A dangerous narrative is brewing online, particularly in corners where “Big Lie” conspiracies about the 2020 election remain gospel. Those communities have seized on some recent polls forecasting GOP wins in the November midterms to assert that a “red wave” is all but inevitable. And some have made vague threats about “taking action”—including “taking up arms” if things don’t go their way.
“God will take care of our midterms as promised,” one user on former President Donald Trump’s platform Truth Social wrote.
“A massive, absolutely overwhelming Truth Tsunami of Continental proportions that will wash away the stench of rot and corruption from the world,” another wrote. “Nothing can stop what is coming.”
This narrative is coupled with the presumption that the only way Democrats could win in hotly contested races or maintain control of the House and Senate is if they commit election fraud—baseless claims that are being amplified by influential MAGA figures. And the prospect of yet another election being “stolen” is fueling threats of violence from the right.
Extremism watchdogs have been warning about the potential for political violence in the coming weeks.
SITE Intel, which tracks international terrorist activity, recently put out a memo warning that “ultranationalist users on Telegram” were hinting at violent action if Democrats “steal votes again.” “I’ll vote and also build local groups of like minds to move from OBSERVERS to PATRIOTS taking Action,” one person wrote on Telegram, according to posts documented by SITE.
The Soufan Center, which tracks extremism around the world, published an intelligence bulletin last week identifying “widespread calls for civil war, echoing some of the most violent rhetoric that accompanied the lead-up to the January 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection,” on platforms like Reddit, Parler, Telegram, Gab, and Truth Social.
The Soufan Center also noted that election workers in some places are undergoing active-shooter training, and election offices are in the process of bolstering security, hiring guards, installing bulletproof and bomb-resistant glass. For example, an election office in Flagstaff, Arizona, has had a barricade of bulletproof glass installed, and anyone wishing to enter will have to ring a buzzer. The walls of an election office in Tallahassee, Florida, have been fortified with Kevlar, a material used in bulletproof vests. Other election offices are paying for armed security guards for the busiest weeks close to the election.
And last year, the Justice Department even launched the Election Threats Task Force in response to threats of violence against election workers.
“These measures are necessary to keep people safe,” said Colin Clarke, director of Policy and Research at the Soufan Group. “It’s crept up on us, this creeping normalization of political violence that’s now going to be with us every election for the foreseeable future. I don’t see any signs that we’re going back to normal.”
Black Americans, in particular, have expressed concern about encountering “displays of violence” or threats at their polling places. A recent poll by Grid-Harris found that 35% of Black Americans believe violence is likely or very likely at their polling place in November, compared to 22% of white respondents. And 40% of Black American adults who were polled said that they fear the results of the midterm elections will spark violence in their area.
It’s not just online chatter on fringe sites that’s driving these fears. Influential right-wing figures with large platforms, like former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, are stoking the flames, telling their supporters that the stakes couldn’t be higher this midterms and that Democrats will do anything they can to steal the election. Bannon, on his War Room podcast, has described the upcoming election as the “most important midterm election since 1862” (which took place during the Civil War).
And guests on Bannon’s show are priming listeners to expect the election to be rigged.
“I just know that they're going to engage in massive election fraud,” Infowars’ Alex Jones said on an episode this week. “They [Democrats] know there’s a landslide that you’ve been predicting that we see all the evidence from. They’ve done the math. They’re desperate. They know they’re losing.”
(Far from a “landslide” win, recent polling from the New York Times found that 49% of voters were backing the Republican congressional candidate in their district, compared to 45% supporting the Democrat candidate (last month, the same poll found that Democrats had the edge by just 1%).
Some current and former members of Congress have been painting a dire picture of what could happen after Nov. 8.
“If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place—and it’s bloodshed,” said ex-Congressman Madison Cawthorn at a GOP event in North Carolina this summer. “And I will tell you as much as I’m willing to defend our liberty at all costs. There’s nothing that I dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American.” And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene seized on an incident in North Dakota where a man intentionally hit and killed a teenager (because he falsely believed he was part of a right-wing extremist group) to stoke fears around impending political violence from Democrats.
“I’m not going to mince words with you all,” Greene said at a campaign event for Trump earlier this month. “Democrats want Republicans dead, and they’ve already started the killings.”
The latest wave of violent rhetoric and calls for civil war began in early August, after the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. QAnon, MAGA, and other far-right online communities went wild, claiming that the raid was a political attack against Trump by the Biden administration. After that raid, and amid a torrent of threats online directed toward the FBI, a 42-year-old Trump supporter —who regularly posted on Truth Social—wearing body armor and armed with an AR-15-style rifle and nail gun attempted to breach the Bureau’s field office in Ohio. He fled the scene after being confronted, and was ultimately shot dead following a lengthy standoff with police.
The temperature has remained high ever since, with angry rhetoric aimed at anything considered evidence of political corruption from Democrats.
For example, when GOP Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was removed from her Democrat opponent’s town hall event earlier this month, MAGAworld pounced on the incident and said it was just further evidence of some widespread political crackdown and censorship.
“It’s called communism,” one person on Truth Social remarked. “We’re already there.” “Civil war,” someone else replied bluntly. “I’m ready to die.” “Better get armed while you can,” another user added.
There’s also been a lot of national interest in Pennsylvania’s elections, where Christian nationalist Doug Mastriano is vying for governor. The Pennsylvania State Department recently said it anticipates “several days’ worth of work” to tally all the election results following the election itself (many counties are currently barred from opening or scanning mail-in ballots received prior to 7 a.m. on Election Day). After the 2020 election, Trump and his allies targeted Pennsylvania's drawn-out vote-counting process to make unsubstantiated claims of nefarious activity.
“State races have captured national attention and gained cross-state support,” said Clarke. “The temperature is rising to such a degree that, let’s say Herschel Walker losing to Warnock, it could prompt violence in a state nowhere near Georgia.”
Many of the most hotly contested races in the midterms are taking place in states that were heavily scrutinized by election deniers since 2020, including Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Pennsylvania.
In addition to threats of violence over potential fraud, there’s also violent fantasies online about how the right hopes to hold Democrats “accountable” once they regain control of the House and Senate.
“We need a lot of new rope,” one Truth Social user replied to an article about recent polling giving GOP candidates the edge. Another responded with a meme showing dozens of nooses and the words “Government Repair Kit.”