As the United States moves closer to the presidential election, the talk of a post-election civil war grows. Both sides have threatened to not recognize the election results, but Trump was more vocal and threatening not to concede if he loose.
So, if a civil war erupts, who will the players be? The US military is considered the most powerful in the world, so are there any potential organizations that could hold out?
Remember that recent analysis by small arms NGOs indicate that American citizens are the largest owners of military grade firearms in the world. According to an international small arms report, Americans own 47% of the world’s privately owned small arms. For every 100 Americans, there are over 120 firearms - a figure that has obviously grown in the past few years as Americans are buying record numbers of guns in anticipation of post-election trouble. Conservative estimates also put American private ammunition stockpiles in the hundreds of billions of rounds.
It is also important to remember that although some of these firearms are shotguns and small caliber guns for hunting small game, the American citizen has access to firearms usually reserved for the military or police in other countries. Americans can buy high power sniper rifles used by many armies around the world. They can also own large caliber rifles that can penetrate light armored vehicles like those used in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the American Army frequently buys commercial firearms that are superior to some of their own equipment.
This means military and police units do not have the traditional edge that they have in other countries that descend into a civil war. It also means that they cannot move freely through hostile territory with impunity – an ambush is a constant possibility.
It also means that private military organizations will be more powerful than many might expect.
With that in mind, here is a review of the possible forces that could be arrayed in a potential American civil war. We will look at military forces, police forces, and private militias on all sides of the political spectrum.
US Military. Although the US military is probably the most powerful in the world, it will be unable to quickly end a civil war. Those doubting that can only look at resistance to the American military in Afghanistan.
Remember that much of the American military is designed for large scale conventional combat, not a domestic guerrilla conflict. B-52 bombers are great for attacking another country but would be worthless in a civil war.
In a civil war, many military units will be tied down. Expect the US Navy and US Air Force to relegate its security forces to securing its military facilities and nuclear forces, while maintaining an international presence.
The US Army will have ground combat units, but many of those will be dedicated to securing its military bases, critical infrastructure, and the Washington DC area. They will also be reserved in case a foreign nation tries to take advantage of the situation.
The same holds for the US Marine Corps.
There are some civilian law enforcement agencies at the federal level. The FBI has several specialized units that could take small targets, but don’t have the combat capable manpower to be a significant factor in a civil war. And, there is a question by Trump supporters about where their loyalties lie, given the claim that they attempted to bring about Trump’s downfall both before and after the 2016 election.
If the FBI is employed, it would be in either protecting or taking targets in the Washington DC area. They could be employed to capture Trump if there is a question of who won the election.
However, there are other law enforcement units that would be more “Trump friendly” One such unit would be the Border Patrol, which has good relations with Trump because of his tough immigration policy and his building of the border wall. It was Border Patrol forces that went to Seattle and Portland to quell the protests when the FBI refused to act.
However, in a civil war, it is likely that the Border Patrol will focus more on aggressive border protection, intercepting arms shipments, and stopping people who want to cross the border.
While the federal police may remain neutral until a winner becomes evident, state forces may become more active, depending on the state government in power.
One example is the state national guard, which falls under the control of the state governor. Although the Pentagon can activate them, as California’s refusal to let its National Guard patrol the border with Mexico, shows that state politics has a lot to do with their use.
It is quite possible that state national guard forces could step into a civil war situation. For instance, California, which has an anti-Trump governor, could use its national guard to hinder or block US Army units on the move. However, since many National Guard members were once members of the Army, the chance of a full-blown battle between the two is unlikely.
The same holds for Air National guard Units too – at least unless someone becomes too aggressive and starts shooting.
While these military units will be loath to attack other units, they could be readily used against militias. However, as we noted earlier, unless the unit is a combat trained unit, they may find themselves out-gunned or out maneuvered.
That leaves only a handful of combat ready National Guard units available, which the governor may prefer to use in protecting state buildings.
State Police fall under the state governor’s control. They could be used against local militias with little hesitation. However, law enforcement is usually lightly armed and would find that the militia they will face will have more arms, heavier arms, and more ammunition. Also, although the police must use firearms, they may highly likely be less proficient than the average militiaman.
City and county police have the same drawbacks in the type of firearms deployed and ammunition supplies. Since county sheriffs are elected, they may be more responsive to the local wishes of the voters than other law enforcement agencies.
Another law enforcement group are Native American Tribal Police. Treaties with the American government give them sovereignty and in a civil war scenario, they could try to secure their land from interlopers. Some may try to gain more independence and gain recognition as an independent nation. However, they suffer from the same lack of firepower that other law enforcement agencies have.
Government Forces Overview
Although the federal, state, and local forces are well armed, they may have little impact on events. The American military is barred from civil action unless an insurrection has been declared and although large, would be stretched to protect key government facilities. Commanders would find it in their best interest to stay away from acting, unless clearly legal and ordered by a superior.
Federal civil agencies, state police, and local police would not find the same constraints. However, they are lightly armed and would find themselves without any tactical advantage in a civil war.
