This is part three in a series on U.S. collapse and the potential for civil war. Read part one for how I think propaganda factors into this instability, and part two for the role that I think neoliberalism has.
In 1895, Cecil Rhodes admitted that the exploitation of the colonized is the only thing stopping the imperialist countries from undergoing revolution:
I was in the East End of London (a working-class quarter) yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for ‘bread! bread!’ and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism…. My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced in the factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.
With the decline of the U.S. empire, this nightmare scenario for the bourgeoisie edges ever closer. This is the future that the imperialists are growing desperate to prevent, and that they were already worrying about over a century ago as evidenced by Rhodes’ statement.
Beneath all of the rhetoric about China and Russia posing an “existential threat” to Washington, the U.S. empire’s military intelligence operatives see such an outcome as inevitable. Our government is preparing for an imperialist war turned inward, tasked with crushing the kind of lower class rebellion Rhodes warned about. To catch on to this, one only needs to read between the lines of the recent language that these operatives have been putting forth, and assess the conditions in which their plans are being laid.
U.S. military prepares for countering irregular warfare—with ulterior motives
Last August, West Point’s Modern War Institute published a “status check” on the U.S. Army’s “preparation for the next war.” In response to the pivot in resource investment that the U.S. military has been making amid the Afghanistan pullout, where Washington is shifting its focus from counterinsurgency operations to military buildup against China, it expresses anxiety over Washington’s ability to navigate the modern warfare domains:
Despite the Army’s strategic, operational, and tactical pivot, the transition from two decades of counterinsurgency operations is daunting. To be sure, there is still work to be done. Not only does the service need to prepare for a form of conflict radically different from recent wars, but change must also be rapid enough to keep pace with the changing character of warfare—and the growing capabilities of our potential adversaries. Great power competitors like China and Russia are undertaking efforts to modernize their militaries for increasingly complex battlefields. They are engaging in irregular tactics using proxy forces, seeking advantage in the information environment and cyber domain, and advancing technologies for contested environments like dense urban terrain.
This sounds innocuous enough. Of course the U.S. military is concerned about keeping up with the combat advancements of its adversaries. But in this and other parts of West Point’s statements, there are subtle affirmations of the ideas the U.S. military has been expressing in recent years about the wars being at risk of coming home.
For instance, after describing the advancements in sensory and robotics technologies that U.S. forces have been attaining, West Point concludes:
These technologies are designed to increase the speed, lethality, and all-domain superiority of Army formations. A critical element of Army efforts is focusing on tasks only the Army can perform in combat. While all services are experiencing similar transitions and developing technologies at a fervent pace, Army leaders know that dominating ground combat and influencing populations are areas specifically relevant to the Army, and vital to succeeding in future conflicts.
This is the kind of language that’s been prevalent within the most provocative recent Washington/NATO military documents. The ones which articulate the growing paranoia of the imperialists. What are they paranoid about? That sometime in the next several decades, capital will weaken to the point where the conditions in the imperial center become far more dire than they are even now, and that this will prompt revolts which force the imperialists to apply these counterinsurgency tactics within their own borders. Thus the ongoing concern over countering irregular warfare.
One of these documents is the 2020 NATO-sponsored report on cognitive warfare, which warns of “an embedded fifth column, where everyone, unbeknownst to him or her, is behaving according to the plans of one of our competitors.” The narrative pushed by this document and other military/intelligence sources is that Russia, China, and Iran are destabilizing the country by exposing its people to propaganda, thus justifying the U.S. war machine’s classification of these countries as existential threats. It’s a transparent attempt to destroy the perceived credibility of anti-imperialist information sources by portraying them as tools for subversive foreign “disinformation.”
But why has this narrative emerged at this moment? And why has West Point been echoing the report’s sentiments about how influencing populations will be particularly vital in future conflicts? Because military experts have expressed in other statements throughout recent years that they see an internal uprising as an inevitable consequence of the rise of U.S. inequality.
Reports from leadup to pandemic era warned of civil war & a need for domestic military intervention
The two most revealing of these statements came out in 2016, the year when the narrative about “Russian interference” was embraced by the media and when Big Tech stepped up its censorship following Trump’s victory. These were preemptive attempts to maintain ideological dominance over the population in anticipation of the civil war scenario the military was now openly considering.
