With less than four weeks left until Election Day, the divisive rhetoric that has been characteristic of recent politics has once again boiled over into an all-too-familiar display of politically charged violence. This election season has been mired in a toxic climate of violence in which one Presidential candidate routinely encourages the use of fear-mongering and voter intimidation through thinly veiled threats. As a result, for the first time since the Democratic Convention riots of 1968, reports of outbursts of political violence have become a regular staple in the news media.
Protesters all along the political spectrum have resorted to violence to express their anger and frustration. Rallies held for both candidates are frequently disrupted, and occasionally cancelled by unrest and fights within the audience. Most notably from voters on the left, the Democratic National Convention this past July was roiled by altercations between the police and Bernie Sanders supporters in the streets of Philadelphia.
This past weekend, a local GOP office in North Carolina was firebombed. The fire, apparently started by a Molotov cocktail, badly damaged the inside of the political office, melting furniture, campaign signs, and supplies before burning itself out early Sunday morning. In addition to the attack, a swastika and “Nazi Republicans get out of town or else” were spray painted on the side of a nearby building. The incident took place in overwhelmingly Democratic Orange County, home to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. This latest act of violence fits into the pattern of politically motivated violence that has emerged during this election season.
Leaders from both parties were quick to condemn the attack. Governor Pat McCrory called the firebombing “an attack on our democracy,” while another state GOP official called it an act of “political terrorism.” State Democrats also sought to distance themselves from the attack, with the North Carolina Democratic Party censuring it as an “outrageous act of violence.” Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is locked in a tight race in the gubernatorial election, tweeted “Violence has no place in our democracy and can not be tolerated. The culprits must be caught and brought to justice.”
Both presidential candidates also responded to the attack on social media, albeit in very different ways. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton criticized the attack as “horrific and unacceptable” and expressed support for its victims on Twitter. In contrast, Republican nominee Donald Trump called the perpetrators of the crime “animals” and implicitly tied their actions back to the Democratic Party, suggesting the attack was a response to him leading North Carolina polls (he’s not).
Trump’s response comes across as hypocritical, given that he has repeatedly incited violence and encouraged the use of force against any dissenters at rallies. Racial slurs, offensive rhetoric and violence against protesters and reporters are now typical elements of his rallies. Instead of criticizing these incidents, Trump actively encourages this rough treatment with cries of “get ‘em the hell out of here.” He has also regularly made comments condoning these actions, offering to pay for the legal fees of any violent instigators.
Moving forward, the possibility of post-election violence now looms large, thanks in part to Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of election-rigging. As he continues to trail Clinton in national polls by several points, Trump has stirred up hysteria among his supporters with warnings of a global conspiracy working against him. The most recent firebombing episode only further fueled his accusations of electoral fraud by the Democratic Party. His most ardent followers have threatened to start an uprising should the election be “stolen” from him, causing groups that Trump has targeted in the past, such as immigrants and the LGBTQ community, to fear for their safety. It remains to be seen who will taken on the much-needed peacekeeping role as Trump continues down this dangerous path.