Trump’s “Poll Watchers”: Reviving and Expanding a History of Jim Crow-style Harassment, Intimidation, and Potential Violence Against Voters



At the presidential debate on September 29, Trump made clear that “his people” includes white supremacists and armed militias that have been showing up at anti-racism protests to intimidate, attack, and even murder people—which Trump then defends!

On the same stage, Trump issued this call: “I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that’s what has to happen.” Elsewhere, Trump has also specified that “sheriffs and ... law enforcement and ... U.S. attorneys” should be part of this.

Donald Trump Jr. posted online: “We need every able-bodied man, woman to join Army for Trump's election security operation at We need you to help us watch them. Not just on Election Day, but also during early voting and at the counting boards.” [Emphasis added.]

Four Things:

First, this is not empty talk. It is building on what the New York Times reported in May—a $20 million effort by Republicans to recruit “50,000 volunteers in 15 key states to monitor polling places and challenge ballots and voters deemed suspicious.” The Times reported that this plan had “gained steam.” And it is already happening—a crowd of Trump supporters harassed early voters in Fairfax, Virginia, on September 19. There are millions of hard-core Trump supporters; many will respond to these repeated calls.

Second, these fascists are NOT talking about a few legally authorized (in most states) representatives of their party who observe the voting process and can speak to election officials if they think something improper is going on. What they mean is Jim Crow-style racist mobs whose purpose is to intimidate voters, particularly people of color, and also people who count the votes. The point is to decrease the Biden vote, and to create the kind of chaos and, potentially, violence that Trump can then use to justify suspending or invalidating the elections, or even to declare martial law.

Back when this “poll-watching Army” was first envisioned at a conference of conservatives, they straight-up said that they aimed “to go into an inner-city precinct or a tribal precinct and be the Republican there to oversee things.” And that they need to “get some [Navy] Seals in those polls and they’re going to say, ‘No, no, this is what it says. This is how we’re going to play this show.’” They set up a website specifically to recruit ex-military and ex-law enforcement. And since 46 states in the U.S. are “open-carry,” it is quite possible that these people will be armed—and dangerous.

Third, the Republi-fascists have a history of this. In a 1981 New Jersey election for governor, in-uniform but off-duty police or sheriffs patrolled voting sites in Black and Latinx neighborhoods as part of the “National Ballot Security Task Force.” Many carried two-way radios and weapons, and wore “armbands,” which one NAACP official described as “Gestapo armbands.” They posted Warning! signs about potential election fraud, and challenged the eligibility of people trying to enter the polling stations.

Think of the impact this had on millions of people who have a well-justified fear of pigs, knowing that any encounter can lead to a beatdown, prison, or death! The Republican candidate ended up winning by fewer than 2,000 votes.

Republicans carried out a similar campaign in Orange County, California, in 1988, which at that time was majority white and Republican but had a growing Chicano population. According to Gustavo Arellano, writing in the Los Angeles Times:

Their Republican bosses gave the uniformed security guards one task on election day: Scare away people from voting during a tight, crucial race. They stood with arms crossed behind ballot boxes, asked for ID from confused voters outside polling places and wrote down license plates numbers. Some held signs in English and Spanish that read “Non-Citizens Can’t Vote.” Others just glowered....

20 goons hired by the local Republican Party spread across Santa Ana. They haunted voting spots with special meaning to the city’s Mexican community: a Catholic church. A Boys & Girls Club. A senior center.

Again, think about the impact of this on new citizens, perhaps (trying to) vote for the first time! Even one Republican politician said that this “smack[ed] of Nazism.”

The Republican candidate won by less than 1,000 votes.

These practices led to a court-ordered consent decree in 1992 barring these tactics. But in 2018 the court order was allowed to expire. Republi-fascists were ecstatic! Justin Clark—who went on to become Trump’s deputy campaign manager—said that the expiration of the order was a “huge, huge, huge, huge deal,” and that “Traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes ... so let’s start playing offense a little bit. And that’s what you’re going to see in 2020.... It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program...”

Four, this is what is coming down the road, and is part of why we cannot simply rely on voting. Or, as Trump himself threatened, “This is not going to end well.”

If we want a good outcome—for humanity—we need to bring alive what revolutionary leader Bob Avakian called for:

The crazed fanaticism of the fascists insisting that Trump must remain in power, no matter what, must be met, and overwhelmed, by the conscious passionate intensity of masses of people who hate everything that this fascist regime represents, who recognize the very real existential threat that this regime represents for humanity and are fired with righteous determination that this regime must go! (Trump Is Already Stealing the Election and Threatening Even More Violence to Stay in Power, Part 2.)


Fairfax, Virginia, September 19, 2020. MAGA crowd gathered where early voters had to pass to vote, shouting “Four more years” and waving their flags, and of course, not wearing masks or social distancing, putting waiting voters in jeopardy.



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