Preparing For Possible Election Violence

The more political parts of the internet are pretty wild right now. Multiple media outlets said Trump’s headed for dictatorship, and then he made a really dumb comment that stoked those fears even further. At the same time, people on the right think that Biden is trying to manipulate and steal the 2024 election. With all of this going on, there’s a lot of noise to sift through to find some signal.

So, in this post, I want to take a sane and methodical look at the potential for political violence late next year and in early 2025. Rather than take a side, I want to explain why it would be irrelevant to most people whose fault it was if things did get bad.

The important thing: while the chances of widespread and severe political violence are probably still pretty low, there’s more uncertainty than ever about that, but the chances are the highest they’ve ever been. Whatever side you’re on, or even if you’re on no side at all, this violence could end up affecting your friends and family, and that’s what we need to focus on.

Nobody Can Really Predict What’s Going To Happen, But We Can Make Educated Guesses

The biggest problem with predictions this time is that we’re on uncharted ground. Normally, you can use the past, look at the present, and use trends to predict some likely futures. But, the trend lines are all screwed up right now. If anything, we’re on a hockey puck graph of political violence, but we can’t be sure whether we’ve reached peak violence or whether the trend will continue upward.

So, instead of laying out a tight group of predictions to base an emergency management effort on, we’ll instead have to explore a wider set of probable outcomes using standard strategic foresight methods. If you sign up for a free account, you can learn about the basics of those methods here.

The Best Case Scenario: An Uncontested, Peaceful Election

If you had asked me about any election before 2020, I would have predicted a mean and nasty war of words and lawsuits, followed by only the usual levels of violence. That would have made sense, because from 1876 until 2021, that was basically what happened. If you’re old enough to remember the 2000 election, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, we didn’t have any serious threat of major violence or civil war. Long trends like that have reasonable predictive power.

But, 2020 and early 2021 was a wild year of riots and violence like few of us have seen in our lifetimes. Nobody can really confidently say that we’re in for another peaceful but tense election this time. So, I definitely wouldn’t count on this best case scenario.

Middle-of-the-Road Scenario: Minor Violence

If someone forced me to pick one, I’d pick this one. But, I’m still not very confident in that.

While there are people saying January 6, 2021 was as bad as Pearl Harbor and/or 9/11, we have to keep in mind that only a few people died. On the Capital Police side, one guy died later of a stroke, so it’s hard to definitely attribute that to the violence. On the other side, several people died from a flareup of pre-existing age-related health problems (getting too excited and climbing the stairs resulted in heart attacks) and one was shot by a police officer.

I’m not saying what happened that day doesn’t matter, but much worse things could definitely happen. Nobody who wasn’t at the capitol was in any danger that day, either.

Given the accusations of election interference and all of the fears people are stoking about what happens if the other guy wins, I think some small, isolated violence is fairly likely. If it stays relatively mild, I’d expect it to mostly center around government facilities, politicians, and places that are wrongfully associated with politics (ex churches, gay bars).

It’s also fairly likely that we’d see things like we saw in the summer of 2020. Widespread protests, some rioting, police brutality, and maybe even another “autonomous zone” are all within the realm of reasonable possibility in 2024 and 2025.

The burning of a police station in Minneapolis in 2020. Public Domain Photo.

Worst Cases: Civil War and/or Dictatorship

In 2019, full-on warfare and struggle against an authoritarian regime seemed extremely unlikely, but a lot has happened over the last few years. I’ve seen both sides do questionable things with voting, districting, and rhetoric around elections. I’ve seen the executive branch prosecute the president’s biggest political rival heading into an election year, which looks really terrible in some ways. I’ve also seen Trump say that he’d be a dictator, even if “only on day one” (whatever that means).

Whatever you believe about American politics, the fact is that there are a lot of people who are really scared right now, and people often do dumb things when they’re terrified out of their minds. Even if nobody is trying to steal the election or establish a dictatorship, if enough people think that’s happening, the violence would happen regardless.

We wouldn’t know right away whether wider war-like violence was happening, because it would probably start out small. Rioting and relatively minor skirmishes would definitely come first. But, the big wildcard is how the government responds to a big protest movement or sporadic anti-government violence. If, for example, a newly re-minted President Trump were to do as he reportedly says he would and go for the Insurrection Act, things could escalate a lot further.

If that happens, it could start affecting many people who aren’t in politicized places or near protests/riots. That’s what should concern the average person who is just trying to stay out of it.

I can’t honestly say how likely this is, but I can confidently say that the strange and awful things going on right now do put the likelihood higher than people who are alive today have ever seen.

Given these unknown but record-high odds, this scenario is one that people should seriously prepare for. I’d rather be needlessly prepared for this than be unprepared and end up finding out I needed to.

How You Can Prepare For Mild to Severe Violence

The most important thing you can do to prepare this violence is stay calm. Higher brain functions are diminished by fear, especially if you panic. And, this advice applies both now and later.

If you can’t stay calm now and take intelligent action to manage this emergency, you’re in trouble. So, be sure to take breaks from the news and things that make you fearful. Learn to take a few deep breaths when something scary comes up (scary things are going to come up all year in 2024). Take the time between now and then to do smart things to get ready.

If bad things start happening in late 2024 or early 2025, be sure to take those deep breaths again. You’ll most definitely need to be clear-headed to implement any plans you have and be successful at staying safe.

The next thing you can do is train, and only a small part of the mental preparation you’ll need can happen at the range. That’s why I created the Civil Defense Library for paying members (first lesson is available to free members). The things you’ll definitely want to be familiar with ASAP are:

  • Mindset and Decision Making
  • Assembling a 3-day Emergency Kit
  • First Aid
  • Non-Violent Dispute Resolution Techniques
  • Basic Firearms Safety and Marksmanship
  • Basic Self Defense Laws, Self Defense Recovery Phase
  • Protecting Vulnerable Spaces
  • Emergency Communications
  • Renewable Energy and Emergency Power

You’ll also want to learn about the theory behind the threats that would likely emerge during widespread political violence.

Finally, you’ll definitely want to start connecting with people for mutual aid if you haven’t already. I’d recommend staying away from groups that would engage in any kind of non-defensive violence, and maybe even focus just on friends and family that you already trust. As you develop your plans for this threat and others, you need to make sure the people you’d be helping and getting help from are all on the same page.

I’m here to help, whether you’re a free member or a paying one. For the free members, there are forums here, and I’ll do my best to help you figure things out. For paying members, I’ll be starting virtual meeting office hours soon for people who need help working with material in the Library.

Featured image by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Public Domain Photo.

About Civil Defense League

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We offer training in a variety of preparedness topics, including:

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