What a 21st century civil war would look like

Patriot Prayer rally. Source: US Defense Watch.

I think there is a real possibility of civil war in the United States—not all-out war as in 1861-1865, but an intermittent, continuing conflict like The Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1968-1998.

Whatever the outcome of the Presidential election, the losing side will not accept it as legitimate.  Democrats will point to illegal purging of voting rolls and other tampering with the election process.  Republicans will point to slanting and censorship of the news by big media and high-tech companies to favor Biden.

Many Democrats think President Trump is a puppet installed by Vladimir Putin to undermine the U.S.  Many Republicans believe the Q-anon story of a secret struggle against a conspiracy of pedophiles.

I’m not going to argue the relative merits of these beliefs.  The point is that they are widely held.  Democratic leaders didn’t accept the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 victory.  They tried to block him from taking office by manipulating the Electoral College and then tried to impeach him on far-fetched grounds.

Along with this there are armed factions already in the streets—the revolutionary faction in the George Floyd protests and the armed right-wing militias.

Black Lives Matter originated as a non-violent protest movement.  But the conflict in Northern Ireland also originated with non-violent protests, conducted on behalf of the Catholic minority there.  The conflict didn’t stay non-violent because the Provisional IRA and the Protestant militias joined in.

One of the lessons of the Northern Ireland conflict is that when civil war breaks out, it is difficult or impossible for the government to put down both sides.  Inevitably, it lines up with one faction or another.

So could it be in the United States.  A Biden administration would tilt toward the Black Lives Matter faction.  A Trump administration would tip toward the right-wing militias.  Democratic and Republican mayors would have their own agendas, as would Homeland Security and state and local police. 

Things could get complicated, very quickly.   We see these kinds of alignments forming right now..

I of course hope that this doesn’t play out as I fear, or that, if it does, violent conflict soon dies down to the point where it can be controlled. 

But with a looming economic crisis, an ongoing pandemic and continuing climate-related crises, I fear the USA is headed for a tipping point, and I do not know what the results would be.

On Oct. 26, 1860, few Americans, North or South, expected or wanted a civil war.  A year later, they were fighting one.  I doubt that, in 1968, the people of North Ireland, Protestant and Catholic, wanted or expected decades of conflict.  But they were forced to choose sides, whether they wanted to or not.


A New Civil War: News & Opinion Aggregator.

Could America Split Up? by Damon Linker for The Week.

Is a New Civil War Possible? by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Over half of voters expect violence, disagree on election legitimacy by Ledyard King for USA Today.

The Northern Ireland Conflict, 1968-1998 by John Dorney for The Irish Story.

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8 Responses to “What a 21st century civil war would look like”

  1. Plant Electrician Says:

    I have seen what it looks like on the Friday after Thanksgiving. — It’s not pretty.


  2. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    I would not count on the militias to be interested in violent activity. It would be like characterizing all the counterculture protesters of the 60s as being as violent as the Weather Underground of the SDS. I think you’ll find most militias are really law and order types who value peace and stability. There are a tiny number of outliers that go off the deep end.

    What happens is that the opponents of an ideology take the most extreme and negative examples of that ideology and try to make that the face of those they oppose even though the large majority are nothing of the sort. This is especially true in the age of sound bites and filter bubbles.

    Some interesting research on the American Militia movement:



    • philebersole Says:

      The problem with all the protest movements, both the self-described right and the self-described left, is that the determining factor is not what the majority wants and does, it is what the most violent faction within the movement does.

      Most police officers deal with most people in a lawful and professional manner. But it is the ones who kill or harass people for no justifiable reason who are the determining factor.

      Most George Floyd protestors are good people who want to correct a manifest injustice. But it is the ones who burn down small businesses and shoot fireworks at police who are the determining factor.

      Etc., etc., etc.

      Thanks for the link.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Word from the Dark Side – lockdown blues, links between China and Imperial College London, lopping off heads and lawless yakuza brawls | SovietMen Says:

    […] on: what a 21st century civil war would look like. I find this version more plausible than fat Boomercons shooting at unmarked helicopters with their […]


  4. Word from the Dark Side – special 2020 review edition | SovietMen Says:

    […] What a 21stC civil war would look like. […]


  5. dickycone Says:

    “A Trump administration would tip toward the right-wing militias.”

