U.S. police chiefs worried about armed men at polling stations

Police are feeling unprecedented pressure to preserve order at the polls

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John Clair, the police chief of a rural town in Virginia experienced a particularly hot summer with heavily armed militia men along with other counter-protestors, turning up in droves and engaging in tense standoffs with the peaceful demonstrations of Black Lives Matter protestors.

“People would call me up and ask how I’m doing,” Clair recalled. “And what I’d say is, ‘I’m dealing with the most complex leadership challenge of my career in the midst of the most widespread social crisis in 100 years. But other than that, I’m doing okay.'”

Read More: Trump threatens to send law enforcement to polling places on Election Day

Clair is currently confronting a different kind of leadership challenge: Election Day.

For the past several weeks he’s been trying to figure out how to ensure security at the polls amid the threat of armed troublemakers without scaring away voters who might be offended by the sight of uniformed policemen.

“I feel like I’m walking on the edge of a razor blade,” Clair said in an interview with NBC News.

With extreme partisan rancor and social discontent hovering over the 2020 election, police chiefs and sheriffs are feeling unprecedented pressure to preserve order at the polls.

The scenario is worsened by the increasing threat of conservative militia groups and a president who has called for an “army” of poll watchers to monitor disputed polling places.

A man with a rifle stands among other far-right supporters during a rally on August 15, 2020 near the downtown of Stone Mountain, Georgia. (Photo by Lynsey Weatherspoon/Getty Images)

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has cast doubt about the integrity of the election and routinely declined to say that he’d accept the results.

Meanwhile, federal authorities intervened in a militia group’s plot to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer and the targeting of a second Democratic governor, Ralph Northam of Virginia.

In interviews with NBC News, at least six law enforcement officials throughout the country discussed their preparations for protecting the polls ahead of Election Day.

Read More: Trump refuses to agree to accept 2020 results if he loses to Biden

“There’s not a day that goes by where I’m not up late envisioning what the worst case scenario is to make sure that we are able to prevent it,” said Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock.

In last month’s presidential debate, Trump singled out Philadelphia, urging his supporters to monitor the polls very carefully.

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