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How Our Second Civil War Begins

How Our Second Civil War Begins

We don’t know how much money our foreign enemies are paying our President. All we know is that he’s hiding the ledger. Our legal representative, the Attorney General, has dropped all pretense, declaring his allegiance to those who reward him better than we can. Bands of white nationalist terrorists prowl our border while the agents of justice mostly look the other way.

States are disregarding basic constitutional freedoms to shut down women’s reproductive rights. Leaders of those same states claim that sacred constitutional protections block them from limiting gun rights. Every year we lose more children to gun havoc than the soldiers killed in our endless wars.

Yeats’ words echo, “what rough beast, it’s hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” We feel ourselves at the end of an age. Rules are meaningless. Bonds of decency and fidelity lose their power to contain our passions, to restrain our ambitions. Like a boil waiting for the lance, we know what’s coming but we don’t know how it might unfold. We can’t envision an order to emerge from this unfinished disaster.

So much of what binds us together has been dismantled that one well-placed blow could shatter what remains. That may be our only way to reorganize ourselves into a form that can survive the new century. An apocalypse in one era is merely the birthday of the next.

A climax could take many forms, but one potential flashpoint stands out. Here’s how our Second Civil War might begin.

An officer responding to an alarm at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Waco, Texas might be the first American to glimpse our future. Prepared to confront vandalism or broken windows, she and her partner would instead find heavily armed intruders had seized the building. Unsure of the situation, they pull back.

After backup arrives, she approaches the building. A man with AR-15 slung over his shoulder and the crude tattoos of an inmate emerges to greet her. Two other men she can’t identify take positions in nearby broken windows. Ordered to surrender, he declines. In a brief exchange, she discovers that there are at least a dozen people occupying the facility, part of a group calling themselves The Twelve. He claims they are holding a ‘peaceful prayer vigil.’ While they speak, someone appears to be wiring explosives around the building’s access points. She asks what they want. He explains that they will leave peacefully when Planned Parenthood abandons the facility so that it can be formally recognized as a cemetery.

What happens next is the product decades of compromise, equivocation and retreat in the face of the white nationalist challenge. Those stinging from their deteriorating control over black and brown bodies will not quietly surrender control over the bodies of their women. The more political power they lose, the greater their determination to use violence. Nowhere else in the free world is abortion an issue of such contention, because nowhere in the free world is a property right in other human beings so deeply embedded in the national soul. The tension between the truths we hold self-evident and the realities we’ve created on the ground will probably not be peacefully resolved.

In a Republican city with an overwhelmingly white Republican police force, there’s no question of the police on the scene risking their lives to arrest these men. Officers would try to establish a perimeter and appeal to senior leadership for guidance. In a place like Waco (or dozens of other red towns in red states) local politicians would be very reluctant to risk violence to protect Planned Parenthood. The Republican mayor and police chief in Waco would almost certainly hedge, reaching out to state authorities for support and assistance while hoping to find an alternative to a raid. What happens next?

While political leaders dither, the standoff could quickly escalate to a crisis. We might find that RT, the Russian state television service, was broadcasting footage they mysteriously obtained from the terrorists that documented their break-in and glorified their actions. A Facebook page for The Twelve would live-stream video from inside the clinic, possibly for hours before the company disabled their feed. Images of armed men and women praying in the lobby would give the terrorists an iconic propaganda image that could eventually show up on stylized t-shirts.

The mayor and police commissioner might reach out for support from new Texas Governor Dan Patrick. Under the shock of the early-morning report and with few details available, Texas’ new Governor might initially promise support. But off the phone, with time to consult aides and review the social media frenzy, he might smell his opportunity to seize the platform of his dreams. A mayor and police chief who held back their forces, anticipating support from the Texas Rangers or other state authorities might get a rude surprise. Notified only by a Tweet, in which the Governor praised the terrorists for their piety and promised to work with them to bring a peaceful end to the standoff, they’d discover that no help was coming.

Emboldened by the delay in enforcement, protestors would arrive in numbers large enough to overwhelm the thin police presence, breaching the perimeter to ring the around the outside of the facility. Many of the people arriving would be open-carrying assault weapons. What started as a break-in could develop into a mass jihadi incident.

By the time President Harris could get a formal briefing, the incident might be out of control. Police would have abandoned any effort to hold a perimeter around the building. Outnumbered, outgunned, and thoroughly unenthusiastic about the mission, local law enforcement might be confined to an observation point in a distant corner of the parking lot.

