American Insurgents

13 January 2021

8.2 MINS

I have been rolling this around in my head, trying to find a way to express this since the events of the 6th of January.

The closest I have come so far is my (admittedly rather vague) post about a nightmare, and my even more cryptic answer to my own post (when you find you are in a nightmare, wake up.)

I don’t usually post about political topics for a lot of reasons: I do not love controversy, I usually disagree with both sides, I never know what is going on, and most often seem to be one of the few people who realizes that I don’t know what’s going on. My background has made me suspicious of powerful people, skeptical of the first version of events (and the second version) and after nearly twenty years of trying to “make a difference”, I lack the boundless enthusiasm for debate that I used to enjoy.

But right now I feel like I cannot be silent. I must say something, express my fears about our current political situation, if only to exorcise them from my conscience and give someone else the opportunity to say “wake up, it’s just a nightmare.”

I will certainly upset many of my friends on both sides, so I begin by assuring you that I have one motive and one motive only for speaking, and that is to sway the balance of my circle of friends towards peace and away from violence.

I am not a Republican nor a Democrat (see my suspicion of powerful people above). I am not a strict Libertarian. I am certainly not an Anarchist. I am, I think, beginning to become a Distributist.
I am a Catholic, and my first allegiance is not to this world or anyone in it. My first allegiance is to Jesus Christ, and for His sake to my family and neighbours, and for their sake to the pursuit of truth, justice and charity in the world.

I am also a former member of an elite military unit, trained in both insurgency and counter-insurgency, with real world experience in counter-insurgency in many countries around the world. I am trained to look beyond appearances and to think beyond the immediate results of a given action.

So let us take a look at the two facts that trouble me, which are really one fact.

  1. The rioting, looting and destruction of businesses and neighbourhoods that occurred in major and largely left-leaning cities throughout the United States through last summer.
  2. The direct attempt by a large group of right-leaning insurgents to interfere directly with the certification of election results on 6 January 2021.

These two facts are two sides of the same fact, namely, political violence has become widespread and mainstream in the United States in the year 2020 and its immediate aftermath. I am here defining political violence as the use of intimidation or force to achieve political power or to alter political events.

Before I continue with my analysis, I feel I must justify both of those assertions above. I am well aware that the majority of Black Lives Matter protests were peaceful. I am sympathetic to that cause and I support those who demonstrate, lobby and debate for equal rights and an end to racism.

However, I have personally reviewed intel documents written by orchestrators of violent demonstrations, and after-action reviews written by them that took the form of a military “Lessons Learned” document. I have more than a dozen close friends who were personally involved in holding the line against violent rioters and who saw first hand use of deadly projectiles and improvised explosive devices. I have seen some of my most gentle and well-meaning left-leaning friends sharing graphics of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) for organizing a riot. These are all acts of political violence.

The universal response to these criticisms is one of two statements. Either, “They are just defending themselves from police brutality.” I will grant that police response was not always measured or just. However I must point out that burning down a restaurant or looting a business are not acts of self-defense, and IEDs are not defensive weapons.

The second response is some variation of “rioting is the voice of the powerless. If you won’t listen to peaceful protest, we have to make ourselves heard somehow.” This is a very dangerous argument, because it does not allow you to condemn the January 6 invasion of the Capitol building. These too claim to be people who have tried to make their voices heard peacefully and have been denied and now must do something to make themselves heard. This is, in fact, the boilerplate justification of a good deal of the terrorism that plagues the world today.

Once one side uses political violence, or fails to condemn and root out the political violence done in its name, it loses the moral capital to condemn the violence of others.

Now, as to the rioters who invaded the Capitol building and those who support that action, they will, accurately, point out that the level of damage was orders of magnitude less than that of the riots over the summer. They fail to see that this entirely misses the point. It was an attempt to forcibly interrupt a peaceful transition of political power, to overturn the results of an election, and to retain the power of a particular politician by force. The technical term for that is a coup attempt. That it was a weak, poorly planned, and largely symbolic coup, does not negate the ultimate reality. That this was an attempted coup on behalf of an individual and not of a political party is obvious from the treatment of the members of that political party who condemned the action.

While the left-wing violence has been more widespread and more damaging, and, I argue, more successful mainly due to incompetent handling by the federal government, the right-wing violence has a few special features that require extra caution.