A Pentagon training video warned of an “unavoidable” dystopian future where the military would need to adapt to combat within the impoverished megacities that were expected to define the next generation of war, clearly showing U.S. urban areas as examples of the places where these conflicts could arise. A report from the U.S. Army War College listed several U.S. cities as potential spots for the “contemporary Stalingrads” that the military would need to fight, with mass radicalization from growing inequality being described as the catalyzing factor for this new series of counterinsurgency wars.
The Intercept’s Nick Turse commented on the wildly catastrophic nature of what the Pentagon video was implying:
As the film unfolds, we’re bombarded with an apocalyptic list of ills endemic to this new urban environment: “criminal networks,” “substandard infrastructure,” “religious and ethnic tensions,” “impoverishment, slums,” “open landfills, over-burdened sewers,” and a “growing mass of unemployed.” The list, as long as it is grim, accompanies photos of garbage-choked streets, masked rock throwers, and riot cops battling protesters in the developing world. “Growth will magnify the increasing separation between rich and poor,” the narrator warns as the scene shifts to New York City. Looking down from a high vantage point on Third Avenue, we’re left to ponder if the Army will one day find itself defending the lunchtime crowd dining on $57 “NY Cut Sirloin” steaks at (the plainly visible) Smith and Wollensky.
It’s no wonder why a few months later, the War College would come out with a report worrying about “a surplus of unemployed males with little to do but join gangs or engage in crime as a source of income,” and how “these young men would provide a pool of potential recruits for those opposing the United States.” A growing mindset within military circles was that the country’s own people could turn against the government.
Then in 2018, the U.S. military expanded upon these speculations. A Pentagon training exercise was created which envisioned an uprising by America’s young people, who the report said are motivated by the country’s growing inequality and by having lived their whole lives in an era of perpetual war. States the training document:
Both the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Great Recession greatly influenced the attitudes of this generation in the United states, and resulted in a feeling of unsettlement and insecurity among Gen Z. Although Millennials experienced these events during their coming of age, Gen Z lived through them as part of their childhood, affecting their realism and world view … many found themselves stuck with excessive college debt when they discovered employment options did not meet their expectations. Gen Z are often described as seeking independence and opportunity but are also among the least likely to believe there is such a thing as the “American Dream,” and that the “system is rigged” against them.
The nature of the rebellion the exercise imagines is relatively mild: an operation to redistribute wealth by digitally siphoning funds from corporations. It’s described as “intended to reflect a plausible depiction of major trends and influences in the world regions.” Such a real-life Mr Robot scenario is indeed possible. But it would be far from the most drastic type of revolt that’s going to come from the U.S. empire’s growing internal contradictions. And the fact that the U.S. military has come to explicitly recognize these contradictions, and acknowledge them as potential sources for domestic upheaval, shows how severe they’ve become.
Military intelligence researchers appear to agree with the conclusion of the sociologist Temitope Oriola, who witnessed 2020’s unprecedentedly massive U.S. protests against the police state and declared that the country is “at risk of an armed anti-police insurgency.” It seems no one can objectively look at the current conditions in this country, where an increasingly impoverished and disproportionately nonwhite underclass is being targeted by an ever-deadlier militarized police state, without expecting a guerrilla uprising to emerge in the coming decades.
“Wargaming through the idea of a civil war”
Washington’s pivot away from counterinsurgencies, which is absurdly being presented as an “end to the endless wars” despite the simultaneous military buildup against China, is only temporary. Military experts continue to put such emphasis on countering irregular warfare tactics, and have grown obsessed with winning hearts and minds within U.S. borders, because they’re quietly preparing to fight off an internal revolt. A revolt that according to Oriola will begin among the country’s most oppressed populations—such as the African nation—and could then easily pick up traction.
The militarization of U.S. police throughout the last two decades, and the correlating incorporation of Israeli repressive tactics into U.S. law enforcement training, are the first parts of this counterinsurgency’s military aspect. Biden is doing nothing to stop these institutionalized inflammations of risks for police violence; after the flow of military equipment accelerated during this year’s first quarter, Biden has declined to take action against police militarization and recently signeda bill for more resources to go to the police. This passivity towards the turning wheels of systemic brutality has a purpose: to leave the state better prepared for when the insurgency starts.
More importantly, domestic unrest is becoming seen as the number one threat to the U.S. by intelligence analysts. No longer as the theoretical possibility that those military reports seemed to portray it, but as the foremost concern of those worried for the continued existence of the United States. After the Capitol Hill riot, former FBI assistant for counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi said in response to the question “The FBI will be wargaming through the idea of a civil war, will they?” that:
The FBI is already well versed in domestic terrorism and in fact the FBI director Chris Ray has testified multiple times before Congress that this is the number one threat facing America. He even went far enough to say that there is a sub-group within the domestic terrorism threat that is hated based, ethnic-based hate that is fuelling the violence in America. So we have to have a national discussion about things like whether we want to pass a domestic terrorism law that looks a lot like the international terrorism law.
This evidently wasn’t the opinion of just one man; he was able to cite an FBI director who’s made the case for this point. And it’s noticeable how he didn’t in any way push back against the suggestion that civil war is what the FBI is “wargaming” for. In a post-January 6th world, there’s more credibility for the paranoid ideas articulated in 2017 by former FBI agent Chris Watts, who gave this speech to the Senate:
Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America….Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced—silence the guns and the barrage will end….our country remains stalled in observation, halted by deliberation and with each day more divided by manipulative forces coming from afar.
Cultivating paramilitarism to prepare for when the anti-colonial insurgency begins
What Watts got wrong—perhaps deliberately—is that the country’s growing instability is the result of foreign interference in any significant way. These tensions are appearing because of the U.S. empire’s growing internal contradictions, and because of the ways the U.S. empire’s internally directed psyops are inflaming ethnic conflict and violence. QAnon and the anti-Asian hate crime wave have been exacerbated by the activities of U.S. intelligence agencies. The racial mass shootings and right-wing militia attacks we’ve seen this year are symptoms of the importing of Washington’s foreign destabilization propaganda tactics.
For now, it’s mainly these reactionary militias that pose a risk of civil war. But ultimately, they’ll be fighting on the side of the state against the biggest long-term threat to the United States: a decolonial proletarian movement. Anti-colonialists are, after all, the political camp that most wants the U.S. to cease existing due to its settler-colonial nature. Oriola speculates that this movement will begin resisting with arms by attacking the “sites and symbols of law enforcement,” and that this will transform into a guerrilla effort which can’t be put down merely with the assassination of insurgency leaders; he expects the dire conditions driving the rebellion will make it resilient and able to pick up replacement members, like the insurgencies that Washington has been fighting abroad.
On the one hand, the country’s growing reactionary violence is putting the state in a weaker position for when the anti-colonial insurgency starts; the U.S. is coming under greater risk of Balkanization, and losing credibility as a “democratic” country in the eyes of the world. On the other, it’s giving the Biden administration more excuses to crack down on civil liberties in anticipation of the national and class uprising, and giving Big Tech more excuses to censor social movements using the “extremist” label. Ultimately, the state will use the right-wing paramilitaries to counter the anti-colonialists, like how paramilitaries have been utilized by U.S.-backed regimes such as Colombia.
The first step towards this is to classify the anti-colonialists as belonging under the “extremist” umbrella. Regarding the Not Fucking Around Coalition—an armed African nationalist group that’s been rapidly growing since the George Floyd protests—Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood has equated the neo-Nazis with the militant anti-racists:
I think that this is a grave crisis that’s facing America right now, because any extremist militia group, I don’t care whether they’re white, Black or Hispanic, whatever they are, they are a danger to society and they are a danger to democracy. As goofy and as squirrely as their ideas are, their ideas are no more squirrely (than) the Aryan Nation or the skinheads or the neo-Nazis. They are just as dangerous….[hatred for rule of law is] the commonality between these extremist groups.
Despite this posturing that law enforcement officials like him make of being opposed to white supremacist militias, white nationalists are inextricably tied in with U.S. police departments—as well as with the FBI, which is ominously leading the charge in preparing the U.S. for a civil war. When the insurgency Oriola talks about starts, law enforcement will partner with these militias to try to put it down. And the military will be behind them, importing Washington’s foreign counterinsurgency tactics. On paper, this sounds like a sure way to crush the revolt. But if Washington’s counterinsurgencies have failed abroad, they could fail at home.