, in which they espouse using any means to bring down the government, whether that means supporting left or right-wing extremist causes to do so. [14]

Militia extremists are also a concern. A number of plots have been disrupted this year. Two Missouri militia members were arrested en route to Kenosha in an alleged plot to commit violence there. [15] Six members of a Michigan-based militia plotted to kidnap the state’s governor. [16] There is potential that if the Republicans lose the election that some militia extremists may also resort to violence.

Of significant areas of concern are those in which riots or even heated protests have already occurred. This will be mostly the large US cities in which we have already seen in the news such as Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Houston, Dallas to name a few. Therefore, business owners and security managers are encouraged to take pro-active steps to mitigate risk to their businesses. The following are a sample of indicators to watch for and proactive steps to take.

Pre-Incident Indicators

  • · Advertisements of “action” or “direct action” training. These training programs teach civil unrest tactics, both legal protest and illegal tactics such as vandalism, guerrilla warfare, and sabotage. If they can gather a large enough crowd for a training event in your town they can probably gather enough on election night or thereafter to disrupt the city.

  • · Pre-stationing of items such as bricks near expected riot sites.

  • · Planned protests or gatherings. Gatherings that happen on election night could easily turn into riots if that group’s preferred candidate loses.

  • · Pre-attack surveillance. If there is suspicious activity at your location, people checking out the security cameras, taking pictures of the building, looking at that street furniture outside, trying to pick up things like the potted plants they may be trying to decide if your business will make a good place to loot.

  • · Have communication with your local government and/or state fusion centers if possible. Find out if they have any concerns about election night in your area.

Incident Indicators

  • · Reports of incidents of violence occurring. Flare ups at polling stations or elsewhere that have a political nexus could start between as few as two people and quickly spiral out of control within the city.

  • · Gatherings starting to occur in the streets. Do not wait until a protest has begun before you recognize the potential for one and the problems it could cause. If a crowd begins to grow increase your security footing.

  • · Calls for gathering or violence locally on social media.

  • · People loitering outside your business suspiciously, especially in larger groups than normal.

  • · Lack of normal traffic flow. May be a sign that streets are being blocked near your business.

  • · Blockages shown on maps such as Google Maps and Waze.

Safety Considerations

  • · The safety of employees and customers is paramount. Injuries and death can result in significant lawsuits, liability, and disruption of operations.

  • · Employee property is next. It’s not only important that your business can remain safe but that your employees are not putting their own property at risk. For instance, they may be safe and secure inside your business but what about their personal vehicles in the parking lot? What is the trade off for a day’s work to having their cars burned down or vandalized in the parking lot? What is the cost to the company having burned-out vehicles and destroyed car parts in the parking lot? How many workers will you lose who won’t come back? Is there potential liability because you failed to protect them? What will the disruption to your business be now with employees that have no way to get to work?

  • · Other systems of transportation may also be at risk. The city may decide to suspend public services such as buses, trains, or subways. Will employees be stranded at work or unable to get to work? Will businesses such as Uber and Lyft suspend services due to potential harm to their employees?

  • · Is your company a potential political target? Has your company taken a political stance? Companies such as Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods are known supporters of liberal policies. Are the owners known supporters or financial campaign contributors for a candidate? John Menard is a known supporter of President Trump. Additionally, a number of leftist groups are against big corporations, therefore, even liberal friendly companies can find themselves targeted by the very people they support. Or unfortunately your business just may be caught up in the vandalism and arson by rioters that just want to see the world burn.

  • · Understand that even employees with their own vehicles are in danger of being prevented from arriving or being delayed. Rioters have used roadblocks, some which have involved weapons, and turned deadly. There has been significant damage to the private vehicles of people who go near those roadblocks.

  • · Emergency services such as fire, medical, and law enforcement may be unable to help you in a civil unrest situation. Understand you may have to fight a fire yourself if you can, or that due to dangerous situations outside your place of business that injured persons may be forced to shelter in place rather than be evacuated to receive medical attention. You need to decide how you will be able to care for such persons in the meantime.

Sample Safety Measures

  • · Remove all street furniture such as benches, displays, bricks, and loose rock which rioters could use to break into the business.

  • · Board up windows with plywood.

  • · Secure all company vehicles in a secure location. If there is no locked area they can be stored consider storing them offsite.

  • · Check all fire extinguishers to ensure they are in operable condition.

  • · Ensure all first aid kits are fully stocked.

  • · Monitor law enforcement frequencies for indication of riots or other political violence. Downloadable scanner apps are available from Apple and Google Play Stores.

  • · Monitor the local news for indications of incidents happening in your area.

  • · Consider modifying business hours to close early on election night.

  • · Review all emergency response procedures and ensure that emergency plans are up to date. Understand that riots are a-typical. In most emergency situations we simply call for emergency services to arrive. They may be unable to provide service during riots. Plan as if it is all on you.

  • · Check all safety systems such as sprinklers, alarms, and door locks to ensure they work. Consider adding additional locking mechanisms such as heavy chains and padlocks to doors and gates.

  • · Consider limiting the availabilities of goods that could be used against you such as selling propane bottles, crowbars, and other tools that could be used for violence around election time. That $10 crowbar could come back through your $1000 windowpane or that $10 mini propane bottle could burn down your $1 million retail store. Consider removing such items from the shelves temporarily.

  • · Follow the social media pages of your city and state public safety agencies. Be tuned in for public safety messages and advisories.

  • · If you do not have it already consider building a mass notification channel, whether it be a mass text or email, or having your employee rosters ready to notify them of any safety considerations or not to come to work. You may not have time to make individual notifications during the emergency.

  • · During the summer 2020 riots several stores took the initiatives of having hoses and watchmen on the roofs ready to spray down any potential fires started by rioters. Consider this option.

  • · Brief your employees on actions to take during a riot.

  • · If your company has a security team, operations managers need to coordinate with them to ensure everyone knows what non-security employees need to be doing and what security will be doing during such an incident.

  • · If you have an internal security team or a contract security service consider increasing the number of guards onsite during that timeframe.

  • · If you do not have an in-house security team contract a quality contract security provider. A quality contract security provider is almost never the cheapest and it is rarely one of the big uniformed companies. Consider contracting through private investigators, risk management, or other executive protection companies that can provide quality personnel. Ask for proof of liability insurance and if your state requires it for proof of their licensure as a security business. Ask for proof of training to see what type of training their agents have.

  • · Monitor social media. You will likely find information faster during an emergency that way than any other way.

  • · Monitor Google Maps and Waze. People may mark gatherings or shutdowns or roads caused by protests. This can help you determine if the danger is coming toward your business.

  • · Limit access to your business. You may need to reduce the number of entrances that are publicly available to better manage traffic control. Do not reduce egress if possible. Always be sure to follow fire code when it comes to controlling access in and out of your facilities.

  • · Have a continuity of business plan. Understand that much like how COVID changed the way businesses operate prolonged civil unrest may change the way your business needs to operate. Identify threshold operating capacities and requirements. Understand your supply chain and your customers may be greatly affected. Prepare to enact alternative methods of supply acquisition and delivery of goods and services to customers.


[1] News Break, "Note: BLM Riots are Officially the Most Costly Manmade Damage to American Property in US History," 16 September 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[2] M. Carter, L. Kamb and J. O'Sullivan, "Military, police, in Washington state prepare for possible civil unrest after election," Seattle Times, 25 October 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[3] B. Chapman and E. Tucker, "New York Police Department Tells Businesses to Prepare for Election Protests," Wall Street Journal, 24 October 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[4] M. Chan, "Police Are Preparing for the Election 'In Ways They Never Would Have Had To' Before 2020," TIME, 23 October 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[5] P. Aldhous, "This Scary Statistic Predicts Growing US Political Violence - Whatever Happens on Election Day," Buzzfeed News, 24 October 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[6] L. Diamond, L. Drutman, T. Lindberg, N. P. Kalmoe and L. Mason, "Americans Increasingly Believe Violence is Justified if the Other Side Wins," Politico, 1 October 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[7] C. Elliot, "Americans are in a frantic rush to buy military gear before the election. What does that tell you?," Law Enforcement Today, 26 October 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[8] D. Funke, "Fact-checking theories about bricks and Black Lives Matter protesters," Politifact, 3 June 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[9] D. Funke, "Fact-checking disiniformation about Louisville, a U-haul, and George Soros," Politifact, 25 September 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[10] E. Flock, "For Trump supporters in Portland, the left is the face of intolerance," Public Broadcasting Station, 25 July 2017. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[11] M. Harbager, "Antifa, Patriot movement protesters return to Portland with new tactics," Oregon Live, 4 August 2017. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[12] M. Wendling, "US Election 2020: Who are the Proud Boys- and who are antifa?," BBC News, 30 September 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[13] "Man linked to far-right 'boogaloo bois' charged after allegedly shooting at police preicint during Floyd protests," Washington Post, 23 October 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[14] M. Kriner and C. Clarke, "Eclectic Boogaloo," Slate, 19 August 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 October 2020].

[15] K. Miller, "Federal agents arrest two Missouri militia members traveling to Kenosha with weapons," 13KCRG, 4 September 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 27 October 2020].

[16] R. Snell and M. Nann Burke, "Plans to kidnap Whitmer, overthrow government spoiled, officials say," The Detroit News, 9 October 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 27 October 2020].

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