In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, Donald Trump has urged his followers to spend time on Election Day intimidating nonwhite voters. He tells them that after they vote on November 8, it’s their duty to go en masse to “some other place” and make sure that no one’s engaging in voter fraud. “Go sit there with your friends and make sure it's on the up-and-up,” he’s said.
Trump doesn’t explicitly say the “other place” needs to be somewhere nonwhite people are voting. Sometimes he says “specific areas”; on one occasion, during an appearance in Pennsylvania, he called out Philadelphia.
But at least some of his supporters are picking up on the subtext. And some are openly admitting to reporters — like Matt Viser and Tracy Jan of the Boston Globe — that they’re going to engage in some “racial profiling” at the polls, and make supposedly foreign-looking voters “a little bit nervous”:
“I’ll look for ... well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American,” he said. “I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”
That quote is from a man named Steve Webb who lives in Fairfield, Ohio (a suburb of Cincinnati). That appears to be his real name — or at least, there is a Steve Webb on Facebook who fits that description and is an active Trump supporter.
In other words, Webb, to all appearances, isn’t just planning to make voters feel “a little bit nervous” if they “can’t speak American” (i.e., might be noncitizens and might be trying to vote illegally). He is so confident that he’s doing the morally and legally right thing that he was willing to put his name and face to his plan.
It’s really hard to overstate how alarming this is.
As experts explain in the Boston Globe article, it’s one thing to have election monitors stationed at polling places to make sure poll workers and campaign volunteers aren’t breaking election law; it’s quite another to encourage groups of vigilantes to hang out at polling places in unfamiliar neighborhoods, with the stated goal of making people feel too uncomfortable to vote if they look like they shouldn’t be voting.
As Jamelle Bouie wrote this week for Slate, America has a history of Election Day violence. It’s usually racial — in particular, white Americans using violence to suppress the vote of nonwhite Americans. And it has, on occasion, been deadly.
The more Trump slips in the polls — the more he’s shunned by the political establishment — the more frequently and ardently he tells his followers that the election is in danger of being rigged, and the more he urges them to stop it. One group of Trump supporters, carrying guns, has already held a “protest” outside a Democratic campaign office in Virginia. And we have weeks left to go.
The most urgent danger Donald Trump poses to the public safety of the United States isn’t that he will win, or come close to winning, on Election Day. It’s that he will be so obviously doomed to lose that he’ll fan his supporters into a frenzy and people will get hurt.