Former President Donald Trump is Urging supporters to "protect the vote" Ahead of next year's election, the phrase has set off alarm bells among pro-democracy advocates, who say it suggests permission to take extreme measures that could scare away voters and Threatened election workers,
The phrase is relatively new to Trump, although activists in the far-right movement have been laying the groundwork for it to be deployed more widely.
Former National Security Advisor michael flynn Spent several months repeating the phrase in posts, speeches and interviews. And Victor Mailer, a close Flynn ally, told The Associated Press that he is setting up a new group called "Guard the Vote" ahead of the 2024 elections. Mailer provided the AP with a video showing the group's new "command center" in a Florida building that houses Flynn's office.
trump used the phrase On Saturday in Ankeny, Iowa, he said his followers needed to "protect the vote" because "we have all the votes we need." He encouraged his supporters to "go" to cities including Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta to "see the votes when they come in."
Political messaging experts say the context in which Trump uses "Protect the Vote" leads his supporters to expect not only fraud in diverse Democratic cities next year, but intervention to ensure Trump's victory. Inspires to do.
“This shows that the election result is already out. "This decision has been made," said Susan Benes, founder and executive director of the Dangerous Speech Project. "Is it really protecting the election from fraud, or is it protecting the election from an outcome in which Trump Has not been declared the winner?
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said that by "protecting the vote" Trump meant "preventing any incidents of voter fraud in areas where fraud occurs." He did not elaborate, and did not answer the question whether the term referred to Flynn's or Mellor's efforts.
"If he's really talking about seeing a peaceful, normal, legitimate vote, he should say so," Benes said.
Background of 'Protect the Vote'
The phrase "Protect the Vote" gained popularity in 2022 when a right-wing activist group in Washington state calling itself Guard the Vote began monitoring ballot drop boxes to identify fraud.
The term resurfaced earlier this year when Trump was filmed using it during a June event at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and when a few weeks later Flynn used the term repeatedly. Started moving forward.
In a July 6 interview with radio host Eric Metaxas, Flynn said, "I was with President Trump as recently as maybe about two and a half weeks ago, and we talked about this idea, about voter security. " “That means tracking every single aspect of the vote from the moment it starts, whether it's 45 days before the vote or 30 days before, all the way through the counting.”
Since then, Flynn has posted or publicly discussed voting protection at least eight times. one in Speech in Rhode Island in September, he discussed being at the ballot boxes "24/7" to videotape people casting ballots. In a post on X last month, he referenced "concerned citizen defenders" at the ballot boxes. "#WeThePeople will investigate all of you and the entire election system from top to bottom, from beginning to end, from sunrise to sunset," he wrote on Telegram in July. Flynn did not respond to an email seeking comment.
In general, partisan poll observers appointed by political parties or other groups are allowed to observe voting and the counting of ballots, but they cannot interfere in the election process. National Conference of State Legislatures, States have different rules governing their behavior and eligibility.
Mellor, who owns a concrete business and is politically active in Sarasota County, Florida, told the AP this week that he founded a group called "Guard the Vote," which helps members of law enforcement and citizens vote at the polls. Will add to give training about.
Mellor said that when he heard Trump use the phrase "protect the vote" on Saturday, he thought "that's me." I am 'guarding the vote'.
Will it inspire violence?
Mellor shared few details about the group's plans but said it would involve "educated Americans, educated law enforcement."
Asked about criticism that the phrase "protect the vote" could encourage violence or endanger the election system, voters or election workers, Mailer said it would "absolutely not." There will be no weapons. “Everything was done by the rule of law.”
He said there would be "zero threats" and that the group was not a right-wing operation. He said he was encouraging Americans of all political backgrounds to get involved and that more details would be announced in the coming days.
“This is not a radical movement. It's an educational movement," he said, adding that its purpose is to help people understand what he calls the complex election process.
