Just five days ahead of Election Day, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a bulletin to law enforcement about state laws that prohibit voter interference and intimidation.
But how likely is it that voters will face threats, or even violence? And where?
California has been identified as one of the states with a “moderate” risk of experiencing disruptions by right-wing militias around Election Day, according to a joint report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) and MilitiaWatch. ACLED is a research group that studies and maps political violence and protest worldwide; MilitiaWatch follows developments in the United States.
Other states in the “moderate” category include North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and New Mexico. Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Oregon are in the highest-risk category.
The report lists five factors that help determine whether a state is at a high or moderate risk of violence from militias. These include fears of left-wing activism; recruitment and training drives held by militia groups; personal relationships with police or law enforcement (including friendly attitudes towards militias); and engagement in anti-coronavirus lockdown protests. (Political swing states are likelier to be at high risk, the report found.)
California is at moderate risk due to several factors.
First, there is the perceived threat of left-wing activism. “Nearly two-thirds of demonstrations in the state since late May have been associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, some of which have attracted involvement or the presence of armed groups,” said Roudabeh Kishi, Director of Research and Innovation at the ACLED and Hampton Stall, founder and editor-in-chief of MilitiaWatch, in a joint response via email.
Demonstrations by a number of militia groups, including the Proud Boys, KKK affiliates, the Three Percenters and the Boogaloo Bois, often followed the BLM demonstrations this summer, notably in the Central Valley, near Los Angeles, in Santa Cruz and in Oakland. “If a location has had mobilization before, it’s therefore more likely that that location would be organized around again in the future,” said Kishi and Stall said in their email.
In another predictor of potential flare-ups, data compiled by Political Research Associates, which monitors extreme right-wing groups across the country, found that sheriffs in Amador, El Dorado, Fresno, Kern, Lassen, Siskiyou and Tehama counties have been identified as aligned with the Patriot Movement. The movement is a loose coalition of nationalist groups, many of them far-right armed militias. In their email, Kishi and Stall stated that militia groups often rely on tacit support from local law enforcement departments and “many others claim to have direct communications with them.”
“People should remember that both armed militia activity and voter intimidation are illegal in all 50 states,” they emphasized. “Californians voting in person should be informed and aware of the risks, and should know the resources available to them.”
Voters are encouraged to report suspected election violations or misinformation to their county elections office or to the California Secretary of State’s Office at 1-800-345-VOTE (8683) or email@example.com. In addition, the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection has created fact sheets on unlawful militias for all 50 states, including California.
Nahima Shaffer is a reporter at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
This coverage is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. In California, CalMatters is hosting the collaboration with the Fresno Bee, the Long Beach Post and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.