US election: Tea Party-linked activists lead protests against ‘fraud’

Mobilisation by conservatives prompts concerns about intimidation of poll workers

Supporters of Donald Trump at a rally in front of the TCF Center in Detroit on Friday. Photograph: Bryan Denton/New York Times

Supporters of Donald Trump at a rally in front of the TCF Center in Detroit on Friday. Photograph: Bryan Denton/New York Times

 

The same right-wing activists who helped grow the Tea Party movement and spread protests against coronavirus lockdowns are now organising demonstrations outside vote-counting locations in Democratic cities, alleging electoral fraud.

Amplifying Donald Trump’s baseless claims that Democrats are trying to steal the election, established conservative players are encouraging citizens to show up to protest in person at locations where ballots are being counted, prompting concerns about intimidation of poll workers.

FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group backed by wealthy donors who played an influential role in the Tea Party movement, touted the appearance of protesters with their preprinted FreedomWorks signs in Detroit and Philadelphia on Thursday.

The group was advertising more protests in Michigan and Pennsylvania on Friday, as well as a “solidarity” protest in Oklahoma, a solidly red state whose votes for Mr Trump are not being contested.

Stop the Steal, a Facebook group alleging election fraud by Democrats, grew by more than 350,000 members in one day. The group’s moderators and administrations included Amy Kremer, a Tea Party activist who went on to cofound Women for Trump, as well as two activists linked to the“We Build the Wall” campaign, a fundraising effort that led to the arrest of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and three other men for allegedly defrauding hundreds of thousands of pro-Trump donors.

Calls for violence

Facebook took down “Stop the Steal” on Thursday, saying the group was “organised around the delegitimisation of the election process” and that it had seen “worrying calls for violence from some members of the group”.

Stand Up Michigan, a more recent group that had a series of “freedom rallies” in Michigan opposing coronavirus restrictions, was also removed by Facebook after posts encouraging followers to show up at a ballot-counting location in Detroit on Wednesday to serve as ballot challengers.

Early protests by Trump supporters at election centres in Michigan and Arizona were small but volatile on Wednesday, with protesters in Detroit chanting, and a condemnation from Michigan’s secretary of state, who suggested that the protesters were a distraction and that they were attempting to intimidate election workers and keep them from doing their jobs.

By Thursday evening, protests around the country had grown more volatile, with far-right Proud Boys showing up to a “Stop the Biden Steal” rally in Miami, and armed protesters showing up to demonstrations by election facilities in Arizona and Nevada, according to local reporters.

In Miami, at one of four “Stop the Biden Steal” events being held simultaneously in the state, about 150 Trump supporters lined up in a car park by a roadside restaurant. Organisers placed a large speaker on the back of a truck, nestled by a yellow sign that read: “Stop Fraud.” Attendees listened, almost silently, as Mr Trump espoused baseless claims in an attempt to undermine the outcome of the election.

White supremacy

Shortly after the speech Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the Proud Boys and state director of Latinos for Trump, addressed the crowd, pushing more baseless conspiracies about the election. The Proud Boys are an extremist organisation with links to white supremacy.

“I want to ask you guys to stay in these streets,” he told the crowd after informing them he was travelling to Michigan on Friday, a state that has been a hotbed of militia activity in recent months.

In Philadelphia two men were being held outside the convention centre where the vote count in the city is taking place after Philadelphia police were notified of the threat of an attack, CBS Philly reported. – Guardian

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