Increasingly normal: Guns seen outside vote-counting centers

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Supporters of President Donald Trump rally outside the Maricopa County Recorder's Office Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The most turbulent and norm-breaking presidential election of a lifetime has led to an extraordinary spectacle in the United States over the past three days: armed protesters gathering nightly outside offices where workers are counting the votes that will decide who wins the White House.

Some carry shotguns. Some have handguns. Often, they carry black, military-style semiautomatic rifles.

The protesters with weapons are a small minority of the demonstrators. There have been no reports of anyone getting shot, and the laws in Arizona, Nevada and Michigan — where guns have been seen outside vote-tabulation centers in recent days — allow people to openly carry firearms in public.

But in a nation increasingly inured to weapons at rallies -- most often carried by right-wing demonstrators, though also sometimes by left-wing protesters — experts warn that the guns create a dangerous situation that could be seen as intimidation or tip easily into violence.

“The more we see, the more people see it as a normal reaction — even though it’s not. There’s nothing normal about it," said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a professor at American University who studies extremism. “The potential for violence becomes normalized."

The armed protesters have shown up at the vote-counting centers in response to groundless accusations from President Donald Trump that the Democrats are trying to steal the election. No serious irregularities have been reported.

Elections officials in several states where Democrat Joe Biden was ahead said the anger outside their doors made them fear for the safety of their employees.

Those carrying weapons insist they are keeping the peace.