Violent extremism and the US Presidential election

As if the recently terminated (and interminable) US Presidential election campaign wasn’t bad enough, right on cue at least two terrorist groups have threatened to carry out attacks to disrupt it.  The first out of the box was apparently Al Qaeda, at least according to US officials, who warned about non-specific plots in New York City, Virginia and Texas.  Not to be outdone, Islamic State vowed to slaughter voters on election day and warned Muslims not to cast ballots (Islamist extremists HATE democracy, which they see as anti-Islamic and a usurping of God’s rule).

This nebulous threat has had some traction in the media over the past few days, the news coming out  just before the election.  It also probably fed into the fear that a terrorist act is likely in the US in the wake of San Bernardino and Orlando and speculation that an IS on the run in Iraq would lash out elsewhere.  Fear is fear after all, justified or not (the Miami Herald’s editorial cartoonist Jim Morin had a great take on fear of violence – check it out).

So while we cannot rule out the possibility of an act of serious violence or terrorism today, is it not much more likely to be executed by those who don’t yell “Allahu Akbar” while randomly shooting people?  In other words, shouldn’t US law enforcement agencies be much more worried about attacks by – pick one or several – disgruntled whites, sovereign citizens, conspiracy theorists, birthers, Clinton haters, or extremist militias?

While I am not saying that it is inevitable that the election will be disrupted by a terrorist attack, the mood in the US is ugly and that ugliness is in large part the fault of one of the candidates (hint: it is not Hillary Clinton).  The Republican candidate has openly and shamelessly stated on one or more occasions the following:

  • the election must be rigged if he loses
  • Ms Clinton is a crook and should be in jail
  • the Democratic candidate will confiscate guns “unless the Second Amendment people do something about it”
  • Muslims in America know about planned terrorist acts but aren’t telling anyone
  • voter fraud is rampant and patriots should patrol voting stations and challenge those suspected of fraud (which countless studies have shown is non-existent)

Some might dismiss Mr. Trump’s words as those of a showman and a Washington outsider, and in the best of worlds they would not be taken seriously.  We cannot discount the anger and hatred that has shadowed his campaign, however, a violent sentiment that the candidate has not denounced (quite the opposite: he has often encouraged it).  No, it is not likely that significant numbers of pissed off Americans who support Trump will resort to violence should he lose, but it is highly possible that some will.  After all terrorism is an infrequent event at the worst of times, and it only takes one or a small group to wreak havoc.

I hope that I am wrong and that the vote comes off without incident.  I also hope that US citizens come to their senses and vote for a candidate that is reasonable and worthy of the office (hint: it is not Donald Trump).  Nevertheless, irrespective of who wins, I fear that the US could very well be entering a new phase of intolerance, hate, and even violence.  I really do pray I am mistaken.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

Leave a Reply