LOS ANGELES — Four months ago, as protesters marched through the city demanding justice for George Floyd, Vena Petty was standing at a market in Burbank when she spotted an older white man glaring at her.
"It's all your fault!" he hissed, adding an expletive.
Petty — who is Hawaiian, Black and Chinese — was standing quietly by herself at the time, so she's confident he targeted her as a woman of color.
She tucked the memory away, but it resurfaced after President Donald Trump during a debate told the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group, to "stand back, and stand by," and again two weeks later, when Sen. Lindsey Graham made a comment, which he later said was sarcastic, about "the good old days of segregation."
By then, Petty was convinced.
That afternoon, the 56-year-old, who was laid off from her temporary job at a film studio in March, visited Redstone Firearms in Burbank, determined to start the process of buying her first gun — something small, she said, to keep in her home. She hoped she would never need to use it, but believed that having a gun might give her some comfort in a world that felt increasingly out of control.
"Who knows what will happen?"
While the days leading up to most presidential elections carry a certain frenzied, exhausted energy fueled by attack ads and nonstop robocalls, this election cycle has felt abnormally anxiety-inducing for many Americans.
"We're certainly in the middle of a perfect storm," said Dr. Esther Sternberg, research director at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Humans respond physiologically to stress — we sweat, our hearts race — and those responses, Sternberg said, are essential for our survival.
"It gives you the energy to fight or flee."