In America, a civil war 2.0 could be quietly unfolding
Trump supporters participate in a rally in Washington, January 6, 2021. /AP

Trump supporters participate in a rally in Washington, January 6, 2021. /AP

Between the Biden administration and Donald Trump, between America's political left and right, tensions have never been higher.

The recent raid on Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence has infuriated Republican lawmakers in the U.S., who have called it an "escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies" and vowed to launch investigations over the incident. Meanwhile, it has prompted more extreme reactions from Trump supporters and far-right figures who have been spreading violent rhetoric online since, even calling for a civil war with the federal government.  

After news of the raid emerged, Ricky Shiffer, 42, put that call to action by attacking the FBI's field office in Cincinnati, Ohio. Armed with a nail gun and an assault rifle, Shiffer tried to break through a bulletproof barrier at the entrance before dying in a subsequent shootout with the police.

Shiffer was hardly alone in unleashing or trying to unleash violence against the U.S. government. Adam Bies, 46, from Mercer, Pennsylvania, was arrested on August 12 after he made a series of death threats against the FBI.

In a hate-filled rant posted on Gab, a right-wing social media platform, Bies wrote "we the people cannot WAIT to water the trees of liberty with your blood" while referring to "every single piece of shit who works for the FBI in any capacity, from the director down to the janitor who cleans their fucking toilets," according to a criminal complaint in Pittsburgh federal court.

The general rage, distrust and belligerence toward federal authorities is perhaps more eloquently put by Kari Lake, a Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for Arizona governor.

"This illegitimate, corrupt Regime hates America and has weaponized the entirety of the Federal Government to take down President Donald Trump," Lake wrote in a statement published after the raid. "Our Government is rotten to the core. These tyrants will stop at nothing to silence the Patriots who are working hard to save America. This is an incredibly horrendous abuse of power. If we accept it, America is dead."

Since Trump became the 45th president of the United States in 2016, active talks about the possibility of a second civil war have entered both the mainstream and among America's elites as the political left and right found themselves drifting to polar opposites on a wide spectrum of social issues.

Many conservatives have come to view progressive movements such as LGBT rights and Black Lives Matter as existential threats to the traditional Christian values on which America was built. Meanwhile, Democrats and progressives see Trump and his MAGA movement as reactionary and think it represents a far-right ideology that is racist and autocratic.  

Combined with the increasing rate of gun sales and firearm deaths, political polarization is morphing into political violence.

A real possibility

A survey released by the California Firearm Violence Research Center showed that half of Americans believe there will be a civil war in the United States in the next few years. If found in a situation where they think violence is justified to advance an important political objective, about one in five respondents think they will likely be armed with a gun. About 7 percent of participants – which would correspond to about 18 million U.S. adults – said they would be willing to kill a person in such a situation.

"Coupled with prior research, these findings suggest a continuing alienation from and mistrust of American democratic society and its institutions. Substantial minorities of the population endorse violence, including lethal violence, to obtain political objectives," the report concluded.

Barbara F. Walter, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego who specializes in political violence, warned in an April op-ed for the New Republic that over the past six years "all of the warning signs for civil war have emerged in the United States, and they have emerged at a surprisingly fast rate."

Smoke fills the walkway outside the Senate Chamber as violent rioters loyal to President Donald Trump are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers inside the Capitol in Washington, January 6, 2021. /AP

Smoke fills the walkway outside the Senate Chamber as violent rioters loyal to President Donald Trump are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers inside the Capitol in Washington, January 6, 2021. /AP

Walter, who has done extensive research on civil wars, expanded on this in an interview with The Washington Post last month. Like other scholars looking at these issues, Walter said the U.S. is not heading toward a conflict akin to the fight between the North and South.

"When people think about civil war, they think about the first civil war. And in their mind, that is what a second one would look like. And, of course, that is not the case at all," Walter told the Post. "What we are heading toward is an insurgency, which is a form of a civil war. That is the 21st-century version of a civil war, especially in countries with powerful governments and powerful militaries, which is what the United States is."

The Turner Diaries

Since its publication in 1978, "The Turner Diaries" has served as a spiritual guide and one of the most influential texts for America's right-wing extremists and militant groups. The novel depicts a group of white supremacists' attack on Capitol Hill in an effort to overthrow the U.S. government, leading to a nuclear and ultimately a race war that exterminated nonwhites.

Experts have pointed out the frightening parallels between the novel's plot and real-life events of the January 6 Capitol Hill insurrection last year, where thousands of protesters broke into the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., in an effort to keep Trump in power.

In the following days, on social media and in militant chat rooms on sites like 4chan, some users celebrated the violence and likened it to "the Day of the Rope," a mass hanging that occurs in "The Turner Diaries," according to The New York Times.

"The real value of all our attacks today lies in the psychological impact, not the immediate casualties," the novel's narrator, Earl Turner, writes in his diary. "They learned this afternoon that not one of them is beyond our reach."

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