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Plans / prepping for possible political violence from upcoming US election?

by anon031 min read31st Aug 20205 comments


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The US presidential election is now just 2 months away! There's a (IMO) plausible argument that we might have a disputed election that leads to large-scale political violence; for details see

I don't think it's likely, but I do think it's likely enough to make it worth some contingency planning (for US residents like me).

Like most of us, I'm not in any position to actually do anything about this problem, i.e. to reduce the probability of large-scale political violence from a disputed election. I just want to prudently plan for myself, family, friends, and/or community to get safely through whatever happens, if anything happens.

I'm curious what (if anything) people here are doing, or plan to do, or would recommend, to prepare for this contingency. Stock up on food / water / supplies? Take an extended vacation to another country, or to a lower-risk place within the country? (And where would that be?) Move assets into gold / bitcoin / international index funds / whatever? Buy weapons? Or what?

I'm especially interested to hear from people who have experience or knowledge of what large-scale political violence is actually like, from first- or second-hand experience, or from being well-informed about history and world politics (which I am not). And for people in the USA, what are your personal plans? But everyone is very welcome to answer / comment / discuss!

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I have a good amateur background in history and world politics, and went to university for both. I was also an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne, and did one tour each in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I plan to do nothing, other than observe events as they play out. The general structure of my reasoning is as follows: I live in a low-risk area; the probability of widespread violence is remote; the probability of organized, systematic violence more so. There are a few details of my baseline lifestyle worth considering: one, I don't own any weapons; two, I have a kitchen pantry which we keep stocked as a matter of convenience to last for a week before our lifestyle will even be affected, and with rationing could easily last much longer.

The most probable outcome by a long shot is that nothing happens and power transitions more or less as normal (excluding the customary rules of decorum). That isn't really an interesting case, but I put it to you that even if we assume the President refuses to leave office by declaring the election fraudulent or the like, the chances of violence affecting you are remote.

My first reason is straightforward: no enemies around. Most of the American population lives in ideologically-sorted zones, which is to say overwhelmingly-Biden areas or overwhelmingly-Trump areas. In order for there to be serious widespread violence, there needs to be someone around with whom to be violent; most of the time there won't be.

My second reason is that there isn't any organized plan to drive the violence. We can set aside the its-obviously-insane argument and instead consider that this would represent an entirely uncharacteristic amount of competence and concentration from the administration. Conspiracies of that type are very difficult to pull off, even for dedicated professionals, and this administration has had a tendentious relationship with seemingly everyone who meets that description in government.

My third reason is that even in the case where the administration makes active calls for violence, American civilization lacks the group structure by which to prosecute it en masse. In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, civil war can be sustained indefinitely; this is because of the family/clan structures around which life is arranged, and through which most activity happens (including the everyday things like agriculture and commerce). There is nothing like this in the United States; all of our coordination mechanisms are pretty specific to their intended function and by design are either tenuous (like employment) or to allow for other coordination mechanisms to fit into your life (school, church, sports fans). American civilian life does not have any equivalent of the total loyalty required to sustain violence over long periods of time.

In conclusion this means that if violence arises it will likely be spontaneous, short lived, and in areas that are contested or recently saw other violence (bad riots, for example).

I will take the trouble to recommend specifically against buying weapons for fear of nonspecific badness happening soon. Firearms are one of those things where training and experience is necessary both for getting utility and for reducing risk; it is easy to get proficient in marksmanship and maintenance, but very hard to practice handling under extreme stress. Further, if you are feeling motivated by general fears you or those around you are probably also susceptible to despair. You do not want to shoot a bystander by mistake, or accidentally give someone close to you an easy out at the wrong moment.

What to do instead: community hard. If you are by yourself, liberally abuse your communication options to check up on friends and family. Consider checking on your neighbors, especially if there's a power outage or something. Get some basics in, like hospitality and small celebrations. Sustain as many of your routines as safety permits.

I have postponed consideration of moving back to Manhattan until after the election, and plan to be well stocked on November 3. Don't intend to do anything beyond that.

I share your fear that violent political unrest will spread (it's currently non-zero, but not widespread) after a disputed election. I'm not sure what your probability estimate is - I give it about a percent and a half, which is orders of magnitude higher than previous elections.

Most of that probability is for a short-lived protest or conflict, which destroys a bunch of property, kills and hospitalizes a small percentage (but significant absolute numbers), and then tapers off after a few weeks. Significant secession-level conflict is unlikely enough that I'm not trying to prepare for it; I'd try much harder to be elsewhere if I thought that was going to happen. The timing is uncertain as well - we'll know the theoretical outcome in November, but there may be months of posturing and brinksmanship before we find out in January if the nominal outcome is honored. During this, violence may or may not be present, to varying degrees.

As such, my current strategy is normal emergency preparedness - 30 days of food, medicine, water, etc. Keeping some amount of non-US currency and silver or gold coins is wise as well, IMO. I keep firearms, but wouldn't advise anyone take that up solely for this situation - it's hard to train and practice safely during COVID, so now isn't the time to start.

As to leaving, I'm not sure there are very many good options. I'm near enough the Canadian border to drive or boat across, but it's closed for COVID, and that will be even more severely enforced if there are literal refugees streaming across. It's unlikely that anyone's going to give you asylum status, no matter how bad it gets. My current belief is that before illegal entry into another country becomes attractive, I should switch strategies from flight to fight - become an active participant and risk myself (yes, and my family) in order to slightly shift the likelihood of outcome toward my preferences. Huh, I guess I'm a patriot after all (once all the better options are eliminated).

I think the most likely outcome is no serious violence, or at least violence on a small enough scale as not to effect most people at all. If there is violence, it will likely last a matter of days or possibly weeks, no longer. So my theory right now is to be prepared to weather that, and if violence does last longer, at least I will have a few weeks of relative security to figure out a longer term plan. The best way to survive political violence is to be somewhere else. I live in a small town about an hour away from the major cities, so I'm probably in a relatively safe place already. If I were in or near a major city I would be more worried. But either way, I think the strategy is (1) have a month or two of supplies in the house before election day - if supply chains get disrupted, or traveling to the grocery store becomes more dangerous, it will be good to be able to just sit in the house until things blow over. (2) Have a quick exit option if the house becomes unsafe - I have a car I can pile critical supplies up in, an idea of what those supplies are and how to grab them quickly, and family/friends in other towns and cities I can drive to if I really need to. I realize many city dwellers may not have cars. If I lived in the city and didn't have a car, I might go out and buy a cheap one (they are pretty cheap right now), just to have a quick exit option that still works even if planes and trains and buses stop running. So wherever the violence is, I am prepared to be somewhere else.

I have no training with guns, and I agree with the other commenters that now is not the time to start. I have pepper spray, and as I said, my general strategy for political violence is to be somewhere else.

I am not the kind of person who travels internationally, and I am not making any preparations to for this. If there is violence for days or weeks, the US is big, I am confident I can find a safe place to be inside the country. If it lasts for months or years, like a second civil war, maybe I'd find a way to leave the country then, I don't know. Being prepared to be somewhere safe for days/weeks of violence means I will have the time to figure out international travel if the violence actually gets that bad. That said, if I were a person who traveled internationally anyway, I might arrange such a trip to coincide with the election. Again, the big picture strategy is to be somewhere else.