US militias hoping to spark power struggle

Armed to the teeth: US civilians own 393 million guns, or 120.5 firearms per person. © Getty

Is talk of US civil war overblown? As Donald Trump plunges in the polls, some worry that his most hardline supporters will try to keep him in power – even if it means an armed conflict.

It is almost 2am on the 4th of November. The votes are adding up and Joe Biden has just been declared the winner. Everyone is waiting for Donald Trump to call his rival and offer his congratulations.

But no. Trump appears live on Fox News. He tells his supporters that the Democrats have stolen the election. All over the country, people take up arms to keep him in office. Soon whole cities are on fire.

This is the scenario that many US experts now fear. They worry that if Trump loses the presidential election, his supporters might rally to keep him in power, triggering a new wave of violence that could escalate into all-out war.

Last week, members of a right-wing militia known as the Wolverine Watchmen were arrested for attempting to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer.

They are one of many right-wing paramilitary organisations that have sprung up in the USA. Perhaps the most notable is the Proud Boys.

Trump himself has repeatedly appeared to incite his supporters to violence. During his debate with presidential rival Joe Biden in September, he called upon the Proud Boys to “stand by” for the election.

Even if Trump accepts defeat in the election, the threat of violence could continue as other right-wing politicians and media figures have also offered praise for violent far-right militias.

Is talk of US civil war overblown?

On the warpath

Yes, say some. No civilian armed force would ever be able to match the military for firepower, so even if right-wing militias did try to start a civil war, they would very quickly be defeated.

Not at all, say others. Right-wing militias in the USA are dangerous. Journalists warn that they have sympathisers in the military, as well as the police, who might simply refuse to fight them, or might even take their side.

You Decide

  1. Should ordinary people be allowed to buy guns? What restrictions should there be?

Activities

  1. How would you survive a civil war? Write a paragraph about the steps you would take to keep yourself safe.
  2. Outgoing presidents often leave notes with some advice and encouragement to their successors. Imagine that you are leaving office, and write a short note to the new president.

Some People Say...

“The Civil War is not ended: I question whether any serious civil war ever does end.”

T S Eliot (1888–1965), American-born British poet

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most people agree that democracy cannot function unless every side is willing to accept the results of elections. It is for this reason that the tradition developed in the USA for the losing candidate in every presidential election to ring the winner and concede the election to them once the results become clear. The civil war of 1861–65 came about because the southern states refused to accept Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 election.
What do we not know?
There is some debate over whether or not the US electoral system ought to be overhauled in future. The candidate who receives the most votes does not necessarily win the election: they have to win the “electoral college”, which disproportionately favours smaller states. Some argue that this is unfair to voters in large states like California, whose votes are therefore worth less, but others insist that the electoral college allows smaller states, like South Dakota, to make their voices heard.

Word Watch

Fox News
A right-wing news network in the United States that Donald Trump has often used for spreading messages directly to his supporters.
Proud Boys
This far-right organisation is dedicated to starting street brawls with left-wing groups. In 2019, some of its members were convicted of assault in New York.

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