Last week, a coalition of leading progressive groups gathered on Zoom to begin organizing for what they envision as the post-Election Day political apocalypse scenario.
Put together by the Fight Back Table—an initiative launched after the 2016 election to get a constellation of lefty organizations to work more closely together—the meeting dealt with the operational demands expected if the November election ends without a clear outcome or with a Joe Biden win that Donald Trump refuses to recognize.
Sources familiar with the discussions described them as serious with a modestly panicked undertone. A smaller FBT session last fall had talked about post-election planning, but those discussions were tabled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the first time they were bringing the matter to the 50-plus organizations that make up the coalition. To formalize the effort, they gave it a name: the “Democracy Defense Nerve Center.”
Over the course of two hours, participants broached the question of what the progressive political ecosystem can functionally do in a series of election scenarios. They began charting out what it would take to stand up a multi-state communications arm to fight disinformation, a training program for nonviolent civil disobedience, and the underpinnings of what one official described as “mass public unrest.” And they pored over a report from the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan group formed in 2019, that analyzed various election-season scenarios and made clear the type of ratfuckery, corruption, and chaos that potentially was ahead.
“The potential for violent conflict is high,” the report noted.
Some of the hurdles were straightforward: how you “occupy shit, hold space, and shut things down, not just on Election Day but for weeks,” explained one source familiar with the Democracy Defense Nerve Center operations. Others are more complicated, like what quick transportation options can be in place should poll locations mysteriously close. Others have been simply impossible to plan out.
“I don’t know what the strategy is when armed right-wing militia dudes show up in polling places,” the same source said. “This [Kyle] Rittenhouse guy is being lionized on the right, right now. If it is being unleashed that you can shoot people and be a hero, I don’t know what preparation we can possibly do for that.”
Those involved in the conversation say this wide an array of groups has never coordinated so closely on these matters before. And the fact that they were sitting down some two months in advance of the election, was a testament to how seriously they take the complications and threats Election Day poses.
“It is very obvious that Trump is laying the groundwork for claiming victory no matter what,” said Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, and a participant in the FBT call. “Progressive groups at the end of the day believe in our democracy and, while it is not perfect, believe in building upon it and strengthening it. And we will fight to protect it from what we truly see as a president who has gone off the rails and taking this country down an authoritarian fascist path.”
And yet, for those who have spent considerable time thinking about the civil and political unrest that could come this fall, last week’s call did not provide too much in the way of solace. The prep work, they worry, is not happening fast enough.
“I wish we were having these conversations six months ago,” said Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown University. The co-founder of the Transition Integrity Project, Brooks has conducted war games to play out the range of Election Day and post-Election Day scenarios. And virtually all the outcomes, save one—a Biden landslide—have ended up facilitating a nightmarish fallout.
“My fear,” she said, “is we are still behind the eight ball.”
Within Fight Back Table, there is disagreement over how secretive they should be about these talks. Those on the side of keeping plans under wraps felt it would be wise not to advertise their prep work. Those in favor of discussing it openly thought there was utility in the public knowing how bad things could actually get.
The latter camp was bolstered in their belief by a white paper from Brooks’ Transition Integrity Project titled “Preventing a Disrupted Presidential Election and Transition.” The 22-page document—which Brooks summarized in The Washington Post and which was obtained by The Daily Beast—described four simulation exercises: a clear Biden win, a narrow Biden win, a murky result, and a Trump Electoral College win with popular vote loss. Those simulations were played out with 67 prominent public officials and academics role-playing on seven teams: the Trump campaign, the Biden campaign, Republican elected officials, Democratic elected officials, career federal government employees, the media, and the public.
The top line takeaways were red siren items. The election results would almost certainly be contested, and the transition process would likely be marred by tumult and corruption. The word “violence” was listed 15 times in the document; “chaos” nine times; and “crisis” a dozen times.
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Source: Daily Beast