Although there was no apparent connection to Mellor's effort, right-wing groups had begun monitoring ballot drop boxes in at least two counties in Arizona during the 2022 midterm elections. A federal judge ordered them So that they remain distanced from the voters. Some were masked and armed, and some were associated with the far-right group Oath Keepers.
Mailer shared a video with the AP from what he calls his "command center" in a building he owns in Venice, Florida, which also houses Flynn's offices and a studio where Flynn frequently gives interviews.
The short video shows a large, windowless room surrounded by concrete walls with the slogan "Protect the Vote" written on one wall. In the center of the room was a long conference table surrounded by cushioned chairs, about which Mailer said his handgun was on top of the table. Asked about the weapon, Mellor told the AP that he did not realize it was in the video and that the gun was not sending any message.
“I don't leave home without it,” he said.
Another wall displayed the oath of office, surrounded by seals and flags for the military branches. Other walls displayed maps of states including Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina, Alaska, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Notes related to the strategy were displayed on a whiteboard, including mention of sheriffs and a list of prominent election deniers. One corner of the whiteboard reads, "detect fraud", followed by the words, "don't use the word fraud, use election security."
A Joint investigation by AP and PBS series "Frontline" Last year it was detailed how Flynn had been working closely with Mellor since 2021. Mellor established a place called the hollow and turned it into a center of activity for the Proud Boys and other activists in the remote community of Sarasota County.
Mellor, a former Marine, posted a photo on his Facebook page showing him and his son outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and told "Frontline" he was proud to be there that day. He told the AP in October 2022 that he and Flynn were "experiencing and nurturing a true grassroots movement in its purest form."
"I assure you, this is only the beginning," Mellor said then.
language of war
Jennifer Mercieca, a historian of political rhetoric at Texas A&M University who has written a book about Trump's rhetoric, said his use of the word "guard" was notable because it could be a military term, "as if you There is an army."
“And so the framework there is interesting because it is not the language of democracy and the democratic process. This is the language of war,” Mercieca said. “And that's how fascism works. You say that politics is war and the enemy cheats. It's up to us."
He said Trump's repeated claims that there will be fraud in an election that has not yet taken place is a way to get his followers involved in his conspiracy theory. Trump had also suggested elections rigged against him even before the votes 2016 And 2020,
“You tell the population that the rules have already been broken. Correct? They are very corrupt. What big fraudsters they are. They are the enemy. Those are threats. And then you say, and it's up to us to defend it,” Mercieca said.
What should Americans think when they hear Trump using such language?
“This is still a part of Trump's January 6 insurrection. He's still doing the 'coup','' he said.
Election officials say they will not be stopped
Election officials in the cities named by Trump say they are committed to secure elections in 2024 and will not be intimidated by Trump or anyone else.
“Detroiters are not scaredy cats. "We're not stupid, we can't be elected," said Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey. “So if they want, they can absolutely come. We are ready."
"This is nothing new, Trump says these things before every election," Philadelphia City Commissioners Chairwoman Lisa Daley said in a statement. “In 2016, he said he had to watch and ensure that people did not vote five times. 'Bad Things Happen in Philadelphia' came in 2020. Each of those elections, 2016 and 2020, were completely fair and accurate and that is what we will continue to provide in 2024 as well.
Fulton County, Georgia, spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt declined to comment on Trump's targeting of Atlanta, but said election security is a concern for the county. Threaten your workers, He stressed that "polling places must be safe for everyone."
Officials said they have taken steps to improve election security since 2020. In Detroit, for example, election officials have reinforced their buildings with bulletproof glass and increased security during vote counting.
Colorado Secretary of State Jenna Griswold said she has led the way on new laws to protect against election threats, including those threatening or defrauding election workers, tampering with election equipment or openly carrying firearms near polling places. Restrictions included.
"With Donald Trump's increasingly extreme rhetoric, he continues his efforts to undermine this country's free and fair elections," Griswold said. "Every state should follow our lead."
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