The 2024 general election has been termed by many observers as a crucial moment in American history, one that puts the future of democracy at risk.

Former President Donald Trump, who faces felony charges for attempting to overturn his loss in the 2020 election, continues to peddle divisive rhetoric, including expressing his desire to be a “dictator” if elected as president once again. Pro-Trump election deniers continue to express their wishes to reject the outcome if it is not in their favor.

As many Republican presidential candidates run on a platform filled with hostility, concerns surrounding violence in the lead-up to the elections are mounting. The combination of hateful rhetoric being peddled by GOP candidates, the activities of election deniers, and the potential for violence has created a highly volatile and concerning environment surrounding the upcoming election.

A survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution in October revealed that approximately 25% of Americans believe that resorting to violence might be necessary for “patriots” to safeguard the nation. This percentage is the highest recorded since this question has been asked during Trump’s presidency.

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Last month, suspicious letters were sent to ballot counting centers in California, Georgia, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Washington during the off-year elections. Some of these letters contained fentanyl, a dangerous and illicit drug, and read “End Elections Now.”

Even judges are not safe from this wave of harassment. In October, Arthur Engoron, the New York judge hearing Trump’s civil fraud trial, and his law clerk received hundreds of threatening messages that court security declared “serious and credible.” These messages followed Trump’s public criticism of the judge and his staff.

A court officer-captain in New York working in the Department of Public Safety’s Judicial Threats Assessment unit said threats towards the judge and his law clerk saw a significant and rapid increase after October 3 when Trump accused him of bias in a social media post.

This harassment of public officials has worsened the fears of potential violence during and after the election. Michael German, a former F.B.I agent who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice, recently told PBS NewsHour that authority figures—not just Trump, but many others in the Republican Party—have promoted violent groups and dismissed the violence they’ve committed.

According to Kurt Braddock, a communications professor at American University in Washington, D.C., the rhetoric doesn’t need to explicitly instruct followers to engage in violence. Even a small number of people being inspired to commit crimes can pose a significant threat, considering the vast influence of political and extremist messaging on the internet and the millions of individuals who are exposed to it, he says.

Meanwhile, a recent survey conducted by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress stated that a staggering 84% of former lawmakers, from both parties, fear political violence in 2024.

L.F. Payne, a former Democratic lawmaker, said in a statement: “There is nothing new about people criticizing or disliking certain members of Congress, but the uptick in violent threats towards our politicians is incredibly disturbing. Payne added that partisan disagreements should not lead to violence or threats. “The results of this survey showcase a need for drastic action,” he said.

Journalist and political commentator John Avlon, while speaking at a panel in New York City on Wednesday, stated that one of the most insidious and self-defeating things journalists [covering the election] can do is fall into this attitude that if they covered Trump like any other candidate, it will all work out.

“It requires a cultivation of trust, and that’s simply not there. Journalists have to have fidelity for facts, have to be guided by the truth, and have a strong focus on defending democracy and the Constitution”, he said.

Another panelist, journalist Paul Tash, said that simply stating that it is the most important election in the last century is not sufficient, and journalists should demonstrate to the public why it is significant. “We have to find ways to do that, so it’s not just ranting,” he said.

When the moderator asked how journalists can show how crucial the election is, Tash said, “There is a lot of footage of January 6.” Asked if the footage they have seen so far has persuaded voters, he said it has not been shown in ways that focus on how the incident may impact the future.

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