Kenosha Sheriff Warns Militia Groups Against 'Any Form of Intimidation' on Election Day

The sheriff of the Wisconsin city of Kenosha has told armed militia groups to stay away from polling places in November following fears far-right members may show up as a form of intimidation.

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said that while law enforcement have not received any reports of such planned activity, deputies are on high alert following warnings from experts and remarks from the president that may inspire groups to attend voting stations.

"Our intelligence that we've gathered for the last month and a half shows no activity, whether it be in Kenosha or especially in the polling booths or the polling locations," Beth told WISN.

In a warning to militia groups, he added: "Don't bring any guns to the polling places, don't put any form of intimidation out there."

Fears that armed groups may show up at polling places have been raised since President Donald Trump failed to tell his supporters to "stay calm" and not engage in any civil unrest in the immediate aftermath of the election during the televised debates.

Instead, Trump urged his supporters to go "into the polls and watch very carefully, because that's what has to happen. I'm urging them to do it."

Many feared Trump's remarks were a suggestion to his base to intimidate people before or after voting closes in November.

"My first thought was 'Here we go'. This is the stuff of our worst nightmares," Devin Burghart, the director of the anti-bigotry organization the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, told The Guardian.

Trump was also criticized for telling the far-right Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" during the same debate, which the group reportedly used as a rallying cry and permission from the president to cause violence.

A similar warning about militia groups intimidating voters was heeded in a recent report by the Georgetown University Law School's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

"Local officials, law enforcement, and voters need to know that groups of armed individuals have no legal authority under federal or state law to show up at voting locations claiming to protect or patrol the polls," said Mary McCord, Legal Director of ICAP and a former Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the Department of Justice.

"Given the increasing self-deployment of private unlawful militias during protests against racial injustice across the country, intimidating peaceful protesters and heightening the risk of violence-sometimes with tragic results-communities must prepare for similar unlawful private militia activity and intimidation in connection with the election."

In August, armed men showed up at Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha which broke out in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old who traveled from his hometown in Antioch, Illinois, to join up with militia groups in Kenosha, is accused of murdering two people and injuring one other in shootings during the unrest on August 25.

Speaking to WISN, Black Activists of Kenosha member Djuan Wash said the news that 13 men have been charged in connection to a militia plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer shows how these groups are emboldened by the president's words.

Trump was accused of encouraging action with his "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" tweet he posted as armed right-wing groups were staging anti-coronavirus lockdown protests against the measures brought in by the Democratic governor.

"When you have people who are mobilizing to take a sitting governor based off of the rhetoric of the president, these people are being emboldened by the president and his allies and supporters," Wash said.

The Kenosha County Sheriff's Department has been contacted for further comment.

(File photo) A local militia group is seen at a rally to protest the stay-at-home order amid the Coronavirus pandemic in Columbus, Ohio on April 20, 2020. The sheriff of Kenosha is telling armed militia groups to stay away from polling places in November. MEGAN JELINGER/AFP/Getty