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A dispatch from the Second Civil War

By Aaron Gell for

“Whether Americans ever actually do take up arms in a modern-day remix of the Civil War, we’re certainly talking about it a lot lately — fantasizing about it, fretting about it, gaming it out. Some are praying for it, no doubt, and plenty of others are stockpiling weapons and supplies just in case.”

After a long list of everyone who has been writing and talking about the coming civil war, this author discusses a LARP network doing airsoft simulations of it. It’s bizarre, surreal, and tacky. And maybe, it’s like watching pre-game stretches before kickoff. 

“American Milsim’s ESR 19–5, a weekend-long military simulation (or milsim) event that imagines how a modern-day American insurrection might unfold, is just a game — a chance for guys to dress up in camo and run around shooting at each other with BB guns. But it’s a game that has taken on a chilling resonance lately as the political climate has become increasingly divisive.

Vice recently reported on a group of neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremist groups actively plotting to foment a race war through a campaign of terror attacks, and a group called the Atomwaffen Division is already associatedwith several murders around the country. In the run up to the 2016 election, the seeming likelihood of a Hillary Clinton win led to talk of a possible insurrection among Donald Trump supporters.

Later, Roger Stone suggested that impeachment could set off the powder keg. And earlier this year, a Democratic congressman appeared to suggest that citizens take up arms if the president refused to adhere to the Constitution. In June, a nationwide Rasmussen poll found that nearly a third of respondents believe a second civil war will break out within five years.

That said, it’s not a new idea. White nationalist author William Pierce imagined a full-scale rebellion in his 1978 novel The Turner Diaries — a blueprint for racial and neo-Nazi terror groups ever since — and pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones have been sounding the alarm for decades. (Such talk presumably helps sell precious metals and supplements, if nothing else.)

The rhetoric peaked following the deadly government assaults on the Weaver family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, which fed the emergence of the militia movement, and it flared again during the Obama administration.

But the fantasy never captured mainstream attention until Trump clinched the GOP nomination. Suddenly, the imminent likelihood of armed conflict seemed to be the one thing the left and right could agree on. Cracked, that venerable policy journal, addressed the issue with an impressively reported listicle (“Six Reasons Why a New Civil War Is Possible and Terrifying”). Shortly thereafter, Keith Mines, a former Army special forces operator turned foreign service officer pegged the likelihood of a brother-against-brother throwdown at 60 percent in a piece in Foreign Policy.

Union of Federal States troops in a Humvee, keeping an eye out for insurgents.

In 2016, Army colonel turned columnist Kurt Schlichter published a polemical work of genre fiction, People’s Republic, about the idea (“As the former blue states begin to collapse under the dead weight of their politically correct tyranny, a lethal operative haunted by his violent past undertakes one last mission.”) He’s already churned out a sequel.

The acclaimed adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale,which debuted in the spring of 2017 and quickly nabbed five Emmy Awards, takes place in an America riven by civil war, and literary novelists Omar El Akkad (American War) and Christopher Brown (Tropic of Kansas) also recently conjured plausible paths to a national Armageddon. Both novels arrived during the fraught summer of 2017, bookended by the shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise and three others by a man who’d been a Bernie Sanders volunteer and the murder of Heather Heyer at the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The New Yorker, the Nation, American Affairs, and the Guardian have all weighed the likelihood. So have Denis Prager and Rush Limbaugh, followed by Sean Hannity, Rep. Steve King, the National Review, and Ben Shapiro.

Before long, Vox was pointing out that the entire genre of “apocalypse punditry” was essentially clickbait. And perhaps it was. A few weeks later, Splinter published what sounded like an apologia for political violence (“This is all going to get more extreme. And it should. We are living in extreme times”) that has has drawn more than 1 million readers.

The fever finally seemed to break a week or so later, when Alex Jones insistedDemocrats were planning to launch a military offensive on July 4, prompting a gleeful torrent of Twitter mockery carrying the hashtag #SecondCivilWarLetters. But the joke seemed a little forced. While a full-blown military conflict seems unlikely, the potential for serious political violence remains.

Players receive a warm welcome from the town of Roosevelt, OK.

Which is what drew me, on a weekend in October, to the tiny town of Roosevelt, Oklahoma. Eager to see how such a conflict might play out, I resolved to make my debut as a weekend warrior, playing a member of a civilian militia in one of American Milsim’s mock battles.”

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