SNAPSHOT: US election-related unrest elevates security risks to corporates’ staff and assets
- Election-related unrest poses a serious and credible risk to the security of US-based staff and assets, particularly in major cities, in the immediate outlook.
- To mitigate this risk, organisations have begun taking steps to protect their interests, including enhancing physical security at commercial premises.
- Multiple scenarios could prompt a significant uptick in unrest, including a disputed or delayed outcome.
- In the week prior to the 3 November election, corporates should prioritise forward-looking risk mitigation strategies and prepare their remote workforce operationally and logistically for any potential prolonged business disruptions.
- Ensure the remote workforce is prepared from a physical security and safety perspective as well as mental well-being perspective.
- Corporates should ensure fit-for-purpose crisis communications protocols are in place and liaise with key stakeholders, including local law enforcement and security providers.
- On Tuesday, 3 November, voters across the US will cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election. The poll is effectively a two-way race between incumbent President Donald Trump of the Republican Party, and former vice president and Democratic Party candidate, Joe Biden. Voters will also elect members of the US House of Representatives and Senate, while 11 states and two territories will hold gubernatorial races.
- Most polls open at 0700 local time, albeit with some variation between states. Poll closing times vary more widely, ranging from 1800 in Indiana and Kentucky, to 2100 in New York and North Dakota.
- The first election results are likely to emerge around 1900 Eastern Standard Time (0000 GMT), however the full outcome is unlikely to be clear until the early hours of Wednesday, 4 November, US EST, at the very earliest. In 2016, Trump’s victory was announced at around 0230 EST (0730 GMT) after he secured victory in Wisconsin.
- This year’s results, however, could take longer to tabulate amid a surge in mail-in and early voting. This is as mail-in ballots require verifying, scanning and tabulating, with some states not allowing them to be processed before election day. As of Wednesday (28 October), more than 70 million people had already cast their ballot, according to the US Elections Project.
- Ahead of the election, organisations across the country have begun enhancing physical security at commercial premises amid concern over the potential for post-election unrest. Along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile commercial district, retailers have covered shopfronts with protective barriers and clear film, while private security providers have reported increased demand for products ranging from reinforced windows to roll-down doors.
President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden speak during the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio. 22 September 2020.
- This year’s election has been bitterly fought, with both major candidates expressing contempt for their opponent. Trump has sought to associate Biden and the Democratic Party with activists from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) and anti-fascist Antifa movement, while Biden has accused Trump of failing to explicitly condemn white supremacist groups.
- In addition to street-level political activism and attendant violence, the election takes place amid an economic and public health crisis derived from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Disagreements over the appropriate public health policy response and role of government in limiting the virus’s spread have led to protests against COVID-19 restrictions in states across the country.
- The rancorous political climate has been accompanied by violent plots against high-profile politicians. On 8 October, the FBI thwarted a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, with seven of the plotters members of an anti-government militia group called Wolverine Watchmen. Plotters also discussed kidnapping Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. This month, a 42-year-old man from Maryland was arrested and charged after allegedly plotting to kidnap and kill Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris. In May, a 19-year-old was arrested in Kannapolis, North Carolina allegedly plotting to kill Biden.
- The potential for violent unrest encompasses multiple groups, movements, and ideologies, including both established organisations and loosely organised collectives. Likely potential sources of violent unrest include far-right, white nationalist groups or movements such as Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys, and the boogaloo movement, who are broadly supportive of Trump. Such groups are likely to clash violently with leftist and anti-police movements, including members of Antifa and anti-racism activists linked to the BLM movement. While many members of such leftist movements are critical of Biden, their views are broadly in line with left-wing members of the Democratic Party. The highest likelihood of violent unrest and associated looting is in major cities such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Portland.
- Potential scenarios for unrest include:
A Trump victory. Any potential re-election of Trump would likely trigger protests from leftist groups and anti-Trump organisations in major cities. Likely targets would include buildings linked to the Trump Organization, as well as police and public buildings. There is also a credible risk to businesses in the immediate vicinity of Trump-branded properties. Risks of opportunistic looting and vandalism of businesses are also credible.
A Biden victory. A win for Biden would elevate the likelihood of far-right protests, potentially encouraged by Trump, over the legitimacy of the election. Likely targets would include public squares, highways, buildings linked to the Democratic Party and organisations supportive of Biden’s candidacy.
A disputed or delayed outcome. Any delay to the outcome of the result would likely trigger rival demonstrations in favour of the candidates. These would most likely take place in major cities in so-called swing states or locations where counting has yet to conclude. Counter-demonstrations elevate the risk of violent confrontations.
- US-based organisations should immediately take steps to mitigate the risk of possible violent unrest potentially impacting staff and assets.
- Anticipate bomb threats, fake and credible, against buildings, such as the aforementioned, and rehearse the response to make sure it is suitable.
- Security managers are advised to get in touch with the public liaison office of local law enforcement, emergency services and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), among others, for situation updates and advice on local responses.
- Organisations should ensure that forward-looking risk mitigation strategies are in place to minimise the impact of any unrest on operations.
- Security managers should clearly communicate security-related policies, protocols, and information to staff, including established thresholds for enacting contingency plans.
- Organisations should also consider how unrest will impact business processes, including remote working. Companies may wish to increase remote working in the run-up to, during, and immediately after election day to minimise staff’s potential exposure to unrest.
- Human resources managers are advised to provide periodic well-being checks for staff and/or provide details for staff to contact them for any mental well-being issues via an app-based communications platform.
- Prepare and equip remote-working staff with enough supplies and information needed to sustain any significant and sustained disruption in the supply-chain. Ensure that those staff are fed with consistent and periodic situation updates from team and department leaders as well as from corporate management through email and/or an app-based communications platform.
- Companies should consider increasing security at physical sites, particularly those in downtown areas and commercial districts.
- Organisations operating across the country should consider the local threat dynamics, prioritising swing states, large cities, and locations with known extremist groups as likely locations for unrest.
- Security managers should work closely with company public relations teams to ensure that fit-for-purpose crisis communications are in place to quickly mobilise resources and adjust operations.