This is a response, of sorts, to a post done a month ago over at Forward Observer. It’s an important read. I don’t disagree with the key points, but there’s a definite context that needs clarification. As one who’s been on the receiving end of the policy points made in the white paper which Sam linked, the ramifications range from good to very bad and was loaded with unintended consequences. Fomenting local armed groups have to have an end state- an end state that’s often wildly misunderstood.
‘Militia’ is a loaded term in the United States. Say it in a crowd and you’re likely to get some interesting responses. While the PR campaign of the 90s did a number on armed conservative groups, the term ‘militia’ has come to be one that’s misunderstood among most- and that’s a problem. A militia is a non-governmental armed group with an explicit ideology. The definition doesn’t need to be any more complex than that. A group of civilians who do not represent or are not a member of a government authority, with weapons, joined behind a common idea or goal. That’s it. Common street gangs do not fit; they act in their own self interest and are usually tied to black market economics rather than politics. A dedication to Constitution does not make a militia. It is the ideology of that militia- it’s reason for being. So whether its an armed group at a Constitution rally or an armed black-block group of AntiFa, differing ends of the political spectrum all fit the social definition of a militia.
Majors Hodgson and Thomas wrote the study partly based on the ‘Sunni Awakening’ that was going on in Iraq around that time and partly on the pseudo-success of partnering with Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance. What we realized in Iraq by 2007 was that fighting against militias was counterproductive to the overall counterinsurgency goals, especially when the difference between a militaman and a local ‘heart and mind’ is a well aimed Kalash or a VBIED that just went off. The militias were made of local players who often talked out of both sides of their mouth and would invite a team to dinner while setting up an ambush for them on the routes out. The insurgency was made of militias, and the end goal of several studies including the one referenced was essentially, how do we make their goal, our goal? That answer, as usual, was money.
The result was the Sons Of Iraq program, later known as ‘Concerned Local Citizens’ or CLC, which armed members of the populace were issued an ID card and were allowed to conduct checkpoints looking for ‘insurgents’. They never found them, of course, because they were the insurgents now on the payroll. Of course there were still pockets of hardliners, like al Naqshibandi, but overall the fighting mostly stopped post-2009. And the big open secret to it all was that the community leaders, who also made the hierarchy of the CLC groups, were rearming for the sectarian conflict that would happen the day America left. Which we did, and it did. Anyone still wondering where ISIS came from?
In case you’ve forgot about the past decade, this policy of letting the locals do our dirty work ramped up quite a bit aided heavily by social media platforms. Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen are each basket cases left worse today than they were yesterday from the policies of the ‘arab spring’. We tried it in Ukraine. This isn’t a political statement on my behalf, either- American blood spilled for dubious goals has been a political football since at least Mogadishu, resulting in a general rule of ‘shock and awe’ bombing, devastating the local infrastructure (and creating an insurgency) while sending small teams to rally the friendlies, all incredibly lubed by money. We used the local populace attached to a certain convenient ideology to accomplish regime changes favorable (or so we thought) to the interests of the US. It’s plausibly deniable as well, because after all, its the oppressed locals rising up against tyranny! The problem is that for a long term model of stability, it devolves into an anarchy state of competing warlords, no consistency, and general suffering among the populace. Unless you’re the warlord. Egypt is under their military control. Libya is officially a failed state (ironically great for British Petroleum- they don’t have to pay the government of Libya anymore), Iraq continues to be fractured along ethnic-ideological lines, Yemen is a full on sectarian civil war with no government past tribal alliances, and Syria only continues because ISIS (er…”Free Syrian Army”) got too radical, too fast, and lost too much ground in their Iraqi bases of material support when Russia stepped in and the political hands of the US unexpectedly changed.
So what does this have to do with you? That look to the recent past is a very good look into the future. There should be no doubt about it, some very hard times are in our path. We had the largest mass political assassination attempt in history not that long ago and most have already forgot about it. We have leaders who instead of debating ideas have decided there is no further debate- contrary opinions must be wiped out and they routinely call for this on their propaganda platforms. The political corruption of our justice system is now completely exposed- these were always political organs– and the air of legitimacy is fading. Its a difficult situation but from a social science perspective, and a person with experience both as boots on the ground and as an academic studying this very topic, my opinion is that militias will not only play a very large role in the upcoming hard times, even ending as the very power structure for a time in some places. For all these reasons there’s some critical takeaways that need to be pointed out.
1. In the absence of authority, an authority will establish itself.
As much as we libertarians might like the idea of individualism, humans are social entities by nature and operate within communities. Power loves nothing more than a vacuum, and anarchy is a vacuum- not an end state. No matter what your personal ideology may be, you will be subjected to whatever local authority props itself up whether you like it or not. Ask the Yazidis how not being the dominant group worked out. The real question for the individual should be on which side do you want to find yourself. If you’re not involved with the local happenings where you are, you might want to adjust your social status from being ‘just another face’ to a person who’s at least looked upon favorably by their neighbors.
2. Authority requires legitimacy.
Legitimacy is only established when the visible authority has the means to maintain itself. Max Weber, one of the founders of sociology, defined authority in three ways:
- Traditional: Customary to a specific social group
- Charismatic: The people are inspired to follow a person
- Rational-Legal: Order is maintained through bureaucracy of institutions.
Traditional is the first and most basic, being legitimate because it is a reflection of the majority culture. The authority is the cohesive bond of that society. Religion is usually a source of traditional authority. Charismatic authority comes second; those leaders chosen to guide the traditional authority maintain their own status- they say it, thus it must be in the best interest of the group. Rational-legal is the third and most complex, creating the institutions to meet the needs of the constituents. This third one is usually the first to crumble in a failing social order, tarnishing charisma and failing tradition, and will be the one that signals a larger social disorganization.
Legitimacy is maintained through success and recognition of a common goal. A leader only remains so if he can maintain the quality of life for his people. Some call this the Sword of Damocles. The critical point here is that without any notion of legitimacy, no matter how good or prepared you think you are, you will have no support among a local populace. Thus solving problems such as sewer, water, electricity, and telecommunications (SWEAT) that come after local security builds and cements that legitimacy, earning a favorable status with the people. Appear abusive or partial, overlooking the transgressions of one side while becoming a burden to the other, legitimacy diminishes and usually cannot be regained. Lose that status on a large enough scale, and you’ll probably lose your life. Ask Colonel Qaddafi.
3. Militias are a reflection of Traditional Authority.
The public perception of the term ‘militia’ in the US conjures a sense of a Right-wing country guy, hopped up on too much Kurt Saxon and Alex Jones, wearing camo everywhere and is always in a hurry to quote the Constitution. We all know this isn’t true (mostly), but militias in a broad sense are a reflection of the people they represent; Hodgson and Thomas identify this inadvertently when they emphasize the local nature of these militias. All militias are a reflection of politics, as politics are a reflection of charismatic authority. The question is what compels a person to pick up a weapon and put themselves in harm’s way to begin with; there must be some perception of a threat to one’s group or traditional values. From the Right’s perspective, it’s a change in social order; from the Left, it’s anything blocking that change.
AntiFa/John Brown Gun Club/Redneck Revolt is as much a militia as the local III% gun club is. You might not like this fact, but they fit the social definition of a militia above. They are very much armed, they have an explicit ideology, and while certain elements of the government appear sympathetic and are likely fomenting them, they do not represent the government nor have its authority. Their rhetoric is moving towards an end state rather than stasis like the ones found on the Right, and that’s the real issue. The Left’s intergroup/traditional values find favor in armed struggle since their grasp on power has been compromised. They have traditional values just as the Right does, those just happen to be the polar opposite and are rooted in their own versions of community.
4. All successful Militias have an outside benefactor.
Just as militias are a reflection of local traditional values, militias also operate in the interest of a larger purpose. The fact pointed out above, that successful militias are a tool towards a desired end state in the interest of another entity, is also true for those operating domestically. Any militia may act on behalf of a populace, but to gain any traction, they operate in the interest of an outside benefactor. I explained the situations in the US’ adventures in regime change for a reason- they both illustrated the real purpose militias serve, being exploitation, and the problems with an unrecognized end goal. That end goal may not be the one the militias believe it to be.
It’s frequently pointed out that AntiFa and its other hydra heads are astroturfed. Tell us something we don’t know. They are allowed to exist because they serve a purpose- larger sociopolitical destabilization. Their chaos is managed closely and their bounds of operation are just as defined as an Area of Operation we’d have overseas. The envelope is being pushed to make way for leftist identitarians to cement socialism in the Democrat party. The lip service of Johnson’s legacy is not accomplishing their goals. But make no mistake- they have boundaries they won’t cross just yet- but that time might be soon. The end state will be just like Libya- anarchy and warlords, exploited by the same highest bidders.
What your own course of action should be
Majors Hodgson and Thomas wrote their white paper as a blueprint for exploiting local overseas social upheaval for the interests of the US. It’s nothing new or earth shattering, as it’s a common political move on the big stage and is at least as old as Machiavelli. The problem is that the unintended consequences are incredibly real for the people on the ground. For that reason you should be doing everything you can to be as well prepared as possible. That may mean stockpiling a bunch of stuff and posting lip service to some, but to the more serious and competent that means getting training and learning to be more than just a speedbump. You and yours should be actively training in as many diverse skills as possible.
Whether its providing that local security against petty looting or ensuring the fate of the Yazidis is not your own, how seriously you take your training and networking now will have a major impact on your performance later. There should be zero doubt that a conflict is indeed on the horizon, and although we cannot control what goes on nationally, we can certainly have an impact on building the preparations of our own local communities. So with those salient points made in the original Forward Observer article, take these made here as a context adding to the larger picture. Militias will play a significant role in the future, but the question really should be, for who’s side? The conclusion may not be what you think.