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The potential for election instability and violence looms large over this year’s November 3rd presidential election.  There are important indicators that need to be analyzed to indicate the risk of potential protesting and riots that could result in widespread instability and violence before, during and after the election.  There is also the concern of disruptions at the polls on election day.
On Friday, October 16, 2020, Counter Threat Group, LLC conducted a Forum and hosted Dr. Gary Jackson, CEO and President of ANBECO, LLC.  Dr. Jackson is a former CIA Intelligence Officer who was Chief of three advanced technology branches within the CIA.  He is also an author whose most recent book is: Surviving Mass Victim Attacks: What to do when the Unthinkable Happens.  Jackson has operational field experience in counterterrorism, counterintelligence and asymmetric warfare prediction. He discussed with us the anticipated pre and post- election violence.
The following information contains thoughts from Gary and other participants on the Forum.

Three instability indicators

Jackson started with the premise stating, “if anyone tells you they know what’s going to happen, don’t believe them. It’s very complex.”
He uses three main categories analyzing the behaviors of hostile/potentially hostile groups.  This is known as the ABC Method:
Antecedent (triggers, indicators)
Behaviors (terrorism, mass shootings)
Consequences- This is most important. An announcement about a consequence can have extreme control over behavior.
He pointed out that when consequences are announced in advance of a potentially violent event, the chance of violence occurring decreases. Jackson gave the example of the announcement of federal prison sentences for statue destruction as a recent example that had a great effect. People’s reactions are based on the antecedents and the consequences.

Election antecedents

For the election, identifying those most likely to commit violence pre and post election provide the antecedent.
1. Some organized and most loosely organized groups are already linked to a rash of violent acts in the major cities experiencing recent riots.  While widespread and some well-funded, most are not significantly organized in structure.
2. Opportunists -those who take advantage of a chaotic situation to loot and cause destruction- are looters, etc.  It’s fun to be part of something that is happening regardless of the cause.
3. Other loosely organized ideological groups- left and right wing.
4. Angry youth- anger drives them.  They are not necessarily up to speed on topics or current events, and that doesn’t matter.   The lockdowns and school closings have fueled this.

What can we expect to happen?

There are several big challenges.  We have to look at pre-election, during the election and after the election. These are three very different things.  The behaviors and actors will vary based on who wins.
Where you vote is the centerpiece of elections. You have to consider mail-in and in-person voting.  You can expect polling place activity.  The polling place is an antecedent.  If it is in a right leaning precinct, particularly in an important electoral state, you can expect to see left leaning activism near it and the opposite can be true for a left leaning precinct.   That behavior is followed by a consequence that is favorable to the activist as it can effectively suppress the vote by causing people to turnaround and leave to avoid the chaos.

Violence a concern

One of the major issues of concern stems from the current and ongoing riots in some of the major cities.  There have been very limited to no consequences for the groups that are involved in the riots and destruction to property.  In many cases, Law enforcement is given stand-down orders.  This tells would be election activists that there are little to no consequences for whatever disturbance they might want to create around the election.  The election will fuel the same behaviors that we have seen this summer and fall.
Locations where activism and/or potential violence is predicted should plan for announced security measures. Some cities are already hiring private security firms to be onsite at certain polling places.  Some of the security personnel will have special forces training.  The announcement and knowledge of security presence beforehand will act as a deterrent and will demonstrate “consequences.’

Insider Threat

This includes cyberthreat, actors within the Post Office and the polling places.  We are already aware of instances where mail-in and absentee ballots have been found in garbage dumps, rivers, etc.

Jackson gave the example of someone at a polling place in a recent election who was collecting the ballots of those who were registered with a party different than the leanings of the polling place.  That person was telling the voters that he would submit the ballots but never did.  The votes of that party did not get counted.  This poll worker represents an insider threat.

Also, poll workers know that extraneous marks on a ballot will void the ballot. If a poll worker marks on your ballot, ask for a new ballot.  If your ballot has a mark on it when you receive it, refuse it.  In both cases, your vote will not count.  It must be a clean ballot.


