PHILADELPHIA — As election workers continue counting ballots amid challenges from President Trump’s legal team, locals are preparing for yet another wave of looting and destruction to take over the city streets.
Concerns about violence in Philadelphia have increased in the last 24 hours, as supporters of President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off well into the night on Thursday. In the midst of those demonstrations, police detained two men allegedly plotting to attack officials counting ballots in the city’s convention center.
Although it is unclear whether charges will eventually be brought against the individuals, police said they found several unauthorized firearms in their vehicle. Photos from the scene show the car had a QAnon sticker, a reference to the right-wing conspiracy theory that posits Democrats and “deep state” officials are engaged in a global sex trafficking ring.
Prior to that incident, locals in the city braced for looting and vandalism. Downtown, most businesses placed plywood over storefronts, and members of the National Guard patrolled numerous government buildings.
“On Monday, my building burned, Monday morning. It’s calmed down a lot since then,” said Hillary Jay, a 30-year Philadelphia resident. “More can happen here. I mean, we’ve seen it. We saw it all summer. I’m just trying to be hopeful.”
By Friday morning, votes for Biden in Pennsylvania had overtaken the president’s tally, giving many locals hope that tensions would soon deescalate as the Democratic presidential candidate’s victory appeared close. Others remained skeptical that calm would prevail and pointed to Trump’s legal challenges over the counting of ballots as evidence that the race was far from over.
Trump and his allies have claimed that numerous unfair practices by Pennsylvania election officials have opened the process to fraud. His campaign has demanded a pause on all ballot counting until GOP poll watchers can have appropriate access to election facilities.
“There were many irregularities in Pennsylvania, including having election officials prevent our volunteer legal observers from having meaningful access to vote counting locations,” Trump 2020 campaign general counsel Matt Morgan said in a statement Friday morning. “We prevailed in court on our challenge but were deprived of valuable time and denied the transparency we are entitled to under state law.”
Meanwhile, Biden remains confident that he will be president-elect as early as the end of the day Friday. A spokesman for his campaign told the Washington Examiner that “the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House,” referencing theories that Trump will simply refuse to leave his office in January 2021.
The president’s claims of fraud, as well as the incident with the QAnon believers on Thursday, have some in Philadelphia concerned that any election-related violence may come from the Right and Trump’s supporters.
“I think people should have the right to, you know, express how they feel as long as it stays peaceful,” said Melissa Gonzalez, a school psychologist in Philadelphia. “I’m worried seeing some of the right-wing media and people on the internet encouraging violence. But people have the right to express the way they feel, but I’m definitely worried.”
Unrest in Philadelphia over the summer took place for nearly a month, starting almost immediately after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis in late May and extending to the end of June. The demonstrations resulted in hundreds of arrests and two deaths. Private businesses and government facilities suffered millions of dollars in damages, according to early estimates by the state government.
On Oct. 31, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kennedy, a Democrat, requested that the state deploy the National Guard in the city for assistance with “the current situation and election preparation.”
In late October, demonstrations took place citywide following the police shooting of Walter Wallace, who was killed after approaching officers with a knife.
“The exact locations are always subject to change. We have high-ranking Pennsylvania National Guard officials here with us in the EOC, linked up, hand-in-hand with the police department to make sure they are entirely focused on safety, law enforcement and the police department’s mission,” said Adam Thiel, the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management director. “They are working constantly to manage that deployment.”