    Probably a moot point by now, as much as Vox Day and the true believers over on RVF assure us that something big is going to happen any day now. Still, I wonder what you based this on. If only Trump had given any real support to anyone on the real right. We just got angry tweets most of the time, while getting kicked off every online platform and arrested if we were brave/foolish enough to come out IRL. At best, he monitored the situation.


    • philebersole Says:

      Thanks for your perspective.

      I think it is hard to be neutral in a Northern Ireland-type civil conflict. I wouldn’t foresee a Trump administration giving real support to right-wing militias and I don’t foresee a BIden administration giving real support to Black Lives Matter insurgents.

      Rather my assumption was that a Trump administration would be more lenient to right-wing insurgents than a Biden administration would be.

      Richard Spencer and other white nationalists assumed that Trump was on their side. He liked to hint that he was, without committing himself to anything. That’s what I mean by “tilting.”

      I think that Democratic and Republican leaderships both stand for defense of the status quo and that they are opposed from two directions—by right-wing nationalists and by left-wing populists.

      In time of crisis, the two insurgent factions will grow stronger and the establishment will grow weaker. I don’t know what will come of this. My hopes, such as they are, are with left-wing populists.


  6. Marcus Ampe Says:

    Reblogged this on Marcus Ampe's Space and commented:
    This article from 2020 by retired newspaper reporter Philip Ebersole, gives a clear indication of the squeeze the Americans have put on themselves.

    The only major event he can think of in 1971 is the Nixon administration’s decision to go off the gold standard. From then, the U.S. dollar was redeemable not for gold or some other precious metal, but for U.S. Treasury bonds – in other words, IOUs.

    Economist Michael Hudson has written books about how this decision allowed financiers and bankers to flourish and the U.S. military to finance its wars while the U.S. manufacturing economy faded away and living standards declined.

    The decline of living standars has evrywhere been the firtile ground for discontent and the emergence of extreme groups eager to rebel against the establishment.

    The United States exercises financial and military power over the whole world, and as such may escape the consequences of government budget deficits and balance of trade deficits.

    But over the years, the reduced purchasing power of the American citizen has weighed heavily and they have started to look for scapegoats, with the immigrant as the first and main culprit. Certain politicians were happy to take advantage of this and the hatred of ‘foreigners’ and refugees could only grow.

    Days after the November 2020 election, with Biden clearly having won millions more votes than Trump but still not declared the winner, people in Europe could clearly see how wrong it had gone with Great America, and how it had become more of a failed state, like Paul Krugman wrote,

    “If we were looking at a foreign country with America’s level of political dysfunction, we would probably consider it on the edge of becoming a failed state — that is, a state whose government is no longer able to exert effective control.”

    The losing side not willing to accept it as legitimate, showed how weak that side was, but also how weak and devided the nation had become.

    There were already signs lots of things could not go on like they did already for years, and as such Black Lives Matter originated as a non-violent protest movement to become a strong voice heard upto the Old World, where they are aware how easilly non-violent protests could ignite a storm of other protests, but also of unseen interior battles (cfr. N. Ireland)

    In the States we can see the the MAGA side, which loves the Confedarate states and still lives in that world of segregation. We witnessed already the Confederate flags or Trump flags as they did the last three years in parades of pickup trucks and boats.
    The mob which assaulted the Capitol in January 6, 2021 gave us already a taste of what America can expect. In a way that revolt or mutiny by Trump and his followers was already the start of a ‘civil war’.

    Though nobody seems to be ready for the level of destruction that can be wrought by a civil war, the Americans should be very careful how to handle the different parties that came into life.

    Trump lovers will not be afraid to join the right-wing militias and to pick up the weapons to give their cause more power. The weapon association they have already on their side, and most of them are already gun-lovers with a large armoury at home.

    For them, it will only be a small step to armed resistance, against those who are against guns and against the restrictive laws of the Republicans.

    For a short time now, the door has been ajar for those violent gangs who would not like to see Donald Trump not become their leader of their nation again.


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