The far right is calling for civil war after the FBI raid on Trump's home. Experts say that fight wouldn't look like the last one.

The far right is calling for civil war after the FBI raid on Trump's home. Experts say that fight wouldn't look like the last one.
·7 min read
Trump supporters near Mar-a-Lago
Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather near his residence at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on August 9, 2022.Giorgio Viera/Getty Images
  • Some on the far right have been calling for civil war since an FBI raid on Trump's Florida home.

  • Some experts say the warning signs for civil war have been emerging in the US in recent years.

  • But they also say that such a conflict would look very different from the Civil War of the 1860s.

In the wake of an FBI search of former President Donald Trump's Florida home, some far-right figures have been spreading violent rhetoric online — including calls for war.

The Republican party has long portrayed itself as the defender of "law and order," but the aftermath of the raid has seen GOP lawmakers like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene call for defunding the FBI.

Greene has also made references to "civil war" on social media as her Republican colleagues compare the FBI to the Gestapo and depict the raid as the sort of thing that only occurs in "third world" countries. A spokesperson for the Georgia Republican maintains that one of Greene's tweets mentioning civil war was in reference to infighting or a "war of ideas" in the GOP. In another tweet, Greene referred to the FBI raid as the type of thing that happens "in countries during civil war."

Meanwhile, pro-Trump internet channels have seen a spike in talk of civil war since the raid.

The FBI raid of Trump's Mar-a-Lago home came at a historically divisive time for the US, one in which millions of voters continue to believe the false notion that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump.

Such erroneous claims were at the heart of what catalyzed the deadly January 6 riot at the US Capitol last year, and historians and experts on democracy warn that these lies continue to foster the potential for further violence. They also say that if the US did see civil war, it wouldn't look like the first one.

Fiona Hill, who served as the leading Russia expert on the National Security Council during the Trump administration, said in a conversation with Insider last month that the distrust in the electoral process and government institutions fomented by Trump and his GOP allies has created a "recipe for communal violence." Hill warned the US could ultimately "end up in a civil conflict."

The country is at a point in which "trust in the different communities and authorities" has eroded "to such an extent that people just start fighting with each other," Hill said.

But she also underscored that a civil conflict in the present day would be unlikely to look like the American Civil War, an extraordinarily bloody fight between the Union and Confederacy that left an estimated 618,000 to 750,000 Americans dead.

"I don't think we'd end up in the kind of conflict that we had between the states — the Union and the Confederacy — back in the day," Hill said. "But people's sense of the civil and civic ways of resolving disputes are out the window."

Less than a week after the raid on Trump's home, an armed man attempted to break into the FBI field office in Cincinnati. Authorities have not announced a motive but are reportedly investigating whether the man — who was ultimately killed by police — had ties to far right extremism.

The suspected gunman, Ricky Shiffer, appears to have posted calls for war and violence against the FBI on Trump's social media network Truth Social.

"If you don't hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the F.B.I.," one post read. The account with Shiffer's name repeatedly parroted Trump's election lies, per CNN, and multiple reports also suggest that the suspect may have been at the Capitol on January 6.

'All of the warning signs for civil war have emerged'

January 6
Pro-Trump protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Barbara F. Walter, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego who specializes in political violence, warned in an April op-ed for the New Republic that over the past six years "all of the warning signs for civil war have emerged in the United States, and they have emerged at a surprisingly fast rate."

Walter, who has done extensive research on civil wars, expanded on this in an interview with The Washington Post last month. Like other scholars looking at these issues, Walter said the US isn't heading toward a conflict akin to the fight between the North and South.

"When people think about civil war, they think about the first civil war. And in their mind, that's what a second one would look like. And, of course, that's not the case at all," Walter told the Post. "What we're heading toward is an insurgency, which is a form of a civil war. That is the 21st-century version of a civil war, especially in countries with powerful governments and powerful militaries, which is what the United States is."

Walter went on to say that an insurgency is "more decentralized" and tends to be a fight between multiple groups. "They use unconventional tactics. They target infrastructure. They target civilians. They use domestic terror and guerrilla warfare. Hit-and-run raids and bombs," she said.

Right-wing extremists have been known to look to "The Turner Diaries," a novel that's been referred to as the bible of the far right, for a blueprint on how to take down a powerful government like the US, Walter said. The book, which is revered by white nationalist groups, tells the fictional tale of a civil war against the US government.

"One of the things it says is, Do not engage the U.S. military. You know, avoid it at all costs. Go directly to targets around the country that are difficult to defend and disperse yourselves so it's hard for the government to identify you and infiltrate you and eliminate you entirely," Walter told the Post.

Research shows that terrorists like the Oklahoma City bomber have been inspired by "The Turner Diaries."

During a recent meeting at the White House, a group of historians warned President Joe Biden that the US is facing threats not unlike those the country saw in the pre-Civil War period, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Historian Michael Beschloss, who has made the case that US democracy is in existential danger, was reportedly among the academics who spoke to Biden. Though he's sounding the alarm about the threats America's democracy is facing at present, Beschloss also says that a civil conflict in the US would be unlikely to resemble the devastating war of the 1860s.

Beschloss said in a social media post on Thursday that "if any kind of civil war faces Americans (may God forbid), it is unlikely to be two armies fighting over one paramount issue (slavery), as in 1861-1865, but sporadic, mounting bursts of violence against our federal government as it tries to enforce rule of law."

'There is a real threat of civil conflict'

proud boy in shirt that says "death to liberals"
A member of the Proud Boys wearing a t-shirt that reads "death to liberals" stands with other Proud Boys in Freedom Plaza during a protest on December 12, 2020 in Washington, DC.Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Nina Silber, a Boston University historian and expert on the US Civil War, told Insider that discussions of civil war have been a right wing talking point "for some time now" and "it reflects a kind of extremist mentality that goes along with the idea of 'taking back the country from radical, left wing Democrats.'"

Silber said that "the more this chatter gets normalized, the more it also makes violent behavior seem normal or even inevitable."

"There is a real threat of civil conflict," she said, "Not just because of the talk of violence but also because of the increasing numbers of people who are armed and ready to use weapons to advance certain political goals."

But Silber explained that such a conflict "would not be a repeat of what happened in the US in the 1860s given the stark geographic split the country faced in 1861 between states where slavery was legal and states where it was not."

There are "some geographic divisions" in the US at present but it's not a North versus South divide like it was in the 1860s, Silber said, adding that there are instead "plenty of divisions" within various states such as urban versus rural — particularly in the "purple" states. She said that this could "manifest itself as pockets of violence in parts of the country."

Update: This article was updated to include additional expert commentary received after publication.

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