US on brink as vigilantes, guns and hate stoke fears ahead of election

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People fight around a Confederate flag during an extreme-right rally and left-wing counter-demonstration at Stone Mountain, Georgia, on August 15, 2020.  PHOTO:  AFP

WASHINGTON  —  Shootings that left three dead at protests against police brutality have stoked fears of rising violence as a deeply divided US heads into elections amid economic collapse, a deadly pandemic and the worst social upheaval since the 1960s.

President Donald Trump, hoping to secure a second term in November despite the crisis, heads Tuesday to Kenosha, the Wisconsin town which descended into violence last week after police shot a young black father seven times in the back.

The governor of the state, Democrat Tony Evers, called on Trump in vain to reconsider his visit, warning it would “hinder our healing” and arguing that the citizens of the town are already traumatized.

One of them, Gregory Bennett, said he no longer feels safe in the town where last Tuesday night, a 17-year-old who had joined a far-right militia protecting private property shot dead two protesters.

Local white people “are in fear, they look for a reason to defend themselves and we have people over here [the militias] looking for a reason to attack,” said Bennett, a social worker and former member of the military who said he no longer leaves his house without a bulletproof jacket and a pistol in his belt.

In the United States, where the right to defend oneself is part of the national identity, some 30 percent of the adult population owns at least one firearm.–AFP

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