Members of far-right militias and white pride organizations rally near Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia, on Aug. 15.Logan Cyrus/Getty Images
David Kilcullen is one of the worlds leading authorities on insurgencies. For decades he has studied them. As an infantry soldier in the Australian army and an adviser to the U.S. Army, hes fought against them. His latest scholarly work has focused on their role in urban conflicts.
So when Kilcullen says that America is in a state of incipient insurgency, its worth sitting up, taking notice, and trembling just a little.
The official definition of an insurgency is the organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control of an area. An incipient insurgency might be happening when inchoate actions by a range of groupsfollowed by organizing, training, acquisition of resources (including arms), and the buildup of public supportlead to increasingly frequent incidents of violence, reflecting improved organization and forethought.
Kilcullen argues that this is what weve been seeing the past few months in the waves of provocations and street violence that have blown through American cities since the May 25 police killing of George Floyd. By and large, the protesters havent been at fault. Its been the extremistsleft and rightwho have tagged alongside the protests and counterprotests, exploiting the disorder.
In some cases, the violence has been committed by individual idiotsas Kilcullen calls themsuch as, most notably, Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old self-appointed vigilante who, after reading radical right-wing ravings online, drove from his home in Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, and wound up shooting three people, killing two of them, in the wake of demonstrations over the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
The incidence of violence is rising. According to a new report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (which usually monitors violence in war-torn countries), 20 violent groupsleft and righthave taken part in more than 100 protests related to the George Floyd killing. In June, there were 17 counterdemonstrations led by right-wing militant groups in June, one of which sparked violence. In July, there were 160 counterdemonstrations, with violence in 18.
Armed militias are nothing new in the United States. A decade ago, Kilcullen counted about 380 right-wing groups and 50 left-wing ones, many of them armed. In the early 1990s, the faceoff between the FBI and the Branch Davidians, outside Waco, Texas, left 80 people deadand inspired Timothy McVeigh and his gang of extremists to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. In the late 1960s and early 70s, left-wing groups such as the Weather Underground set off bombs all over the country; police waged deadly shootouts with the Black Panthers in Oakland, California, and Chicago; and marchers for and against the Vietnam Warmainly students and hard-hat workersclashed in violent street battles.
But except for the last set of clashes (which didnt involve organized groups, much less insurgencies), those earlier incidents rarely corresponded with the divides between the nations political parties. This is one way in which the current conflicts are differentand, potentially, more dangerous.
Another difference and danger is the prevalence of cable TV networks and social media, which amplify and spread the shock waves. Incidents that in the past might have stayed local now quickly go viral, nationwide or worldwide, inspiring others to join in.
After Rittenhouse shot three people in Kenosha, right-wing militants touted him as a hero. FoxNews host Tucker Carlson hailed him for deciding that he had to maintain order when no one else would. Frequent Fox guest Ann Coulter said she wants Rittenhouse as my president.
Kilcullen also has observed, in the militias social media, a steady rise of dehumanizing rhetoricthe left calling the right parasites, the right calling the left (especially the left wing of Black Lives Matter) rats. The trend parallels, and intensifies, the mutual hostility between Democrats and Republicans in Congress and politics broadly.
Meanwhile, a powder keg is building. FBI background checks for gun sales hit 3.9 million in Junean all-time high. Many of them were for first-time gun buyersby definition untrained, possibly rash in their actions. An estimated 20 million Americans carry a gun when they leave their homes. It takes just a few trigger-pullers to set off a conflagration; even in intense insurrections, such as the postwar rebellion in Iraq, only 2 percent of insurgents actually fired their weapons.
Kilcullensees a pattern similar to the patterns that precipitated insurgencies in Colombia, Libya, and Iraq. The key factor is the rise of fear. He cites Stathis Kalyvas book The Logic of Violence in Civil War as observing that fear, not hate, drives the worst atrocities. Every civil war and insurgency of the last 50 years has been driven by fear, Kilcullen told me. Todays politics and social tensions are dominated by three fears: fear of other social groups, fear that those other groups are encroaching on ones territory, and fear that the state no longer has the ability to protect the people.
