Neo-Nazi and Proud Boys groups push Trump campaign poll watching operation online: Reports
Officials in several states are taking aggressive steps to protect voters from the efforts of militias or other armed groups planning to gather near polling stations on election day, as smoldering online activity suggests some groups are trying to identify themselves as Register election observers for Donald Trump's election campaign.
In Michigan, an open-carry state, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Friday announced a ban on open-carry firearms during and near elections.
"Michiganders should know that law enforcement agencies work together at multiple levels to ensure that anyone wishing to exercise their voting rights in person on election day can do so safely and without the risk of intimidation," said Colonel Joe Gasper, the state police director.
PHOTO: This September 17, 2020, file photo, militiamen and women listen as speakers at the annual Constitution Day rally at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Mich. (Adam J. Dewey / NurPhoto via ZUMA Press via Newscom, FILE)
New Jersey attorney general Gurbir Grewal also issued a statement on Friday reiterating guidelines for local law enforcement agencies to protect voters. Election observers "must not harass or intimidate voters, participate in election campaigns, cause disruption at polling stations, or challenge voters based on their race or ethnicity or the way they are asked to vote," the statement said.
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said at a news conference Thursday that she is "putting security in place" to reassure voters, "there is no place for violence, there is no place for threats."
The move comes from online accounts tied to neo-Nazi sympathizers and "alt-right" groups like the Proud Boys, according to two new reports earlier this week, encouraging supporters to join the elections To join election day. This includes sending out links to polling registration pages for the Trump campaign's Army for Trump campaign in order to attract thousands of supporters to sign up as election observers for the election day campaign.
MORE: As the Trump team rushes to train the "army" of election observers, experts watch out for voter intimidation
In one instance, a Proud Boys connected user in a group that claimed circulated on 1,800 Proud Boys connected people shared the sign up link and wrote that Democrats "don't want us Republicans to take their polls". "According to the report by SITE Intelligence Group, a non-governmental organization tracking potential security threats online, released on Tuesday. A separate SITE report released on Thursday said a link was shared within a neo-Nazi channel who claims to have around 5,000 members.
"The call to monitor the polls, originally made by President Trump himself in the first presidential debate, has been answered by several far-right groups," the SITE report reads.
Samantha Zager, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign, said in a statement to ABC News on Friday that the president "has clearly denounced hate groups by name on several occasions, but the media refuses to cover exactly because it spells the end of" would be a topic of conversation for the Democratic Party. "
PHOTO: In this September 26, 2020 file photo, members of the Proud Boys, a gang that supports President Trump, are holding a rally in Delta Park on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon (Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images, FILE))
Zager did not deny the apparent interest of these groups in joining the campaign's election observation team when ABC News specifically requested it.
Election observers are legal according to strict rules that vary from state to state. In most countries, both parties are allowed to have trained representatives monitor the voting process, pass information on to their parties, and look for irregularities. You must not interfere with the voting, other than reporting problems through official channels.
MORE: Experts are calling for preparation for election day after Trump's rhetoric is already raising concerns
ABC News previously received videos of Trump campaign election observer training, held in multiple battlefield states, which specifically urged attendees to avoid interacting with voters.
According to the SITE report, efforts by the Proud Boys or similar groups to volunteer for Trump "have not yet been followed with direct threats of voter repression," but it could be "concluded" that their "presence at polling stations as" election observers "would possibly serve to intimidate, pressure and harass opposition voters."
"Some of these groups will listen to his false accusations of fraud, and you say that combined with his refusal to condemn white supremacists and rioting - it really is a very veiled call to his most militant supporters to poll," said Mary McCord, a longtime veteran national security officer and law professor at Georgetown University, previously told ABC News.
PHOTO: A state of emergency was declared in Portland, Oregon on September 26, 2020 when the Proud Boys and other far-right groups rallied despite denials of permission. (Michael Nigro / Sipa USA via AP, FILE)
Earlier, during a debate, Trump asked his supporters to "watch very closely" elections on election day, which exacerbated the already high political tensions. He later withdrew and said at an event in the town hall on Thursday: "I denounce the white supremacy."
Experts told ABC News they were concerned about the Trump campaign using the word "army" in recruiting election observers.
"An 'army' doesn't sound like people there to watch," said Sean Morales-Doyle, assistant director of voting rights and election programs at the Brennan Center for Justice. "An 'army' sounds like people waging war against the enemy there."
ABC News' Will Steakin contributed to this report.
Neo-Nazi and Proud Boys groups are promoting online monitoring of Trump campaigns: reports originally appeared on abcnews.go.com
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