On Election Day, Nov. 2, 1920, African Americans in Ocoee and other parts of Florida sought to cast their ballots for President.
The University of Florida history professor Paul Ortiz called it a revolutionary act.
Black people, he wrote in an essay, were registering to vote in droves — “a reality that threatened the grip of white supremacy.”
“State and local officials — along with the Ku Klux Klan — understood that white supremacy was in trouble,” Ortiz wrote. “They responded mercilessly, and a white mob killed dozens of African Americans, setting their homes ablaze and driving them out of the community. It was the single bloodiest day in modern American political history.”
A century later, a record number of voters have already cast ballots in the runup to the election, and a win by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden threatens the viability of white supremacy.
Black participation is at highs probably not seen since 2008, when they elected the country’s first African American president.
But, just like in 1920, with white supremacists led by the dog whistles emanating from the White House and much of the Republican Party, the nation teeters on the brink of widespread violence.
President Donald Trump has encouraged Proud Boys, a far-right organization described by U.S. intelligence officials as a white supremacist group, to “stand back and stand by.”
He slammed his own FBI for announcing a pre-Election Day investigation into a large rowdy and intimidating group of white supporters who intercepted a bus carrying Biden backers and surrogates on a Texas highway.
Trump supporters have also formed caravans that have disrupted traffic in major thruways in places such as New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas and across the South.
Before the first vote is counted, the president has already unleashed his lawyers claiming fraud and improprieties. He has vowed to contest the election if he loses, even threatening to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court.
Incidentally, instead of working to pass a desperately needed COVID-19 relief package, Trump and the GOP ushered through a new Supreme Court judge who shares views similar to the president.
Fueling America’s anxiety, Trump has failed to denounce a foiled plan to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, even mocking the Democratic governor about the attempt.
The president has also tried to cast doubt on mail-in ballots and absentee voting, even using his influence with the U.S. Postal Service to slow mail delivery.
Most Americans are bracing for outright chaos and casualties. Sales of weapons have increased markedly in recent weeks and months, with Black and white people alike preparing for the possible use of force by people involved in post-election clashes.
“The most threatening scenario is clearly an apparent victory for Trump on the night, which is then overturned as mail-in ballots are counted,” Justin Crump, CEO and founder of Sibylline, a leading geopolitical and security risk firm in the United Kingdom, told Black Press USA.
“In the event of Trump losing, or what might be seen as an election being ‘stolen’ by mail-in ballots and fraud allegations, there is the possibility of militia groups seeking to target federal properties for occupation or intimidation,” Crump surmised.
“Threat actors could also seek to exploit protests to stir up heightened violence by carrying out provocative actions — particularly against law enforcement,” he said.
Greg Hoobler, a former senior intelligence and security manager at the U.S. Department of State and the director of Sibylline’s Americas in D.C., noted, “the emergence of the ‘Trump Train’ phenomenon observed over the weekend underscores the likelihood of Trump supporters causing disruptions both on Election Day itself, and also the following days into at least the weekend.”
“This will likely include voter intimidation efforts in proximity to polling stations, especially in urban areas with an expected high turnout of Biden voters,” Hoobler said. “Counterprotestors may then turn out, creating localized flashpoints.”
With the rise of white supremacy and militia groups, it’s impossible not to be concerned about post-election violence offered Renee Hobbs, a professor of communication studies and director of Media Education Lab at the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island.
“Experts have documented the rise of active right-wing militias, including ‘mainstream militias,’ which are those that work to align with U.S. law enforcement,” Hobbs said.
“This includes groups like the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, the Civilian Defense Force and The American Contingency,” Hobbs said. “Then there are street movements highly active in brawls like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer. Then there are the libertarian groups, which have a history of conflict and are skeptical of state forces – groups like The Boogaloo Bois and People’s Rights.”
Like many others 100 years ago, Corritta Lewis said she and her family are afraid.
“No matter the outcome, it feels as though there will be unrest because this country is in such a state of chaos, it’s hard to see how anything good can come of this election,” Lewis said. “If violence erupts, who do we call? As two Black women with a son, we are scared for him. We are afraid for ourselves.
“If Trump wins, we are in for another four years of unchecked police brutality, widespread overt racism, continued systematic racism, loss of health insurance, and the rollback of LGBTQ rights,” Lewis continued. “We are encouraging our family to stay indoors, regardless of the outcome, but especially if Trump loses. We are from Ohio, where there is a lot of subtle racism. We are scared for our family, as Americans temporarily living in a foreign country.
“If this election has taught me anything, we as Black people aren’t welcome,” she said. “Where is it safe for Black people?”