Election 2020

The U.N. Guide to Avoiding America’s Election Mayhem

For the first time, the United Nations is warning staffers of how to deal with disturbances after a U.S. election.

By Colum Lynch, a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.
Saks Fifth Avenue boarded up its Manhattan storefront in anticipation of possible post-election violence in New York on Nov. 1.
Saks Fifth Avenue boarded up its Manhattan storefront in anticipation of possible post-election violence in New York on Nov. 1.

The United Nations has issued instructions to staffers to steer clear of post-election celebrations or protests in the United States, but if they find they can’t, they should follow these guidelines: remain calm, seek refuge in a local building, and if traveling in a car, resist the temptation to honk your horn.

The U.N. Safety and Security Department—which is responsible for keeping international civil servants safe and sound in trouble spots from Afghanistan to Somalia—turned its attention this week to U.N. headquarters, warning staff to beware of election violence not in the streets of Mogadishu but in Manhattan.

The department stated in an internal memo that “the outcome of the upcoming host country elections could spark both celebrations and spontaneous demonstrations. In these uncertain times with COVID-19 and the possibility of civil unrest, U.N. staff and non-staff personnel are encouraged for their own safety to avoid crowds in general.”

“Remain calm and carefully navigate to the edge of the crowd or where it is safest,” the memo counsels. “When leaving the protest area — walk briskly and avoid running. If you are driving, DO NOT stop your vehicle in the area of the protest. Keep windows and doors locked.

“Drive carefully through or around the crowd at a low speed and do not honk your horn.”

The unprecedented alert came as the United States is bracing for a possible wave of post-election violence, spurred in part by President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that Democrats are carrying out widespread electoral fraud, his suggestion that only a “rigged” election could cost him victory, and by his refusal to acknowledge publicly that he would accept the results of the election if he loses.

The internal guidance—which was provided to Foreign Policy by a U.N. staffer and previously reported on the Inner City Press blog—comes several months after the U.N. leadership sought to discourage U.N. staffers from participating in anti-racism demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May. The current guidelines focus largely on the security implications of possible protests and avoid the political question of whether it would be appropriate for U.N. staffers, including U.S. citizens, to participate in election celebrations or protests.

In New York City, where the U.N. is headquartered, midtown Manhattan boutiques and stores from Dr. Martens to Fendi spent the days before the election boarding up their storefronts, fearing that protests could provide an opportunity for looters to hit the flagships of some of the city’s most iconic brand names.

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch