Cycle of Insurgency: What an insurgency in the US would look like

Dallas, Texas (TFC– The cycle of insurgency is a historical pattern. The Fifth Column’s journalists don’t have crystal balls. The accuracy of the predictions in this series of articles has relied entirely on applying the historical cycles to current events. Until this point, the series has avoided addressing what a full-blown insurgency in the United States would look like. It was hoped it wouldn’t be necessary.  For those who are just catching up on the series, here are the stages of the cycle of insurgency:


Prior to the digital age, pamphlets were the main method of spreading dissent around the world. The pamphlets examined and questioned the authority of the contemporary governments and control systems. In the modern world, pamphlets have been replaced by blogs, social media, and to a smaller degree, adversarial journalists.

Reactive Protests:

Once the seed of dissent is planted, people take to the streets to voice their opposition to the government. These protests occur after the control systems of the era attempt to defuse an offending incident.

Preemptive Rioting:

Preemptive rioting follows a period of reactive protests that go unanswered by the government. The people begin taking to the streets and destroying private and public property as soon as an offending incident takes place, rather than waiting and hoping for the government to police itself.

Military or Law Enforcement backlash and crackdowns:

These riots and small incidents of resistance trigger a government reaction. The control systems of the country tighten their grip on the people and further curtail civil liberties and infringe on people’s rights. The government crackdown fuels the resistance movement as more people tire of government intrusion.

Widespread rebellion and insurrection:
At some point during the crackdown, an incident occurs that tosses a match into the powder keg of dissent. At this point, open rebellion occurs.

Insurrection vs. other forms of political violence

Many use the terms, “insurrection” and “terrorism” interchangeably. They aren’t. While they appear similar, they’re separated by several key facets. The most important is that an insurgency is a movement with a political aim. Terrorism is a tactic. Many insurgencies use terrorism as a component in their campaigns, but they can be conducted without it. Terrorism typically seeks to inculcate fear in the civilian populace. Terrorism Research points out:

Terrorism does not attempt to challenge government forces directly, but acts to change perceptions as to the effectiveness or legitimacy of the government itself. This is done by ensuring the widest possible knowledge of the acts of terrorist violence among the target audience. Rarely will terrorists attempt to “control” terrain, as it ties them to identifiable locations and reduces their mobility and security. Terrorists as a rule avoid direct confrontations with government forces. A guerilla force may have something to gain from a clash with a government combat force, such as proving that they can effectively challenge the military effectiveness of the government. A terrorist group has nothing to gain from such a clash. This is not to say that they do not target military or security forces, but that they will not engage in anything resembling a “fair fight”, or even a “fight” at all. Terrorists use methods that neutralize the strengths of conventional forces. Bombings and mortar attacks on civilian targets where military or security personnel spend off-duty time, ambushes of undefended convoys, and assassinations of poorly protected individuals are common tactics.

The most successful insurgencies tend to use a combination of terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and conventional warfare. The shootings in Dallas were not terrorism. The targets were armed government forces who had a fair chance of engaging the opposition.

READ MORE:  Cycle of insurgency: Cops are being targeted, what’s next?

Progression of an insurgency 

Insurgency typically begins with small attacks similar to the Dallas shootings. They then grow in frequency and intensity until full-scale armed conflict occurs. Different insurgencies evolve at different rates. Comparing the insurgency commonly referred to as “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the insurgency after the Iraq Invasion of 2003, and the insurgency following the Nazi invasion of France provides a wonderful contrast.

There is no set formula for the advancement of an insurgency, however there are common characteristics and traits that can be applied to understand what a US insurgency would look like. Bombings, ambushes, assassinations, civilian suffering, the disruption of trade, and war crimes are all common.

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How the fifth stage of an insurgency begins

Government Overreaction: During the crackdown phase, a spark is often ignited by government forces overreacting and killing large numbers of civilians at once. For American and British readers the most memorable example would, of course, be the Boston Massacre. For Irish readers, consider Bloody Sunday. An incident like the Dallas shootings puts officers on edge. They become jumpy and more prone to mistakes and overreactions.

Coordinated Attack: Imagine if attacks similar to the Dallas shootings occurred in several cities at once. Those who have grievances with the government could see this as a green light to begin their own insurgent activities. Normally, a single insurgent attack is not enough to trigger widespread rebellion.

A Series of Attacks: If tomorrow another attack like Dallas occurred, then another a week later, then another, the populace would be emboldened and the security forces of the government would be demoralized. Emboldened dissident may take to arms.

A failed coup: When a coup d’etat fails, oftentimes supporters of the coup within the military strike out on their own and begin an insurgency.

What would a full blown US insurgency look like?

