Could Alex Jones's "revolution" actually happen?

The Week

Piers Morgan had it easy. Radio show host and author Alex Jones threatened the rest of us with a "revolution" if the government decides to confiscate guns from the homes and glove compartments of law-abiding Americans. It's almost too easy to dismiss Jones as a fringe figure, especially since fringe ideas make their way into the mainstream with (exciting? alarming?) frequency these days. So let's take him seriously.

Let's accept his premise. Actually, let's dismiss it first but then turn around and accept it for the sake of argument. The government has not the means nor the mechanism nor the credibility to confiscate 100,000 guns, much less 600,000,000. And those in the government doing the confiscating would be neighbors and relatives of the confiscatory victims: police officers, national guard members, Army reservists. Of course, Jones might say that their intent is bad enough. But "they" -- the Obama administration, I assume -- have no such intentions, and never did.

But OK. Let's say that the government tries to confiscate guns and "the people" attempt to revolt.  No doubt that civil disobedience can spring up rather spontaneously and even be organized very quickly, but if rioting were to somehow break out in American cities, it would be isolated and theoretically containable. Organizing a "revolt" would require extensive planning, including the massive transportation of citizens from their homes to wherever the rally points were, a communications infrastructure, and leaders. The same Open Source culture that would make it difficult for the government to plan a confiscation in secret makes it just as unlikely for citizens to plan a feasible response to that confiscation in secret.

One of Jones's obsessions, which, I confess, I share, is the militarization of the American homeland, and he is not promulgating a conspiracy here. The military has expanded its presence on American soil, and crucially, has expanded the way it is organized to respond to mass contingency events of any kind, including natural disasters and rioting. The U.S. Northern Command does receive intelligence briefings about domestic disturbances from the FBI and DHS, so commanders would be somewhat prepared to deploy troops. Thousands would come from the standing Army, but the bulk would be drawn from state National Guard detachments. It is exceedingly difficult to picture weekend warriors following blind orders en masse to detain or harm U.S. citizens when local police resources are stretched. The government has the power of command and control, but the people have the power of fellow-feeling. The government's response to any real revolt would probably be quite restrained. There'd be too much attention paid to every movement of every tank to act harshly. The strategy to contain any "revolt" might therefore depend on a period of people letting out their energies and then returning to their normal business. 

Ah, but what if the government controls the communication nodes?  Well, corporations do; I assume Jones would have them immediately bend to a secret executive order shutting down serves and clouds and services like Twitter, but even if corporations agreed to do this, together, it would take days to get even a fraction of the telecom infrastructure offline. Maybe the government would order a mass power outage. But that's why so many Americans have generators in the first place!  Although government "boards" comprising major telecom and infrastructure executives do exist, the most they've ever contemplated doing is to shut down a narrow slice of an infected communications node. These days, they're focused on the cyber threat.  In the early days of civil defense planning, when there were a few television networks an AT&T had its monopoly, the threat of a government takeover of TV, radio and telephones was technically feasible. Today it is not. Actually, it does not make sense. What's turned on really cannot be turned off.

But wait. if Jones's "revolution" is to succeed, he needs to take over the government, because he'd need to dominate communications as well, unless he assumes that his movement would be organic and immune to arguments from elected officials asking for stability and calm.

An objective of anyone who wants to take over the government would be a seizure of the Emergency Broadcast System, which allows the President to speak to the nation through almost any mechanism of communication at any time. The EBS lives at Mt. Weather, the massive FEMA bunker in Virginia, but it can be activated and controlled from at least a dozen other places, including the briefcase of the Emergency Actions officer who travels with the President.  A coordinated violent action to seize control of this key portal would require an incredible amount of prior planning.

Assuming even that the government's response to isolated-turned-mass rioting is uneven, the President would be able to address Americans anytime he wants. In theory, Jones's followers could try to take over every broadcast entity in America, or could try and jam the broadcasts using sophisticated electronic warfare technology available to the military, but once again, the practicalities are not possible.

Because there will be no revolt over gun control, because there will not be and cannot be a mass confiscation of guns, playing with these ideas is fanciful and fodder for a sequel to Seven Days in May. Heck, we haven't even addressed the FEMA concentration camps (which don't exist).  But that isn't to say that nothing discussed above will ever be relevant. It is much easier to imagine a small-scale revolt, a series of pre-planned violent protests against the powers that be, perhaps because the political system seems so non-responsive to the worries of people who listen to Alex Jones.  It would not take much to make Americans nervous about the government's ability to restore law and order. And that frission itself is probably the most unknowable of all these factors.

Patriotic citizens aren't supposed to speculate about these extremely unlikely events, but the government certainly thinks about them. So maybe we should too.

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