Directors of the FBI and ATF would explain the difficulty of the situation to the President. Their history in Waco is unpleasant and raw. Both agencies have been gutted by harassment, mismanagement and partisan hostility under the Trump Administration. Now, weakened and demoralized, they face the Bundy Standoff of Bundy Standoffs. There are no realistic options to retake the facility against a combination of heavily armed resistance and a dense human shield of civilian protestors. Instead, they recommend a massive effort to protect facilities elsewhere, especially in Republican-governed states, before the protests escalate. They could be too late.

By mid-morning, abortion clinics in even redder states might already be in flames, with the assistance or quiet approval of local law enforcement. Police in major cities like Dallas, Houston and Atlanta could be holding tense perimeters around clinics against angry crowds with occasional rock-throwers.

In this scenario, don’t be surprised if prominent pro-life groups are caught off-guard. A few might initially express opposition to the protests. However, as events gain momentum most would likely abandon their reticence and openly welcome ‘a new day for life.’ Meanwhile, authorities aren’t seeing familiar faces of regular abortion protestors in these crowds. Instead, police identify well-known local white nationalist figures who seem to be coordinating activities. 

If a Democratic President attempted to take decisive action to protect clinics across the South, she’d likely face resistance from batty GOP Governors with fervently anti-abortion political bases. All you’d need is one reckless figure in just the right position to fan this spark into flame.

Dan Patrick, the religious nut who serves today as Texas’s Lt. Governor could be that guy. If, as seems likely, he reached the Governor’s Office, he’d have both the material and rhetorical power to frame this incident as an existential conflict between God-fearing Texans and their oppressive coastal elites.

Lots of Texas Republicans hate Dan Patrick for lots of good reasons. However, if he could engineer an irreconcilable conflict between the Texas Governor and a black, female Democratic President over the subject of baby-killing, Texas Republican politicians and law-enforcement would largely back him. Much of the South and perhaps some Midwestern states would enthusiastically follow. What began with a break-in could quickly escalate into Southern states challenging the authority of the federal government on a broad range of subjects.

How would this Waco standoff end? If successful, it could be brief. Once the terrorists see that they’ve pushed state-level Republicans into a rebellion against the US, they might just burn down the facility, melting into the crowd of protestors to escape. With state and local law enforcement unwilling to cooperate, the FBI might be forced to watch the terrorists from afar, as they did many times with Klansman during the civil rights era. As long as terrorists avoided major Texas cities, they could operate freely.

Unlike the ramshackle militia broken up by the FBI last month, these new organizations could benefit from state-level coordination and protection. They’d likely even attract material support from Russian intelligence, if they didn’t have it in the first place.

It would be open-season on abortion clinics in states that had challenged the President. Local authorities in places like Atlanta, or in Texas’ heavily Democratic major cities might fight to protect them. Caught in the cross-fire between rebel legislatures and the US Government, these cities could develop into little West Berlins, even more isolated and besieged than they are today. Outside major cities, abortion rights would simply disappear in many Republican states.

Where would this all lead? Who knows. There are too many permutations to reason through them all.

The nearest model might be the low-grade civil wars in Ukraine and Moldova, where central governments continue to pretend to govern swathes of their territory that in turn pretend the central government doesn’t exist. Much of the violence there is unofficial and paramilitary, both sides reluctant to engage in costly and indecisive military confrontations. Instead of the campaigns of our First Civil War, our Second Civil War might be more of a political standoff, punctuated by local mob and militia violence, but with few organized engagements.

Perhaps this seems too far-fetched to be realistic. Having a reality TV star and low-rent mob boss win the GOP nomination, then take the White House with Russian help, while Republicans fail to mount any resistance and religious leaders shower him with praise, was also too far-fetched to be realistic.

Democrats still imagine that they’re going to merely outvote and out-organize their enemies. Call it the Biden Fantasy, the notion that niceness and fair-play will eventually win out. The Trump Administration has already begun the dismantling of federal authority imagined in this post, while openly welcoming interference from foreign forces determined to destroy the US. Those who still value the promise of America have yet to mount a capable response to this threat.

Freedom for all is a threat to some. For women to enjoy the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as white men means that white men will lose some of the privileges and preferences they once enjoyed. That flowering of freedom offers plenty of improvement to be worth it for men, but some will not grasp that reality.