Things do not have to get worse. Incipient insurgency doesnt mean inevitable insurgency. We are still in the very early phase of this rampagea pre-McVeigh moment, as Kilcullen puts it. And the extent of disorder has been exaggerated, usually for political motives. When violence has occurred during protests, it has been confined to just a few blocks; it hasnt spread throughout a city. Contrary to Trump and other Republican politicians, New York is not a hellscape, Portland is not ablaze all the time, and Chicago is not more dangerous than Afghanistan.
In other words, there is still time for political leaderslocally and nationallyto calm the storm, douse the flames, and stifle the violent provocateurs across the spectrum, while also addressing the underlying social, political, and racial issues that sparked the (legitimate) protests.
Unfortunately, President Donald Trump has no interest in calm. Instead, he is deliberately fanning the flames as part of a cynical election strategy. He has declined to criticize Rittenhouse, viewing his actions as self-defense. In general, he rails only against left-wing militants such as antifa activistsnever against the right-wing ones, such as the Boogaloo Bois, Patriot Prayer, or Proud Boys. More than that, he has lumped antifa alongside the truly peaceful protesters of Black Lives Matterand alongside the Democratic Party. His words encourage some police, in some cities, to take the same view. (In Kenosha, police were caught on camera tossing water bottles to armed right-wing militants, thanking them for coming out to help.)
Trump is also threatening to cut off federal aid to cities with Democratic mayors and rising crime rates, calling them anarchist jurisdictions. He has painted his opponent, Joe Biden, as a weak politician in thrall to leftist radicalsignoring Bidens long record as a left-centrist and his repeated denunciations of violence and looting, regardless of the cause.
Trumps aim is to incite fearfear of violence, disorder, changeand to paint himself as the bastion of law and order. Its an odd tactic for an incumbent president, and its unclear whether the ploy is working. But, as Kilcullen and Kalyvas point out, hes right about the fears potency. And the first violent incidents can spark a self-reinforcing cycle of violence, retaliation, and retaliation for that. It doesnt matter what the original grievance is, Kilcullen says. It becomes self-sustaining.
The report by the Armed Conflict Location a& Event Data Project concludes:
In this hyper-polarized environment, state forces are taking a more heavy-handed approach to dissent, non-state actors are becoming more active and assertive, and counter-demonstrators are looking to resolve their political disputes in the street. Without significant mitigation efforts, these risks will continue to intensify in the lead-up to the vote, threatening to boil over in November if election results are delayed, inconclusive, or rejected as fraudulent.
In short, the authors write, The United States is in crisis. The upcoming electionhow it plays out, as well as how it ends upcould determine how deeply into crisis the country continues to plunge.
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary, and criticism you wont find anywhere else.
- Cornell Republicans Endorse Trump, Breaking With 2016 Position - Cornell University The Cornell Daily Sun - October 17th, 2020
- Amy Coney Barrett Hearing & Cory Booker: Democrat Misleads on Abortion and Roe v. Wade - National Review - October 17th, 2020
- Fact vs. opinion in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse: Part 2 - The Courier-Express - October 2nd, 2020
- Conservative Pundit Slams Donald Trump, Corrupt System Over Tax Returns - International Business Times - October 2nd, 2020
- Who Won The Debate? Liberal, Conservative Pundits Give Their Breakdown Of Trump vs. Biden - International Business Times - October 2nd, 2020
- Trump Planning Massive ICE Raids Before Election To Rile His Base - The Ring of Fire Network - The Ring of Fire Network - October 2nd, 2020