An example of how they might react in a civil war can be seen by law enforcement actions in the protests and some “riots” that have shaken the US in the past few months. In most cases, they have stood by and focused on protecting government buildings. Law enforcement isn’t trained in combat and most police would rather avoid any life-threatening combat, especially with fellow Americans.
All these non-military government units would also find themselves experiencing desertions. Police with strong political views and police disagreeing with law enforcement actions are more likely to leave and either try to remain neutral or join a militia with their same views.
In this analysis, we call any non-governmental military unit, a militia. We will also differentiate real militias that have regular military training from potential militias that could form active units as conditions deteriorate.
As we noted earlier, American militias are better armed than those in other civil wars. Depending on their size, training, and arms, they are probably more powerful than most law enforcement units and some non-combat military units.
Most militias tend to be secretive to prevent government informers from penetrating their group. One example is the recently arrested “Wolverine Watch” militia unit that was arrested in Michigan last week. It was two informers who were able to provide the evidence that allowed for their comrades’ arrest.
The result is that there are few militias that have national memberships. One group, Oathkeepers, is not a militia, but its membership is former military and police, which makes it a potential militia if circumstance warrant. It is right-of-center and was formed during the Obama Administration. Its high-point was its support of the Bundy Ranch protests in 2014. It has deployed volunteer groups for hurricane relief and to protect private property in the riots of the last few months.
Although it is not an organized militia now, in a civil war, it could be the nucleus for one. Since its members are former military or law enforcement, it has the experience. It has the firepower and logistics support thanks to its national membership. If the membership does become a militia, it could very well become the largest in the nation, with the capability to form several brigades. However, it could take some time to become a militia capable of operating nationally.
Another group with a national membership is the III%ers. Little is known about this right-of-center group, but they have been known to deploy across the nation at rallies, protests, etc.
Another unit that claims to have a national membership is the Colonial Marine Militia. Their membership appears to be strongest in the upper Midwest (Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc). They deployed some units last weekend as the threat of action against Michigan militias became a possibility with the arrest of the Wolverine Watch militia.
The Colonial Marine Militia also claims to have an air wing, air mobile capability, mechanized units, and a sophisticated support organization. How much of that is real is unknown. However, if their claims are even partially true, they could pose a threat to most units, except for hardened American Army or Marine combat units.
Most militias are regional or statewide. In fact, a review of websites indicates that most states have at least one operating militia. Since they are public, they focus on emergency response, not military. They are also assumed to be penetrated by informers. Other units have been involved in controversy as members have been discovered with arrest records and unable to own firearms.
The quality of these units depends much on their leadership. They are well armed and have statewide support. How well they will do in a combat situation is unknown. Given the current situation, we can assume that military tactical training has increased in the past few months.
An idea of the type of right of center militia units in the US can be seen in the German documentary that can be found on YouTube (titled A GERMAN VIEW: Trump warriors – highly determined and heavily armed militias in the US). It looks at the Pennsylvania Lightfoot Militia. As can be seen, its gear and weapons are not quite different from American or European armed forces. This militia unit has deployed across the East Coast.
While some units are already organized and training, some are just starting up. The United American Defense Force is organizing defense forces in the Rocky Mountains. They claim that as police units are being defunded or refuse to come to the aid of civilians, the average person must defend themselves. It has some retired Special Forces – some who were in Benghazi during the 2012 attack. These promise to be as organized as any regular military unit.
Similar groups are organizing locally as they perceived a threat of Antifa or BLM protests come closer. These could very well become the backbone of the future right-of-center militia movement.
However, the left-of-center militia movement is also growing. A few months ago, a new Black Nationalist militia called the NFAC fielded 500 armed members in a march in Atlanta. Since then they have also shown up in Kentucky and Louisiana. Although some downplay the threat because they have not mastered the safe use of firearms, they are growing and learning the tactical use of firearms.
NFAC is not the only Black Nationalist militia. However, they are large, taking in recruits, and training for a potential civil war. One of their demands is a Black nation that is carved out of the United States.
Another militia that has received some publicity recently is the Wolverine Watch, which saw most of its members arrested for planning to kidnap Michigan’s governor. Their videos and emblems indicate their philosophy is anarchism.
It appears that the militia’s plan was to encourage a revolution.
Although they are not a right of center militia, they are from Michigan, which probably has more militias than other states, including the Wolverine Militia (not related to the Wolverine Watch), Michigan Militia, and the Hutaree Militia.
The big unknown in any potential civil war in America is the militias that have not been formed yet. America has millions of veterans who know how to fight and hundreds of millions of firearms to fight with. It is understood that there are probably over a thousand groups that are potential militias. They have enough equipment and people to make up an operational fire team (the smallest military organization). Depending on previous military experience or the ability of some veterans to train them, these units could deploy within days. And they can expand as volunteers join and bring their own firearms.
Although there are many factors to preclude an American Civil War in the next few months, there is the real potential for a major conflict. Clearly, there are dramatic philosophical differences that have deeply split Americans. And there are the firearms to carry out that fight.
Civil wars are a “zero sum” game. No one wants to fight a unit that is more powerful. And average Americans can form units that would make any general think twice.