There Is a Risk of Extremist Violence Around the 2024 U.S. Presidential Election, Warns New CFR Report

There Is a Risk of Extremist Violence Around the 2024 U.S. Presidential Election, Warns New CFR Report

Last updated April 23, 2024 3:36 pm (EST)

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As the United States prepares for the 2024 presidential election, a new Contingency Planning Memo from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) warns of the possibility of extremist violence throughout the election cycle. 

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In “Preventing Election Violence in 2024,” CFR Research Fellow Jacob Ware posits that “[m]any of the same sources of instability and grievances that precipitated the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol . . . remain present today.” This “threatens individual lives and the domestic political stability of the country” while “undermin[ing] the United States’ international standing and foreign policy goals.” 

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Terrorism and Counterterrorism

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Ware identifies three timeframes with various risks:  

  • Before the election, there is a risk of “assassination threats against campaigning candidates and other public officials,” targeting of “large party and voter gatherings,” and increased chances of violence around “dates associated with the former president’s legal troubles.” 

  • During the election, there may be “violence and intimidation at polling places against election workers, or against drive-by or drop-off balloting sites and their collection points.” 

  • After the election, “attacks against government buildings and/or law enforcement officials will likely be the preferred means as violent extremists aim to take the fight directly to those they deem responsible for malfeasance.”  

The report identifies several warning indicators that could encourage such violence, including candidates’ use of “divisive and perhaps even existential political rhetoric during the campaign.” Furthermore, Ware notes that “the risk of more organized and widespread violence could be heralded by armed paramilitary mobilization, including on social media.” 

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The implications for U.S. interests are profound, as “the rejection of election results could undermine civil society and further polarize the nation, while the mere threat of violence at polling places could dissuade voters from making their voices heard, further weakening American democracy.”  

To prevent domestic terrorism during the election season, Ware recommends three preventive measures: 

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Election 2024

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

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  • “Reducing motive” among violent extremist actors by having government entities “improve transparency and pre-bunk conspiracy theories questioning the legitimacy of elections,” counting “absentee and mail-in ballots early to avoid red mirages that could fuel electoral conspiracy theories,” and ensuring social media companies “take more aggressive steps to limit the free reign of electoral conspiracy theories on their platforms, while legacy media outlets should work to avoid sensationalist reporting.”  

  • “Reducing the capability to inflict violence” by having law enforcement and intelligence agencies “conduct trainings and improve intelligence sharing across levels of government” and “building a stronger deterrent against acts of political violence” against political candidates, election workers, and voting infrastructure. 

  • “Remov[ing] opportunities for violence by hardening soft targets and maximizing law enforcement readiness.” 

“Should the United States fail to adequately prepare for the risks of electoral violence in 2024, the integrity of the election will be on the line,” Ware cautions. “Ensuring a peaceful, fair, and thriving election is therefore of critical importance, both to American democracy as well as democracy around the world.”  

Ware is the coauthor with Bruce Hoffman of God, Guns, and Sedition: Far-Right Terrorism in America

Contingency Planning Memoranda produced by CFR’s Center for Preventive Action analyze potential crises and distill practical recommendations about how the United States can prepare for, prevent, and mitigate against potential consequences.    

Read the CFR Contingency Planning Memorandum, “Preventing U.S. Election Violence in 2024,” online at https://www.cfr.org/preventing-us-election-violence-2024.   

To request an interview, please contact CFR Communications at [email protected]

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