Many white men, already shuddering in fear at their initial exposure to competition from brown folks, see utter doom in women’s freedom. A bloody few will be willing to set fire to our common house to preserve a few scraps of advantage they cherish, advantages they are too weak and cowardly to live without. They will have to be destroyed by any means necessary to protect the promise of the republic.

Where has kindness gone
and tenderness
and gentle hands
inside this fire,
among these many blades?

Robin Robertson, from The Long Take


  1. This is not how our Second Civil War will begin. Instead, our Second Civil War will begin due to a food crisis caused by climate change. Due to extreme weather, the cost of food will rise such that whatever is left of the middle class will be unable to afford the basics. Meanwhile, Republicans will finally obtain one of their dreams – the end of food stamps. People will tolerate a lot, but they will not tolerate the inability to eat. Bank on it.

    1. Wars due to global warming and food/water shortages are coming very very soon. Anyone that has been following the collapse/ extinction of so many species of honeybees knows what is coming.

      Couple that with the shrinking of the Ogallala Aquifer and the damage done to it by fracking in South Dakota, and you have the perfect storm. But there will be external war first, not civil war. As the water dries up, and the crops fail in droughts, the first thing that will happen is the demand to build a pipe from Lake Michigan or Erie and start sucking the Great Lakes dry. Also, Canada’s water will start looking good…so invading Canada will be on the to do list first.

      Due to American exceptionalism, all natural resources, wherever they are on the planet, truly belong to the U.S……

      What I really laugh about is the fascist stance on refugees. The current flow of refugees to Europe and the U.S. will pale in comparison to the flows when global warming really starts hitting, in the coming years (not decades, years). Have a look on a topographical map with regard to a place like Bangladesh. Note the population, the population density, the lack of infrastructure, and the average elevation of the delta that supports most of the population.

      When 25 million people say “we are drowning”, it will be real interesting to listen to the rest of the world say “sorry, we have our own problems, just go away and die”. Of course, when the residents of Miami, Houston, and New Orleans start saying the same thing, wonder what the response will be.

      The other fun zone will be India and Pakistan. What could go wrong between two nuclear-armed nations that hate each other fighting over water supplies?

  2. DFC

    This is how a possible stage of this “civil war” begins. It’s not inevitable, and it’s not the beginning of the whole thing.

    This would be the equivalent of the “bushwhacking” that followed the first armed stage of the Civil War. It’s important to note a couple of things here. One, that the armed stage isn’t the whole war, then or now. There are stages before and after. And two, the armed stage comes only when the real war is actually over. The armed stage is the loser’s last gesture of futile vengeance.

    We’re fighting the same old fight here that our predecessors fought. It’s between a culture of fact, and a culture that insists that facts are subjective constructs to use as they like. The mid-19th century version pitted North–a culture of capitalism based on engineering/science, led by an empiricist, supplied by an industrial base that could feed and arm vast numbers, knit together by telegraph and rail and publishing, a culture whose rapid evolution and innovations were only accelerated by war–versus South, a culture committed to stasis, desperate to deny its own obsolescence, frozen to keep a special order that denied fact and lived on lies, with no manufacturing, no engineering/science, no communications networks, no navy, and no way to sustain itself except on bitter pride.

    Change a couple of those details and you get the civil war version we’re in. A science culture versus an anti-empiricist one; am evolving culture versus one that demands to stand athwart history yelling stop. The day the South fired on Fort Sumter only started a new stage of the real clash of civilizations they were in, and that they had already lost. They elected (America didn’t elected him they did) Trump as the same futile gesture of contempt for fact, science, reason, etc. And they’ve lost already. The can’t make fact go away; they can’t diminish the value of it in every process and area of their lives; and they can’t make their “alternative facts” of equal value.

    Trump supporters have been called “strangers in their own land”. Look at their states: economic laggards, educational backwaters, legislating to stop time, discriminating against people, elevate belief to fact; and desperate for legal cut-outs and protections for the thinking that society has left behind. The humiliation is obvious. They vote for vindictive rage now. They listen only to what they want to hear. And they stop nothing, change nothing, lead nothing. If they take up arms now, it won’t be to reverse this or to secure territory or to leave the Union. It’ll just be what losers do when everything else is gone.

    1. Re: the first Civil War. I’ve always wondered that if Lincoln & Republicans in the Reconstruction era that followed could have seen into the future, if they might have punished the Southern traitors in accordance with their deeds … or even just allowed the South to secede without a shot.

  3. Would be interested in knowing your decision to include “President Harris” as your prediction. That’s a super interesting choice.

    As for the realism of this future what-if, I suspect it will go as well as Chris’s predicted Air Force One flight to Russia: it’s a creative way of illustrating current conservative criminality, but it’s unlikely to look it feel like something so exciting and adventurous, which history never is — it’s only written such after the fact, by writers who weren’t there. Alexander the Great’s campaigns are super exciting, until you remember 99% was just trudging around trying not to starve.

    So in kind is science fiction — the excitification of current events.

  4. This is certainly very possible. If not in the immediate future, then somewhere down the line. As a student of history for the last 30 years, I have learned this: No government lasts forever. There was a time when it was inconceivable that the Roman Empire would go extinct, or that Yuan China (the Mongols) would be toppled, or that the British Empire would all but vanish. Not to mention the Ottoman Empire, the various Persian Empires, the Egyptian Empires, and on and on. American Democracy, a quasi-Empire in its own right, will die one day, but God only knows what will replace it. But Chris’s idea that we will devolve into micro-states is more than plausible, if you look longterm. This nation is certainly devolving.

  5. I am sure there are several dystopian novels written that cover this, but precisely what would the former U.S. look like after a civil war, or even a “relatively” bloodless and orderly dissolution of the republic?

    Would it end up with a new economic state in the North-East, based around the economies of New York and Massachusetts, a second country Pacifica built around California, Washington, and Oregon, and a third country with the value system taken from the Handmaid’s Tale?

    Have no idea where Chicago ends up. Vermont might get smart and join Canada, though the new fascist state in the middle of North America would most certainly invade Canada Mexico.

    This is the most relevant question for me, assuming there actually would be a peaceful dissolution (not a prayer of that happening though): Could a new country based in the North East actually survive? Food would be an issue, as well as raw materials. Of course, knowledge-based industries would still hold away. Would this become a “super-Singapore”?

    But there is still a way to stop all this madness, and it sure looks like Chris is coming round to that idea with statements like “Democrats still imagine that they’re going to merely outvote and out-organize their enemies. Call it the Biden Fantasy, the notion that niceness and fair-play will eventually win out”, and the last statement in his post.

  6. Six to go. Presently the number stands at 28.

    Consider this: With authoritarian control of the executive branch, majority conservative control of SCOTUS, filibuster-proof (where it still exists) majority Republican control of the Senate, why wouldn’t a Constitutional re-write be “next” on the list? The American people are incredibly smug in their false security that democracy is alive and well.

  7. At some point it may be necessary for blue states to band together with other blue states to form some kind of alternative governance mechanisms. This would include taking the step of repudiating the Constitutional principle of Federal law superseding state law.

    Stalin (I believe) said it doesn’t matter who votes; what matters is who counts the votes. As a economist, I’d say what matters is who creates the money. I’ve been thinking about an Off Topic post on blue state money creation for a couple of weeks. Hopefully I can get that posted sometime.

  8. “They will have to be destroyed by any means necessary to protect the promise of the republic.”

    Welcome Chris. You are seeing the light.

    One rather large flaw in your logic.
    The fascists are regaining a lot of the political might they may have lost. They don’t need to bomb abortion clinics when SCOTUS reverses Roe v Wade in the next year or so. Further, it is pretty clear that shooting refugees at the border will be on the “to do” list soon, not just for the white terrorists, but ICE.

    The idea of a Democrat President is pretty laughable, given they are arranged in the standard Dem pattern of a circular firing squad.

    Now, if you do want to paint a situation for the 2nd Civil War it is if the Dem’s ever do get their act together in this election cycle and field a appealing candidate that has the solid backing of ALL Dem’s. At which the bloodless coup by the fascists is accelerated and becomes bloody as the tyrant solidifies his grip.

  9. Part of the reasoning behind trump’s excessive budget for Defense is precisely to buy their silence, and reticence to rally to a call for order. I will have to see the walls you describe fall down to accept that the good people of America will not overcome this monster in the White House and those in the Senate.

  10. Seems like a grim situation. So it is inevitable that Republican state and local governments will blow up abortion clinics at the behest of white nationalist idiots? It seems rather farfetched as a white ethnostate. It could happen because white women make an easier target than black and brown people? This seems rather counterintuitive because racism seems to be the hill white men die on, not going after their own women folk who are secondary targets.

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