Spontaneous protests have broken out across the United States since Donald Trump won the presidency on Nov. 8. From Oakland and Portland to Austin and Boston, demonstrators have rallied in the streets, shutting down traffic and causing property damage. Many more protests are likely to spring up in other cities throughout the country in the weeks ahead, and though the outbursts of public anger have been fairly small so far, they may not stay that way for long.
It does not take much to spark a nationwide protest movement. Even a small minority — say, tens of thousands of people — could create one, a turnout that would not be tough to find given the high level of popular dissatisfaction with this year's presidential campaign. Though the protests are unlikely to have much of an impact on Trump's ability to take office in January 2017, and winter weather will limit participation somewhat, dedicated demonstrators could cause significant disruptions and create headaches for security professionals.
Among the groups that have opposed Trump's policy proposals are pro-immigration organizations and the Black Lives Matter movement. Each has proved able to rapidly marshal large crowds in the past, and there is no reason to believe that they will not continue to do so now that Trump has won the election. More extreme actors unaffiliated with these groups could also engage in isolated incidents of property destruction or violence: Trump's Washington, D.C. hotel has already been graffitied, and a Republican Party office in North Carolina was firebombed.
These risks are not confined to the left side of the political spectrum, either. Right-wing groups have expressed much dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton and have mobilized against her supporters, campaign and policies throughout the year. On Nov. 3, an arsonist even burned a black church in Mississippi to the ground after scrawling "Vote Trump" on the wall. Though Trump's electoral win could subdue some of his more aggressive supporters, it may also embolden them.
Based on the events that have taken place in the days since the election, verbal threats and isolated incidents of violence from both the political left and right appear likely to become the norm. However, it remains to be seen whether they reflect a brief adjustment phase as emotions settle after a contentious election, or a new long-term reality. The United States has a well-established history of peaceful transitions of power, and of settling political disputes in elections rather than on the streets. But as the country moves past this year's unusually heated presidential campaign, it will be worth watching for signs of further trouble to come.