Military veterans say they are joining forces to form a “quick reaction force” outside of U.S. polling sites in response to what is being called President Donald Trump’s “army” of poll watchers.
The group, which now consists of around 200 veterans, are part of an organization named Common Defense, which opposes Trump and seeks to elect progressive candidates and advance policies for former service members. The teams have been out at polling sites for the last few weeks in 45 cities.
They’ve all been trained in deescalation techniques, according to the group’s members.
"We've heard it everywhere in the media, even the FBI — there is a real threat about armed militias and all of that," Navy Veteran Stephanie Flores told Business Insider. "So that's why we're preparing our veterans and our leaders to be ready to deescalate and protest safely. But our main goal and how we're planning to do this is through narrative.”
Common Defense says it is also responding to a group of Trump supporters vowing to poll watch sites in battleground and democratic states to guard against alleged voter fraud. The leader of that group, Mike Roman, is Trump’s director of Election Day Operations.
Roman has reportedly organized 50,000 poll watchers for Election Day, many of whom registered through the “Army for Trump” website.
“Our Elections Day Operations are designed to make sure that everyone that is legally entitled to vote has the opportunity to vote, once,” Erin Perrine, the Trump 2020 director of press communications, says in a recruiting video for the team. “We all know that the Democrats will be up to their old dirty tricks on Election Day to make sure President Trump doesn’t win. We cannot let that happen.”
Trump has been vehemently against mail-in voting, which is being relied on more heavily due to the coronavirus pandemic. He’s continuously claimed without evidence that the practice makes it ripe for fraud to occur.
“This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” Trump said during a September debate.
Trump has also revealed he will use legal strategies to prevent Pennsylvania, a battleground state, from counting mailed ballots that are received in the three days after the election, although the U?U.S. Supreme Court ordered the extension remain in effect.
If the election is close, the matter could go back to the Supreme Court, which, with the recent rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett, is now led 6-3 by Republicans appointees.
Last week in Minnesota, the head of the Minneapolis police union forwarded an email to members seeking 20 to 30 retired officers to serve as “poll challengers,” according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which obtained the email.
“Poll Challengers do not ‘stop’ people, per se, but act as our eyes and ears in the field and call our hotline to document fraud,” the email read. “We don’t necessarily want our Poll Challengers to look intimidating, they cannot carry a weapon in the polls due to state law. … We just want people who won’t be afraid in rough neighborhoods or intimidating situations.”
The “quick reaction force” says it is hoping to keep the peace at these polling sites.
Jose Vasquez, a U.S. Army veteran and the executive director of Common Defense, told Business Insider they are acting to protect democracy.
”We are in a historic moment of crisis that could upend our democracy unless we act to block the corruption of Donald Trump and the violence of his most extreme supporters," Vasquez said in a statement. "As veterans we have put our lives on the line in defense of our country before, and we are mobilizing now in historic numbers to protect our fellow citizens and our system of democratic governance."