Last week, the overall number of demonstrations in the United States remained static relative to the week prior. Pandemic-related events again accounted for the highest number of demonstrations. ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies continued across the country as President Donald Trump released a White House video repeating his allegations about widespread voter fraud, reinvigorating portions of his support base (The Guardian, 2 December 2020). Meanwhile, demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement slightly increased both in number and as a proportion of total demonstrations.
Approximately 37% of all demonstrations in the US were related to the pandemic last week. New cases and deaths continue to surge — with an average of over 200,000 new cases and over 2,000 deaths reported daily (Washington Post, 9 December 2020). In order to combat the rise locally, state governments have tightened restrictions (NPR, 4 December 2020). Over half of last week’s pandemic-related demonstrations were in opposition to state restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. Notably, on 5 December, about 250 demonstrators — including Proud Boys, III%ers, and Back the Blue supporters — demonstrated outside the Minnesota Governor’s residence in St. Paul, Minnesota calling for an end to statewide coronavirus restrictions (KSTP, 5 December 2020). Additionally, members of several armed street movements and militia groups — including Patriot Prayer, People’s Rights, and Proud Boys — held demonstrations in North Carolina, New York, Oregon, and Washington last week in support of businesses which had been closed for violating coronavirus restrictions. Students and parents also continued to demand the resumption of in-person learning and sports amid the prolonged school closure (for more on coronavirus-related demonstrations in the US, see this recent infographic from ACLED’s COVID-19 Disorder Tracker).
Less than half of pandemic-related demonstrations last week centered on demands for an improved response to the crisis. The demonstrations called for better working conditions, including appropriate safety measures for workers, such as healthcare professionals and teachers, and economic relief. With Congress struggling to pass legislation for a second stimulus check (CNN, 30 November 2020), workers and activists took to the streets last week to urge legislators to support an economic relief bill. While plans are in place to introduce vaccines for the coronavirus in the US next month (Reuters, 1 December 2020), people staged a demonstration in Fargo, North Dakota claiming that vaccine companies are excluded from being held liable for injuries caused by their vaccines as part of Operation Warp Speed. In the US, liability for any injuries rests on the government as vaccination is considered a “benefit to the society,” and the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program under the Department of Health and Human Services is designated to handle any liabilities related to the vaccines for the coronavirus (Reuters, 21 August 2020).
Trump supporters continued to hold ‘Stop the Steal’ demonstrations across the country even as President-elect Joe Biden officially secured the necessary Electoral College votes. On 3 December, California certified its election results and assigned Biden its 55 electors, pushing his official total to 279 (The Hill, 3 December 2020). Over three weeks after the vote, Trump supporters have continued demonstrating over claims that the election was “rigged” (Associated Press, 4 December 2020). ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies account for 14% of all demonstrations reported across the country last week. On 5 December, in Sacramento, California, Trump supporters, including the Proud Boys, gathered outside the California State Capitol for a ‘Stop the Steal’ rally. More than 100 Antifa activists counter-demonstrated, and clashes broke out between the groups (Capital Public Radio, 5 December 2020). The Proud Boys also participated in ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Minnesota last week. Since the election, when ‘Stop the Steal’ demonstrations first began, the demonstrations have disproportionately involved armed militia groups (for more, see ACLED’s new report — The Future of ‘Stop the Steal’: Post-Election Trajectories for Right-Wing Mobilization in the US). Except in Arizona, where no counter-demonstrations were reported, the Proud Boys were met by counter-demonstrators consisting of a mix of Antifa and BLM supporters at all events in which they participated last week. Right-wing demonstrations have been especially competitive, relative to other demonstrations: since the election, 80% of counter-protests have involved right-wing supporters (for more, see ACLED’s new report).
In addition to demonstrations promoting unfounded allegations of mass voter fraud, supporters of the QAnon movement targeted election workers for intimidation during the third recount in Georgia. In Lawrenceville, Georgia, a QAnon influencer organized a Twitter campaign that led to a 20-year-old white contractor for Dominion Voting Systems receiving death threats on social media. A noose was placed outside his home. According to a video, the contractor had connected a laptop to a voting machine, transferring data to the laptop to read and produce a report. Although a Gwinnett County Government spokesperson clarified that the process was necessary as “third-party software cannot be installed on the voting machines” (Vice, 2 December 2020), the QAnon supporters claimed the worker was changing votes (Vice, 2 December 2020).
On the same day and in the same Georgian town, a group of Trump supporters gathered at the back entrance of the county elections office to “make sure [it] does not discard any computers” amid the state’s third recount (11Alive, 2 December 2020). One armed participant followed a public worker for 10 miles while livestreaming the pursuit, claiming the worker was illegally moving election equipment. In reality, the worker was replacing desk phones at county offices (11 Alive, 2 December 2020). In the past, President Trump has publicly praised QAnon (CNN, 3 December 2020) despite the Federal Bureau of Investigation identifying the group as a domestic security threat (Washington Post, 19 August 2020). On 1 December, at a news conference, a Georgia election official condemned the threats and intimidation against election workers and officials and urged President Trump and Republican senators to denounce the threats (CNN, 2 December 2020).
Demonstrations associated with the BLM movement slightly increased compared to the week prior. With the exception of a demonstration in Seattle, Washington on 30 November, as well as a counter-protest against Proud Boys in St. Paul, Minnesota on 5 December, all demonstrations associated with the BLM movement were peaceful. As in recent weeks, the majority of demonstrations associated with the BLM movement highlighted local issues. These include police killings of people of color, perceived injustice and discrimination in the judicial system, and racist posts by community members and leaders. Notably, despite lockdown orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, people associated with the BLM movement protested outside Mayor Eric Garcetti’s residence in Los Angeles, California for the entirety of the week. They called for the Biden administration to exclude him from a federal position, citing his poor record on addressing issues such as transportation and homelessness in Los Angeles. Biden has since named Garcetti as one of five co-chairs for his inauguration (Los Angeles Times, 7 December 2020). Demonstrations associated with the BLM movement remain widespread throughout the country, with events spanning traditionally Republican areas — such as Kentucky and North Dakota — in addition to traditionally Democratic states — such as Oregon and New York.
Several activist groups held pro-immigrant demonstrations last week. The Border Network for Human Rights held a caravan rally from Anthony, New Mexico to El Paso, Texas, demanding immigration reform, especially a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They urged President-elect Biden to implement immigration reform in the first 100 days of his administration (El Paso Times, 6 December 2020). Other pro-immigrant and anti-Immigration and Customs Enforcement demonstrations occurred in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon last week. On 4 December, a federal court ordered the Department of Homeland Security to restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an initiative that protects undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation. The restoration opens up the program for new applications, stalled since 2017 (CBS News, 5 December 2020). The Trump administration has repeatedly sought to end DACA as part of its efforts to curb immigration.
In other developments, various militia activities were reported in several states last week. Training events were held by groups including the American Contingency in California, Texas, and Georgia. The Mountain Top Watch militia held an event in Pennsylvania, looking to recruit new members, claiming to be a “neighborhood watch” organization. These events represent a slight decrease in militia training and recruitment activities compared to the weeks immediately following the election. However, multiple militia groups have refrained from publicly releasing information on their activities. As such, militia activity during the past week is likely to be underreported.
Data on political violence and demonstrations in America are made available through the US Crisis Monitor, a special project launched by ACLED and the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University. For more information about the project, click here.
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