  1. They are generally more conservative by temperament, and while left-wing violence can come and go and come and go, right-wing violence takes a while to build, and tends to be worse when it does come.
  2. Right-wingers have a gun culture. This is not the place to go into an analysis of gun culture, or the role of the 2nd amendment, but merely to point out the fact that the right-wing has guns and a culture of at least practicing with them.
  3. I found it interesting despite headlines of “armed rioters storming the Capitol”, there were very few guns. This is despite the fact that the right has staged mass armed protests before, with thousands showing up fully armed and then leaving without firing a shot. The fact that there were few guns indicates to me that a violent uprising was never the intent, and that rather, a symbolic gesture akin to a middle finger, or more ominously, a warning, was the intent.
  4. There were indications that at least some of the Capitol police were either negligent at best, or complicit at worst. This brings up the unpleasant reality that many military and police have a conservative mindset, and some may have right-wing tendencies (believe it or not, this is to be expected and even hoped for in those we hire as protectors of our society). While the JCS and other high level military commanders have explicitly disavowed the idea of the military playing any part in political debates, it is necessary to remember that military and police are made up of individuals and smaller groups, capable of action or inaction at the individual or small group level (as if the debate around police brutality hadn’t already made that clear).

So much for the groundwork of my analysis, namely, political violence has become widespread and even mainstream in America. I make the claim that currently there are two insurgencies going on in America, with one on the right and one on the left, using very different strategies, but both aiming at the same goal, which is the seizure of the government as a tool of political power.

When discussing an insurgency, it is important to understand that an insurgency is not fought on the fringes. An insurgency comes from the fringes, but it is fought as close to the centers of power as its proponents can manage. An insurgency is fought by a fringe element in an attempt either to win the support or seize control of a center of power. In America right now the three main centers of power are the media, the government, and the people.

The difference between the media’s treatment of the left-wing violence and the right-wing violence could not possibly be more stark. The media’s job is to talk about things, and when talking about an insurgency, there are three key components that you must discuss:

  1. Grievances: why are they angry?
  2. Goals: what do they hope to accomplish?
  3. Capability and intent: what are they able and willing to do to accomplish their goals?

In discussing the left-wing violence, the general trend of the mainstream media was to talk about grievances: they are angry because of systemic racism and injustice. I heard little discussion of goals, most of it contradictory, and no discussion of capabilities and intent. In talking about right-wing violence, the emphasis is entirely on capabilities and intent (armed uprising), with an assumption of goals (keep Trump in power) and very little talk of grievances.

Since grievances are the basis of any long term counter-insurgency plan, this seems to me grossly negligent. This was the failure of all our counter-insurgency plans in Iraq and Afghanistan, an institutional unwillingness or inability to come to an understanding of the fundamental aims and motivations of the people we were trying to democratize. In America, where it is assumed we should have at least some common heritage and common ground, it seems criminal to make the same mistake.

The difference in response from politicians seems to me equally stark. The failure of political sides to condemn violence done in their name has been a key enabler of this trend towards political violence. That condemnation did come, tepidly, without consequences, and late, is worse than silence. It amounts to a shaken finger and a wink, “you naughty, naughty. Don’t do that again! (wink wink).” It reminds me of plausible deniability, the age old tactic of saying one thing officially, while unofficially encouraging an action that is seen as advantageous to “our side.”

The fact that many Republican politicians did come out and condemn the January 6 violence more directly and forcefully than any Democrat did the burning of Portland seems to me less an occasion for moral high ground, and more an awareness of which side the bread is buttered on, coupled with a burning desire to rid themselves of the political liability which is our current president.

Finally, the people have largely been played like a piano. Many no longer know or care what the truth is, many have lost the will to think for themselves. We “think” in slogans. We have no leisure because we have sold ourselves to political and technocratic masters. We are not grounded because we do not pray.

We are captivated by the WWE spectacle of American politics because we do not do politics ourselves, meaning we do not engage with our neighbour directly to learn who he is and what he thinks, and to build a common solution to our common problems. We listen to the people and algorithms who tell us what to read and what to want and what to feel and what to get offended by, and then wonder why we have no faith in our own choices.

I could go on, but to what purpose?

My points: There is widespread political violence in America. It was started on the left, and the right is playing catch up, and may well take it to the next level if no real leaders stand up to rein them in. It is enabled by the silence of those who stand to benefit by it, the passivity of those who are entertained by it, and the encouragement of those who profit from selling that entertainment.

The solution: Pray, fast, give alms. There is no salvation in men or the things of men, so invoke the help of God.

Then unplug from your devices and listen to your neighbour. If there is to be a civil war in America, make your community an island of peace. Start now, building the real relationships with your neighbours that will make them unwilling to shoot you or turn you over to a tribunal, and vice versa. Maybe even be willing to stand up for them a little, especially if they are different from you.

It’s time to wake up. Before it’s too late.


Originally published at Ignitum Today.
Photo: Simon Fitall, Unsplash / PD-US

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