- Cuomo Threat Against Trump Applies to All Who Support President's Agenda - AmmoLand Shooting Sports News - September 14th, 2020
- With a hand from Trump, the right makes Rittenhouse a cause clbre - POLITICO - September 8th, 2020
- Trump's Contempt for the Sick and Disabled Is Written All Over His Covid-19 Response - City Watch - September 8th, 2020
- The Readers' Forum: Tuesday letters | Letters To The Editor | journalnow.com - Winston-Salem Journal - September 8th, 2020
- One of Trump's biggest detractors is as conservative as they come - Public Opinion - September 8th, 2020
- "A Movement of Women" takes a critical look at conservative women in the century since the 19th amendment was ratified - Art Critique - August 20th, 2020
- Why do Liberals Shut down Free Speech and Conservatives Don't? - The Times of Israel - August 20th, 2020
- Biden is like a house you buy 'as is.' I did, and it's the best investment I ever made. - USA TODAY - August 20th, 2020
- A New Gallery Show Scrutinizes the Legacies of Anti-Feminist Women, From Ayn Rand to Kellyanne Conway - artnet News - August 14th, 2020
- Kamala Harris is Asian and Black. That shouldn't be confusing in 2020 but it is to some. - NBC News - August 14th, 2020
- Editorial: CMU should be able to handle a Richard Grenell - TribLIVE - June 25th, 2020
- 'Mrs. America' Showrunner Dahvi Waller On Viewing American History as a Canadian, Showing the Birth of Intersectional Feminism - Awards Daily - June 25th, 2020
- Ann Coulter: Yale University has to go! | Opinion | havasunews.com - Today's News-Herald - June 23rd, 2020
- 'This is insanity!': Conservatives slam removal of Theodore Roosevelt's statue from Museum of Natural History - MEAWW - June 23rd, 2020
- Five Political Films at the 2020 AFI Docs Festival - Splice Today - June 23rd, 2020
- What is antifa and what does the movement want? - Savannah Morning News - June 6th, 2020
- #WheresTrump: Trump, the loudest man in America cant find his voice - Vox.com - June 3rd, 2020
- Ann Coulter Perfectly Mocks Trump's Absence of Leadership in This Time of Crisis With Savage Tweet for the Ages - Second Nexus - June 3rd, 2020
- "Law and Order" President in Hiding as D.C. Burns - TheStreet - June 3rd, 2020
- Conflicting Narratives & the Distortion of Donald Trump - Consortium News - June 3rd, 2020
- What is antifa and what does the movement want? - Dallas County News - June 3rd, 2020
- Ann Coulter Turns on Disloyal Actual Retard Trump in ... - May 30th, 2020
- Ann Coulter Mocks Trump After Criticism Of Lincoln Project ... - May 30th, 2020
- AROUND TOWN: On being tested for COVID-19 at Kennesaw State University - MDJOnline.com - May 30th, 2020
- Honestly without Anonymity - Outside The Beltway - Mobile Edition - May 24th, 2020
- Ann Coulter Jokes That People Who Died From COVID Will Vote Blue - HillReporter.com - May 22nd, 2020
- CIVIQ: Creative Resiliency During COVID-19 - The Chattanoogan - May 18th, 2020
- How chatter and conservative anger upended a White House staffing search - POLITICO - May 18th, 2020
- Kellyanne and George Conway's Weird, Fascinating, and Maybe Perfectly Healthy Marriage: Charted - Washingtonian - May 15th, 2020
- Ann Coulter: Lab theory of Wuhan virus cooked up in a neocon lab - Today's News-Herald - May 15th, 2020
- Kayleigh McEnany the 'acceptable' face of Trumpism who infuriates liberals - The Guardian - May 15th, 2020
- ANN COULTER: Lab theory of Wuhan virus cooked up in a NEOCON lab - MDJOnline.com - May 9th, 2020
- GoFundMe Starts After Stores Security Guard Is Shot And Killed Over A Face Mask - News One - May 9th, 2020
- Humor: Davis College Republicans upset they can't host controversial speaker this year - The Aggie - May 9th, 2020
- Katie Couric on How She Spared Ann Curry From an Interview with 'Provocateur' Ann Coulter - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - May 2nd, 2020
- The battle in the White House on immigration | Opinion - Hindustan Times - April 24th, 2020
