A smattering of protests broke out around the country Saturday after former Vice President Joe Biden won the presidency, but they were mostly peaceful after days of tense standoffs and and armed protesters gathering nightly outside offices where workers were counting the votes.
In a scene that might portend what is to come, a group of about 50 Trump supporters and a smaller group of marchers carrying Black Lives Matter flags converged on the Michigan State Capitol where they pushed, shoved and shouted at one another in a tense standoff. But within moments of the race being called, a few from both sides broke into prayers and at least one pair hugged.
Tensions grew again when more Trump supporters arrived on the scene and BLM members retreated through the growing crowd.
So far, though, celebrations and revelry were carrying the day.
In Brooklyn, several hundred people were heard erupting in cheers and dancing in the streets and the air was filled with honking horns. There also was a banging of pots and pans. One car stopped in the middle of the street outside Barclays Center, the driver got out and jumped on the hood of his car, motioning for people to come in to the street; the car was soon swarmed by people cheering.
In the nation’s capital, people streamed into Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, waving sings and taking cellphone pictures.
It was in marked contrast to days of turbulence since the polls closed on Tuesday and several key battleground states — most notably, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Georgia — pored through thousands of ballots to determine the winner.
But tensions remain high among supporters of President Donald Trump, who believe unsubstantiated claims that fraud has denied him a second term.
“This election has not been called!” yelled Jake Angeli, a regular at Trump rallies, who stood outside a tabulation center in Phoenix. “Don’t believe that lie! They got their hands caught in the cookie jar and we’re going to the Supreme Court!”
“Trump always looks like he’s going to lose. And then he wins, “ Angeli said.
In recent days, armed protesters have been seen gathered outside tabulation centers, many carrying Trump flags and signs with the hashtag #stopthesteal. The protesters with weapons have been a small minority of the demonstrators.
In a nation increasingly inured to weapons at rallies — most often carried by right-wing demonstrators, though also sometimes by left-wing protesters — experts warned that the guns create a dangerous situation that could be seen as intimidation or tip easily into violence.
“The more we see, the more people see it as a normal reaction — even though it’s not. There’s nothing normal about it,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a professor at American University who studies extremism. “The potential for violence becomes normalized.”
Elections officials in several states where Biden led said the anger outside their doors made them fear for the safety of their employees. They were girding for more unrest in the days ahead as Trump so far had refused to concede.
Those carrying weapons insist they are keeping the peace.
“I’m here to protect a peaceful protest,” said Keith Owen, who carried a black, semiautomatic assault rifle and wore a handgun in a holster strapped to his leg. His vest held extra ammunition. He described himself as a veteran who served in Afghanistan and now lives in Arizona.
He was among roughly 100 Trump supporters gathered for a third straight day Friday in front of the Phoenix elections center, where hundreds of workers were processing and counting ballots.
“We just want them to know we won’t let them get away with anything. We want to make sure all the legal ballots are counted, and fairly,” said another rifle-bearing protester, Travis Fillmore, 34, a military veteran from Tempe, Arizona.
“Arrest the poll workers!” the crowd chanted, demanding four more years in office for Trump. Sheriff’s deputies kept protesters in a “free speech” zone away from the entrance to the building.
In Detroit, dozens of Trump supporters returned to the streets Friday outside the city’s convention center, where election workers counted ballots.
“Stop the steal!” the protesters chanted. Some carried signs that read, “Make Elections Fair Again” and “We Love Trump.” Police cordoned off streets leading to the building and maintained a close watch on the protest.
The county treasurer in Detroit, Eric Sabree, said he had closed his office because of threats. In a statement, Sabree said the decision was made “in the interest of the safety of taxpayers and our staff” and because of “credible information” from the sheriff’s office.
In October, Michigan’s secretary of state tried to ban the open carrying of weapons near polling stations and vote-tallying centers, but the order is tied up in court.
“Michigan voters have the right to vote in person on Election Day free from threat and intimidation,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement when the order was announced. “An armed presence at the polls is inconsistent with our notion of a free democracy.”
Republished with permission from the Associated Press.