In a speech Wednesday evening, President Joe Biden issued a stark warning about political violence – invoking both the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and the recent attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"In this moment, we have to confront those lies with the truth. The very future of our nation depends on it," Biden said, with just days to go until the midterm elections draw to a close. "We must, with one overwhelming unified voice, speak as a country and say there’s no place, no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America. Whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans. No place, period. No place ever."
"Election workers ... were harassed and threatened just because they had the courage to do their job and stand up for the truth, to stand up for our democracy," the president said of the last election. "This institution, this intimidation, this violence against Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisan officials just doing their jobs, are the consequence of lies told for power and profit, lies of conspiracy and malice, lies repeated over and over to generate a cycle of anger, hate, vitriol and even violence."
Biden's comments appeared to echo warnings issued by top U.S. intelligence officials in a recent bulletin, which warns that extremists pose a "heightened threat" to the 2022 midterms, particularly threats to election workers at polling places.
Last week, multiple news outlets reported on a joint memo circulated between the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Capitol Police and the National Counterterrorism Center warning that “election-related perceptions of fraud” will likely spur domestic violent extremists in the “plotting of violence and broader efforts to justify violence in the lead up to and following the 2022 midterm election cycle.”
"We assess that election-related perceptions of fraud and DVE [domestic violent extremist] reactions to divisive topics will likely drive sporadic DVE plotting of violence and broader efforts to justify violence in the lead up to and following the 2022 midterm election cycle," the bulletin reads. "Following the 2022 midterm election, perceptions of election-related fraud and dissatisfaction with electoral outcomes likely will result in heightened threats of violence against a broad range of targets―such as ideological opponents and election workers."
"Potential targets of DVE violence include candidates running for public office, elected officials, election workers, political rallies, political party representatives, racial and religious minorities, or perceived ideological opponents," the bulletin continued.
Much of the projected violence will likely come from lone actors, officials said, and those extremists are expected to target “states or counties where recounts, audits, or public election disputes occur," the memo read in part.
A number of key battleground states have tight races that may trigger recounts or whose ballot-counting might extend beyond election day. In his speech Wednesday, Biden stressed patience about this particular topic, which fueled right-wing outrage in the 2020 election."
"Once again we’re seeing record turnout all over the country," Biden said, praising early voting turnout. "We know that more and more ballots are cast in early voting or by mail in America. We know that many states don’t start counting those ballots till after the polls close on Nov. 8
"That means in some cases we won’t know the winner of the election for a few days — until a few days after the election," Biden continued. "It takes time to count all legitimate ballots in a legal and orderly manner. It’s always been important for citizens in the democracy to be informed and engaged. Now it’s important for a citizen to be patient as well. That’s how this is supposed to work."
Georgia is one state of particular concern to the intelligence community, as it was one of the main states that drew the ire of former President Donald Trump when election officials in the state refused to overturn the 2020 election results in his favor. Control of the now evenly-divided Senate, and likely Biden’s legislative priorities, hinge on states like Georgia, which in 2020 ultimately became the tipping point that gave Democrats the majority in the Senate.
The current race between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker remains neck-and-neck; if neither candidate gains more than 50% of overall votes, the race will go to a runoff held in December.
The Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force – created in the first year of Biden’s presidency – received reports of over 1,000 threats against election workers as of June, the most recent date for which data is available. While just 11% met the threshold to launch investigations, 58% of those “potentially criminal threats” occurred in states where Trump launched lawsuits questioning the results of the 2020 election, namely Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin.
Last week, the DOJ released information on its efforts to protect the right to vote in the leadup to the election and those planned for Election Day, which will include agents from the Civil Rights Division monitoring polling sites to ensure compliance with federal law.