Fears of Election Day looting that led Lenox Square mall and other stores to board up their windows appear to have been partly based on a social-media rumor that was forwarded to officials by Mary Norwood, chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods. Atlanta Police later discounted the threat and no rioting or looting has materialized as presidential election vote-counting continued Nov. 5.

The boarding-up of businesses “may have had something to do with me,” Norwood, a former Atlanta City Council member and former mayoral candidate, said in a Nov. 5 phone interview.

She said someone sent her a social media post Oct. 28 calling for the Election Day looting of Buckhead’s Lenox Square, Dunwoody’s Perimeter Mall and other businesses as an “election take over [sic]” and “Buckhead [expletive] up.” She sent the post not only to police, but also to elected officials and the chairs of Buckhead’s Neighborhood Planning Units. It also circulated on the private network Nextdoor.

The main entrance to Lenox Square mall from its Peachtree Road parking lot was boarded up on Election Day, Nov. 3. (Phil Mosier)

“I have no idea if it was true or not,” Norwood said of the looting threat. “Now, [it] could’ve been a lot of things, but what it wasn’t was sitting on my computer without anybody knowing I had received it. It’s just better to be safe than sorry.”

The densely written post, combining stock photos of stores with text about looting, called for the “election take over” to happen 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Nov. 3. Besides the malls, it specified several chain stores and a local jeweler in Buckhead. Among the threats in the post were: “We taken [expletive] all day all night!! … We [expletive] up the whole city!!”

The “election take over” post was briefly discussed in an Election Day meeting of Buckhead’s NPU A, where a resident asked Atlanta Police Capt. Anthony Singh of Buckhead’s Zone 2 precinct about its threats. “We think there’s nothing to it,” Singh replied.

Mary Norwood, chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods.

Such threats resonate in Buckhead because many businesses were hit with vandalism, looting and arson in May as rioting spun out of largely peaceful downtown protests about the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Norwood noted that before that actual rioting, there were social media calls for looting in Buckhead on the previous day, which did not happen and was discounted by police as a prank after they responded to various malls. Police were then surprised when the real rioting came.

“We’ll just never know” whether the “election take over” post was fake or was a real plan thwarted by publicity, she said.

Norwood said that two people later told her the post appeared to be a hoax and that she should not have circulated it. But, she said, she felt a responsibility to do so in a limited way to key community leaders. “I would never forgive myself if I got this flyer and there was something to it, I didn’t tell anybody, and someone was hurt or some business was vandalized, and we have May all over again,” she said.

“The cost of boarding up your business versus the cost of repairing the destruction and devastating and vandalizing of it, the cost is different,” she said. “I mean, look at what happened in May.”

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.