How the U.S. Military Would Crush a Tea Party style Well Armed Citizen’s Rebellion
A right-wing militia inspired by the Tea Party movement has taken over the city of Darlington, South Carolina, arrested the local government, and declared that the federal government should be overthrown. As the militia establishes checkpoints across I-95, other extremist groups across the nation rush to declare their support. South Carolina’s governor – a Tea Party supporter – declines to send in law enforcement to quash the militia, but quietly asks for federal intervention. The President invokes the Insurrection Act to authorize the use of federal troops, as the Pentagon prepares for war at home….
This is a drill, repeat, this is a drill. Actually, it’s a thought exercise by two authors exploring just how the U.S. military would respond to domestic insurrection. It sounds almost paranoid, except that nine days after Obama’s reelection, petitions for secession have sprouted in all 50 states, gun sales have soared for fear of what a second term means for gun owners, and white nationalist groups are elated over Obama’s victory. Add in a stagnant economy, a polarized electorate, and perhaps some disgruntled Afghanistan and Iraq veterans, and domestic strife seems improbable but not impossible.
The scenario appeared last July – before Obama’s reelection – in the respected Small Wars Journal. The article, titled “Full Spectrum Operations in the Homeland: A ‘Vision’ of the Future”, was written by Kevin Benson, a retired Army colonel who teaches at University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Jennifer Weber, a history professor at University of Kansas and a Civil War historian.
Benson and Weber (the team sounds like a cigarette brand) explored how the military might domestically apply its concept of full spectrum operations, which cover everything from all-out war to counterinsurgency and nation-building. In fact, the Army’s operating concept for 2016 to 2028 considers highly likely a future where the U.S. is threatened by “radical U.S. citizens operating domestically and abroad”. The Pentagon was probably thinking of Al Qaeda sympathizers in the U.S., but radicals come in all flavors.
Benson and Weber boldly argue that “if we face a period of persistent global conflict as outlined in successive National Security Strategy documents, then Army officers are professionally obligated to consider the conduct of operations on U.S. soil.” They also argue that preparations for such a scenario must begin now, including proper equipment for the U.S. military as well as liaison between federal and state authorities. Actually, the issue is really the conduct of operations against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, but Benson and Weber (who declined to speak with the War Games blog) depict a convoluted situation where the military intervenes in South Carolina using techniques honed by hunting Taliban, while still trying to remain within the law.
Make no mistake, this isn’t the Pentagon providing military support to hurricane victims, or even sending troops to support local authorities as during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. This is a war. There will be casualties. Refugees from the fighting must be housed and fed. But it’s a strange kind of war. Thus U.S. forces begin, as any combat forces would, by attempting to collect intelligence on enemy forces – but then have to erase the intel within 90 days after operations are completed, in order not to run afoul of federal privacy laws. They will be eavesdropping on “enemy” communications, but only with a court order. They must depend on local law enforcement for information on the rebels, but the local cops may be rebel sympathizers. There will be “information/influence operations designed to present a picture of the federal response and the inevitable defeat of the insurrection.”
Curiously, the authors don’t really delve the fundamental issue of American soldiers firing on American civilians, except to note that troops would have to comply with standing rules on force, which require graduated levels of violence. Civil support in South Carolina makes counterinsurgency in Kabul look like a picnic.
Predictably, the Small Wars Journal article drew fire from outraged conservative newspapers and protestors. The critics missed the point. This wasn’t really aimed at the far right, except that insofar as there are heavily armed groups in America that dispute the authority of the federal government, they do tend be right-wing. Yet this scenario could just as easily be applied to radical left violence like the 1999 Battle of Seattle riots.
Benson and Weber present a scenario that is somewhat artificial. For example, American law enforcement has become militarized after 9/11. Who needs to call in Army troops when your local police force has armored vehicles, grenade launchers and automatic weapons? One has to wonder if a militia would be so formidable that the state National Guard couldn’t handle it. But then the premise of Benson and Weber’s scenario is that local authorities might not be able to trust local forces to fight rebels, or that local voters might punish politicians who try to do so.
The old gun lobby line that a pack of civilians with hunting rifles will stop a tyrannical federal government is silly. This isn’t 1776, the U.S. military is a tad better equipped than King George’s redcoats, and if the U.S. Army decides to crush an insurrection, it will do so. But it is also true that the nature of warfare is changing, as the spread of high-tech weapons has the Pentagon worried that even weak states can field missiles that make sending in the Marines a bloody operation. If Hamas and Hezbollah can obtain anti-tank missiles, why not a Michigan militia or a Los Angeles street gang? If drug cartels deploy heavy weapons on the Mexico-U.S. border, then perhaps only the U.S. military has the firepower to stop them.
However, the real question is this: under what circumstances should federal troops conduct military operations against American citizens on American soil? Is this scenario likely enough that the U.S. military prepare for such operations, or should we worry that preparation will inevitably lead to action? Note the part about American soil, because American supporters of Al Qaeda are already being killed on foreign soil. Laws like the Insurrection Act and Posse Comitatus are designed to tightly restrict using the military against the American people. But if there were a rebellion, I wonder if the President would stand on legalities. Lincoln is remembered for winning the Civil War, not suspending habeus corpus.
Related on Forbes: