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Trump 'army' of poll watchers could frighten voters, incite violence: officials warn

Air Force One is seen as supporters attend US President Donald Trump's campaign rally at Des Moines International Airport in Des Moines, Iowa, October 14, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Concerns about voter intimidation are growing in the United States as President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign continues to call for poll watchers to be dispatched across the country.

Trump's campaign argues that poll watchers are essential in combating voter fraud, but election experts believe this could frighten voters.

Trump himself urged his supporters during the first presidential debate earlier this month “to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that is what has to happen, I am urging them to do it.”

Voting rights activists and government officials are now concerned that the president’s supporters will scare away Democratic voters fearful of confrontation.

This would further affect, they say, voters from Hispanic, Black, Asian and indigenous communities.

Those communities have already been hurt by police violence, immigration enforcement and growing rates of hate crimes under the Trump administration, officials said.

“The rhetoric itself is suppressive," said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat. 

“All of that taken together is aimed to suppress turnout. As elections officials, we have to clearly state that voter suppression is systemic racism," she added.

Trump keeps repeating the call for his supporters in tweets and speeches, saying, "Fight for President Trump," directing them to the website ""

The president has repeatedly called the election "corrupt," and refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the November 3 vote to his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Some experts said that Trump was trying to reduce confidence in the results and dissuade Democratic voters from even bothering to cast a ballot.

This is while, according to election experts, even subtle shifts in voting patterns could change the outcome of the elections.

"My biggest concern, and both sides do this, is undermining confidence in elections across the board," said Trey Grayson, a Republican and former Kentucky secretary of state.

"We've got to have people trust the outcome. The losers have to believe it was a fair fight,” he added.

A former top federal prosecutor focusing on national security and a professor at Georgetown Law School in Washington, Mary McCord warned that armed groups of Trump supporters will "self-activate" in response to his calls to watch polling places.

In a polling station in Virginia last month, some 50 Trump supporters -- wrapped in US flags and waving 2020 banners tried to disrupt voting as voters waited to cast their ballot, chanting, "Four more years! four more years." 

Officials explained that as the crowd of Trump’s supporters were growing along with the chants, they began taking the voters into the building, despite concerns of spreading the coronavirus.

Voters felt threatened by the crowd and requested crowd and escorts in and out of the polling place, officials said.

Last week, in the state of Michigan, prosecutors arrested 13 men they said conspired to kidnap Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

According to prosecutors, the men discussed trying the governor for treason over coronavirus pandemic closures that Trump opposed.

Trump had earlier criticized Whitmer for pandemic-related lockdowns, saying in a tweet; "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!"

Virginia governor Ralph Northam, another Democrat, who was also a focus of Trump criticism, was targeted by the same group, the FBI said Tuesday. "Some people are just not very smart and buy into conspiracy theories.”

The concerns are also growing over a rise in violent hate crimes.

The FBI had also raised concerns about possible violence between groups, which have recently faced off in anti-racial protests in various cities, including Portland, Rochester and Kenosha.

"Now you've got an additional level of combustible violence," Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Christopher Wray said last month, citing "violent extremist groups or individuals committing violence."

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