- Jeff Sessions' Immigration Moratorium Should Have Trump's Backing - The Schpiel - April 21st, 2020
- ANN COULTER: Liberalism, like the Wuhan virus, will never die - MDJOnline.com - April 18th, 2020
- Letters to the Editor: April 16, 2020 - TCPalm - April 16th, 2020
- ANN COULTER: Why do we have to deal with this virus at all? - MDJOnline.com - April 14th, 2020
- Review: 'Final Draft: The Collected Work of David Carr,' edited by Jill Rooney Carr - Minneapolis Star Tribune - April 14th, 2020
- Jared Kushner and Ivanka mocked as 'Javanka' for oversized roles in Trump regime's response to coronavirus - MEAWW - April 14th, 2020
- Wendy Bell, America's Worst White Woman, Is Back (and Wants to Kill Your Grandparents) - The Root - April 14th, 2020
- ANN COULTER: The bill for globalism has arrived - MDJOnline.com - April 3rd, 2020
- The Quarantinis Are Flowing and the Store Is Out of Milk Bones - The New York Times - April 1st, 2020
- Ann Coulter: How do we flatten the curve on panic? - Today's News-Herald - April 1st, 2020
- Trump Is Willing to Risk Hundreds of Thousands of Lives - Washington Monthly - March 27th, 2020
- Bill Gates on CNN: returning to normal life in April is not realistic - Boing Boing - March 27th, 2020
- Ann Coulter: What globalism got us: Cheap TVs, expensive flu - Today's News-Herald - March 23rd, 2020
- Rick Wilson is further damaging what's left of CNN's and MSNBC's credibility - Washington Examiner - March 23rd, 2020
- OAN correspondent goes full Q in the briefing room tells Trump the media has teamed up with foreign state propaganda - AlterNet - March 23rd, 2020
- We Must Isolate The Vulnerable, Gain Herd Immunity, And Put America Back To Work - Townhall - March 23rd, 2020
- Will the handshake outlast coronavirus? - Spectator.co.uk - March 18th, 2020
- Yes, Coronavirus Is Worse Than the Flu - National Review - March 12th, 2020
- Tomi Lahren 'Far More Concerned With Stepping On A Used Heroin Needle' In CA Than Getting Coronavirus - NewsHounds - March 12th, 2020
- Ann Coulter: Biden's selection will be good news for Trump - Salisbury Post - Salisbury Post - March 12th, 2020
- Ann Coulter may have just given the American people the best reason to vote for Elizabeth Warren yet - MarketWatch - February 28th, 2020
- 10 Films That Predicted The Trump Presidency - WhatCulture - February 28th, 2020
- ANN COULTER: Harpooning the toxic whale | Opinion - MDJOnline.com - February 28th, 2020
- Ann Coulter Tells True Story of Being Banned from Fox News - February 22nd, 2020
- ANN COULTER:The Boy Scouts have long been on the left's hate list - MDJOnline.com - February 22nd, 2020
- Letter: Anyone as tired of this as me? | Letters to the Editor - Arizona Daily Star - February 22nd, 2020
- Ann Coulter: Honey, We Molested the Kids! - Breitbart - February 22nd, 2020
- The Five Best Things to Do in South Florida This Weekend - New Times Broward-Palm Beach - February 22nd, 2020
- Mick Mulvaney Says America Is Desperate For More Immigrants - The Ring of Fire Network - The Ring of Fire Network - February 22nd, 2020
- Opinion: How our politicians talk to each other matters - UI The Daily Iowan - February 17th, 2020
- Hope Hicks Is Back as a 'Senior Counselor' to President Trump - The National Interest Online - February 15th, 2020
- One of Joe Rogan's Latest Guests Really Rubbed Some Fans the Wrong Way - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - February 15th, 2020
- Ann Coulter Torches Epsteins Lawyer Ken Starr During Trump Trial Presentation: His Strategy is to Torture the Senate - Mediaite - January 29th, 2020
- Trump Targets a New Group of Immigrants - The Atlantic - January 29th, 2020
- Trump the transgressor: the psychological appeal of leaders who break the rules - The Conversation UK - January 29th, 2020
- Keeping America More or Less The Same - The Arch Conservative - January 29th, 2020
- Gilpin To Play Ann Coulter In "Impeachment" - Dark Horizons - January 25th, 2020
- 'Punk'd' to be revived with Chance the Rapper as new host - Home - WSFX - January 25th, 2020