In last night’s presidential debate, the third and final in a brutal campaign that gave legitimacy to extremist ideologies long sidelined in American politics, Donald Trump broke with both his running mate and daughter and refused to say whether he would accept the election results.
“I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. “I will keep you in suspense.” He followed on Thursday saying that he would “totally accept” the results, but only if he wins.
Within minutes, major news outlets sent out alerts announcing a first for a presidential election: A major party nominee who has spent a week casting doubt on the legitimacy of the nation’s electoral process would not say if he trusted it.
The angry rebuke of the electoral system followed a long history of Trump aggressively attacking the polls, which indicate he is losing badly. As of today, FiveThirtyEight predicts that Trump has only a 13.7 percent chance of winning.
But Trump has been talking about a rigged election for some time, long before a growing number of women –– ten so far –– alleged he sexually assaulted them.
During a speech last week, what was expected to be his response to those allegations, Trump made a hard pivot, claiming the attacks were an orchestrated campaign to undermine the will of the people.
“This election will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system,” Trump said to wild applause in West Palm Beach, Fla.
The location couldn’t be more fitting.
Elsewhere in West Palm Beach, Don Black, the doddering former Klansman, sat at the controls of Stormfront, once the world’s largest racist website. The idea of a rigged election had been brewing since August on Stormfront and other online racist forums –– places like the much more influential Daily Stormer.
Racists on those sites have fretted that the deck is stacked against Trump, and ultimately them. And after last night’s debate, the festering worry again boiled over into forecasts of violence.
In the comments section of a poll posted on Stormfront asking, “Will you accept Hillary as President?” –– only one of 94 respondents as of this morning said “yes.” Those who said “no” offered explanations tinged with a sense of desperation.
“If Hillary wins the americans gonna lose their guns, and then … God knows,” a user identified as “Oscar L” wrote. “I also hope violent uprisings and a big revolution agains [sic] her.” He added, “Get ready for the worst.”
The comment comes as a chorus of racists and angry voters echo Trump’s allegations of a rigged election with warnings of civil war and promises of violence should Clinton win. On Daily Stormer, the Alt-Right website run by neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, who calls Trump the “Glorious Leader,” the rhetoric is fevered.
“Either way the wind blows this election it feels like something’s gonna break,” a user called “StanLeMan” wrote in August.
“When [Trump] wins, the libtards, freaks nigs, mystery meats and republicucks will probably pop off, led by the cheerleading kikes like always, but the might of people behind [Trump] should be able to put down with little effort. It’ll be bloody but I think if enough heads are busted the will become loud and clear –– BACK IN THE CLOSET OR GET THE FUCK OUT.”
Another Daily Stormer user identified as “AryanUprising,” offered a less-nuanced message: “They want violence? Just let the [sic] try declaring Hillary winner.”
As for the GOP nominee’s accusation of a rigged election, NPR noted on Tuesday, “[Trump] has precisely zero evidence to back up that claim. But he has a remarkably receptive audience.”
That cuts to the heart of why many pundits have warned that Trump’s strategy of delegitimizing the election results might mobilize the various factions of the radical right.
Predictions of violence, however, have spread beyond the racist message boards and are being heard by people in the mainstream.
Gerald Miller, a volunteer at a recent Trump rally in Colorado Springs, told The Washington Post that the election could be skewed because Hillary Clinton may have “the FBI working for her” to help commit fraud – an unfounded allegation based on suspicions that Clinton was granted unprecedented leniency in avoiding prosecution for her handling of classified emails.
“Donald Trump is going to holler fraud if he doesn’t win,” Miller, who is white and says he has PTSD from “racial violence” suffered in the military, told The Post. “I think we’re on the verge of a civil war, a racial war. This could be the spark that sets it off.”
Miller’s comment is not very different than that of a Daily Stormer user named “Skinner,” who wrote, “If Trump is ripped off, civil war could be possible.”
Jonathon Morgan, a data scientist and founder of New Knowledge, reviewed more than 240 public militia Facebook pages and found many reacted to Trump’s claims of a rigged election with violent warnings.
In a post published at Medium, Morgan cited one user with a redacted username, who wrote, “The problem is we have a rigged election and Hillary is going to flood us with [sic] muslims. I hate to say it, but if she wins, and it looks like she will (only because she owns the media and the Republican party) it’s over, time for a revolution.” He added, “Enough of being tough in the blog, be tough in real life.”
It is impossible to say what will happen after the election – whether the radical right will grow quiet or whether it will be enraged by the results. But there are some indications.
Just last week in Kansas, three men were arrested after law enforcement uncovered a plot to surround an apartment complex with vehicle-laden improvised explosives. The building, which doubled as a mosque, was home to a number of Somali immigrants.
They had planned their attack for Nov. 9. The day after Election Day.