Regardless of who wins, the protests will be massive.  We know that past protests are the best predictor of future behavior.  Jackson restates this as, “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and its antecedent.”  Regarding protests turning violent, in examining past terrorism events, if the event did not achieve the desired outcome or was not successful, it is likely not to be repeated again.

The media becomes the mouthpiece for the the position you want to take. In this election they have tremendous power in influencing the outcome and potential protests and riots. This includes social media as well.

Quelling uprisings or rebellions

Whereas the President cannot enlist the active military in putting down a rebellion, the National Guard is not prohibited from putting down a rebellion.  The states under the authority of the governor have the authority to activate the Guard against civil disturbances.

There needs to be an announced indication that the Guard will act if there is the threat of destruction of property, life, etc.  This demonstrates consequences.  This has already been used successfully in some of the cities experiencing riots which caused the riots to cease.

The more enthusiasm that builds towards a candidate in the election, the bigger the disappointment will be when they lose.  “This leads to protests, protests lead to riots, riots lead to violence and violence leads to property damage.” Pre-election we expect activities in certain locations, probably in the same areas where we are already seeing problems.  We will see outside groups coming into hotspot areas.  They are bussed in and paid.  The presence and announcement of security is the only deterrent.

There is fuel on both sides that is creating a tinder box in this year’s election which leads to the threat of more violence taking place after the election.  “I’m not seeing tremendous destruction as a result of the election.”  After the months of rioting, Governors will be more likely to put down riots before they get out of hand.  Jackson stated, “We will see activity the day after the election, especially if it’s contested as it is expected to be.  We are likely to see some riots and disruptions all the way to the inauguration… I don’t think it will get totally out of hand.  There are controls now, and people are seeing these controls.”  Whether you like them or not, you are seeing private security firms popping up at polling places.’

Jackson said that there is a government-based group that uses crowd size and enthusiasm to predict election outcomes.  They have been 100% accurate in predicting elections based on crowd size and enthusiasm.

The presence of security has to be balanced with a non-threatening presence so people won’t be concerned about coming to the polls to vote, but there will be more security at certain polling places than in the past.

International terrorism

International terrorism is not viewed as being a threat to this election.  ‘After three decades of working in counter-terrorism, terrorists do not like enhanced security.”  There is going to be a security mindset around the election and a lot of security vigilance.  This is not the environment that attracts international terrorism.

Domestic Terrorism

It’s a definition that has been all over the place.  Some U.S. citizens could act for political purposes.  There are groups classified as domestic terrorists that have the capability to carry out terror attacks, including mass casualty attacks.  One concern according to Johnson is that there are many youth in our country who appear to be lost.  They want to latch out and belong to something.  It doesn’t matter what the cause is.  This is a bad combination during potentially volatile times, especially when there is so much disruption resulting from the pandemic.


We have to protect our networks. They are easy to compromise.  if it wasn’t easy we wouldn’t see so many attacks.  Hundreds of thousands of cyber attacks occur every day.  The countries who initiate the majority of cyber attacks are North Korea, Iran, China and Russia.  You can protect against a certain amount of activity, but we don’t do a very good job.  It is definitely a concern for this election.


Jackson summarized by saying, election instability and violence “is a very important topic and in my opinion, when I apply the ABC Method to elections, (antecedents, behaviors, consequences) pre during and post election- particularly after, you can’t predict how bad it will get, but there are controls in place, and they have been announced which does affect the severity of the reaction.  We’ll see Molotov cocktails, looting and protests in the street.  Regardless of the group, we will see activity.

Counter Threat Group advises vigilance leading up to and following the election:

  1.  Keep in mind that an event that happens in one state can affect the reaction  in another state.
  2.  Individuals, businesses, healthcare facilities and shopping and eating venues need to develop contingency plans for workers and business disruption.
  3.  Develop alternate routes of travel.  You don’t want to be on a road or street where a major protest or riot is occurring.
  4.  In downtown areas where protests and turmoil are likely, plan to close operations prior to dark.
  5.  Depending on the business and location, consider hiring temporary private security.
  6.  Have an updated communication plan with family and co-workers.

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