For the first time in its 25-year history, a group dedicated to preventing conflicts around the world -- from Sudan to Myanmar -- issued a report about the United States, warning of the violence that could escalate from ongoing vote counts and President Donald Trump's "incendiary rhetoric."
"The United States is a mature democracy, it has strong institutions and it hasn't faced the kinds of risks around elections that other countries that Crisis Group traditionally covers have faced," said Stephen Pomper, senior director for policy at the Crisis Group, in a video accompanying the report. "But then things changed."
The Crisis Group, also known as the International Crisis Group, is a Belgium-based think tank that focuses on preventing deadly conflict around the world. The group's report argues that while the U.S. is familiar with tense elections, Americans have never before faced the reality that a sitting president may reject the outcome of an election, or that the result may end in violence.
The change the U.S. has seen in the past year, according to the report, is attributed to risk factors that would play out unfavorably in any country: a polarized electorate; a demonstrated increase in armed groups associated with political agendas; the potential for a contested election; and Trump as a leader "whose toxic rhetoric and willingness to court conflict to advance his personal interests have no precedent in modern U.S. history."
With these factors in mind, four of the 11 risk factors that the group uses throughout the world to identify threats of violence particularly resonate in the United States.
Aside from the risk factors, the report also cites a history of slavery, lynching, ethnic cleansing of Indigenous people and civil war among others as fodder for the present potential for violence in the country, pointing to racial injustice, economic inequality and police brutality as modern-day representations of historical tension.
But even with that history in mind, the group asserts that only two other U.S. elections have come close to resembling the tension of the 2020 election: The 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, where conservatives flocked to Florida's Miami-Dade County to protest ballot counters; and the 1876 election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes, where a deadlocked race had tensions running high until a deal was struck. Neither case resulted in physical confrontation or violence.
The group identified three scenarios with the greatest risk of escalating unrest during the 2020 election: armed monitoring of polling stations and other sites; aggressive delegitimization and disqualification of mail-in ballots; and manipulation of deadlines.
With the threat of violence in mind, the report notes that the election will have larger implications for the United States, as well, alerting the world to whether the country's leaders and institutions can navigate this period of sociopolitical change. If they cannot, it says, "the world's most powerful country could face a period of growing instability and increasingly diminished credibility abroad."
Kaia Hubbard is a graduate of the University of San Diego and is a yearlong News intern.