The US is culturally divided. Many joke that you should need a passport to travel between regions of the United States. During an insurgency, these cultural differences would lead to factions forming that would inevitably lead to the break up of the United States. Syria and Iraq are prime recent examples of the emergence of factions during an insurgency. Syria is left undecided, but in Iraq almost all analysts agree that Kurdistan will never come back under the control of Baghdad. Americans tend to dismiss these examples because of the success and prominence of the idea of American exceptionalism. “It couldn’t happen here”, right?

An example that is harder to dismiss is the situation that arose with the break up of Yugoslavia. A viable European country broke up primarily along ethnic lines. Government forces, pro-government militias, and opposition forces from the various factions battled it out. More than 100,000 people lost their lives. Genocide was common.

Using historical examples for models, it is possible to present the grim realities of a full scale insurrection in the United States.

Bombings and ambushes like Dallas are daily occurrences. Police forces and other government representatives are targets, as are their families. Attacks on infrastructure become commonplace. These are the things laid out in every movie, book, and fantasy about a US insurrection. This doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of it though. Things that don’t seem quite so adventurous are far deadlier.

The reality is that when the roads become unsafe to travel due to ambushes and IEDs or the infrastructure is destroyed, the trucks stop. Those semi-trucks all over the interstate keep the US alive. Once they stop rolling, the real devastation begins. Three hours after the semi-trucks stop rolling, fuel becomes scarce. At 24 hours medical supplies run low, especially during a time of conflict. A day later, food is scarce. Within 3 days, food isn’t scarce. It’s gone. The nation’s clean drinking water is gone within a month.

About 3 million people in the US use insulin to control their diabetes. Without the refrigerated trucks running, they all die. While those in rural areas might be able to hunt for food, those in major cities are almost entirely dependent on inbound trucks. Starvation becomes rampant.

People in those cities wait for relief agencies and the United Nations to assist. Help is unlikely to come quickly, if at all. The United States is largest financial contributor to the UN. It supplies 27% of the budget for peacekeeping operations. Without US contributions, it doesn’t have funding to operate. Even if other countries wanted to pick up the slack, the US economy has tanked due to the war, causing economic issues all over the world. On the off chance relief supplies could be gathered and dropped into the US, they would be seized by one the insurgent factions.

Even as racial tensions flare and acts of genocide occur, the rest of the world would most likely only offer token assistance.

In a full-scale insurgency, the US military would be almost irrelevant. It took deployment numbers of 170,000 US troops to (fail to) pacify Iraq’s insurrection. That number doesn’t include coalition forces, allied Iraqi troops, or the massive number of military contractors that traveled to Iraq. Iraq has a population of about 33 million. The United States is almost 10 times that. If the Department of Defense deployed every single member of the Army and the Marines including the clerks, cooks, carpenters, truck drivers, and so on, it could only field about 750,000 troops. That’s about one million troops shy of the needed number to match the effectiveness of Iraq’s counter-insurgency operation. This also assumes that not a single soldier or marine defects to one of the factions or simply leaves to stay home and protect his or her family. To further complicate the military’s job, Iraq covers 168,754 mi² and the United States is more than 20 times that size. The massive area of land controlled by the United States would not allow for high troop concentrations, something deemed necessary for counter-insurgency operations under current doctrine. In the event of large scale insurrection, the forces of the US military are nothing more than an annoyance for the warring factions.

Help would not be coming from the US military, the United Nations, nor anywhere else. The insurrection would be long, bloody, and the civilian casualties would easily number in the tens of millions. Most of the dead would have starved to death or died of disease. The most notable casualty of the war though, would be the United States itself. Given the cultural rifts between the various regions, it would be unthinkable that the US survive an insurrection intact.

It’s important to understand the stakes as people cheer on the attacks in Dallas. I’m very critical of law enforcement’s brutality and I can’t bring myself to condemn the shooter wholeheartedly because I can understand the origin of the frustration and anger. At the same time, I’ve seen violence, I’ve helped people fleeing countries in the throws of insurrection, and I’ve witnessed man’s inhumanity. An insurrection in the United States is not something to hope for. We’re closer to it than we’ve been since the Civil War.

Sadly, I don’t know a way out. This attack set a chain of events in motion that placed the nation on a crash course with insurgency. This attack will cause officers to fear for their safety. They will, in turn, be more jumpy and trigger-happy. They will kill more innocents. This will lead to more attacks and the cycle will continue. Eventually, a spark will cause widespread rebellion.

The only method of avoiding this is a massive overhaul of our law enforcement and criminal justice system. It will take reforms law enforcement will be unwilling to make. The fate of the nation is in the hands of untrained, arrogant, self-righteous, and ignorant politicos at the Fraternal Order of Police. As the thin blue line continues to protect itself, it is killing you and the family members of its own officers.

READ MORE: If Syria’s war happened in the United States