Law enforcement groups prepare as concern rises about postelection unrest

Police and even the Washington National Guard are preparing for potential protests after the election. The concern is that things could once again turn violent.

Industry experts are warning they are hearing an uptick in chatter from extremist groups.

Watchdog group Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) says they’re hearing about plans for armed militia to show up at polling places to intimidate voters. That’s less of a concern here because Washington is a vote-by-mail state.

In our area, IREHR says the talk they’re seeing is more about postelection confrontations.

Though it’s just chatter right now, law enforcement is getting ready.

“The election is coming. All of the regional law enforcement agencies have been in communication with each other, as have the municipalities,” said Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett.

“We are making preparations and, again, hoping for the best but concerned about widespread civil unrest as a result,” Mylett said.

Chief Mylett wouldn’t go into details about the prep work but addressed a KIRO7 question about preparations at a press conference Saturday, where Mylett was discussing the police response to the protest in Downtown Bellevue Saturday night.

At the Saturday protest, Bellevue police got leads about plans for destruction by some in the group. Officers showed up in force, and the protest – plus counter-protestors — stayed peaceful.

Now there’s concern about a potential wave of unrest around Nov. 3.

IREHR is a national watchdog group that’s headquartered in Seattle. Executive Director Devin Burghart says the group’s research team is monitoring online activity around the clock and says they see an uptick in chatter from far-right extremist groups.

“We do know there are a number of groups here who have talked about postelection confrontations, so we’re keeping a really close eye on groups like the Proud Boys, groups like Patriot Prayer, and other groups like the militias,” Burghart said.

He said they’re noticing nationwide talk of groups showing up to polling places.

“Some paramilitary talking about showing up at the polls on Election Day with their weapons to engage in voter intimidation,” Burghart said. “Thankfully, because we have vote by mail - we’re a little safer in this state.”

The Seattle Police Department is also getting ready for potential postelection protests. They’ve limited time off for personnel around the election to make sure the department can “adequately provide public safety services at any events, gatherings or demonstrations related to the election.”

Sgt. Randy Huserik also said in an email that the department recently launched the Community Response Group, which can “dynamically deploy to unplanned large-scale events.”

The Washington State National Guard is also making sure it’s ready. Washington Military Department spokesperson Karina Shagren said the Guard is not aware of any threats but wants to make sure their forces are prepared to serve if necessary.

Hundreds of members responded to both Seattle and Bellevue at the end of May and early June following destructive protests.

The National Guard said any of their members who have not received what’s called “Military Assistance for Civil Disturbance” training are now getting it, in case their forces are called in again.

Shagren added that the Washington National Guard only responds when a local jurisdiction like a city requests help, and then the Governor approves it and deploys the troops.

“I think it’s wise (the preparation) given the sheer amount of chatter on the far right,” Burghart said. “I think it’s a sad state of affairs that it’s come to this. That we have to worry so deeply about the threats coming from the far right on Election Day.”

Burghart said the group monitors not only the movements and chatter of far right-wing groups, but also “monitors the whole spectrum” and left-wing groups.

“We haven’t heard the same kind of chatter (on the left),” Burghart said. “We haven’t heard the same kind of calls to violence and the talk of civil war.”

Burghart said despite all the chatter the watchdog group sees, he’s still hopeful the election will resolve peacefully.