What Will Our Domestic Conflict Look Like? – Forward Observer

What Will Our Domestic Conflict Look Like?

Last August, I announced the start of a new project focused on understanding “Low Intensity Conflict” because that’s what probably best describes the future of the United States. That was a year ago and I surmised that our domestic conflict had already started, although at a very low level. Today I want to address some open ends of that first post and describe what I believe political violence will look like in the future.

One reason why I stopped using the term “civil war” is a) because it’s very vague, and b) because I’m not sure that we’ll actually have an outright civil war. Of course, we might, but I’m less sure of that than I am that we’ll have a domestic conflict marked by political and tribal violence, disestablishment of the rule of law, and maybe regional independence movements. As opposed to a conventional, force-on-force conflict, we’re much more likely to experience irregular, tribal warfare referred to as “Low Intensity Conflict”.

FM 100-20, Military Operations in Low Intensity Conflict (1990, which I believe is no longer valid), provides us an official definition of the term:

Low intensity conflict is a political-military confrontation between… groups below conventional war and above the routine, peaceful competition… It frequently involves protracted struggles of competing principles and ideologies. Low intensity conflict ranges from subversion to the use of armed force. It is waged by a combination of means, employing political, economic, informational, and military instruments. Low intensity conflicts are often localized, generally in the Third World, but contain regional and global security implications.

Earlier this week, an acquaintance told me flat out, “It will never happen”. Well, it’s already happening. “Punch a Nazi” and “Bike lock your local red hat” are maxims of political violence that perfectly describe low intensity conflict (LIC). It’s not outright war; there’s no widespread, daily fighting in the streets to gain territory or expand borders. It’s really more akin to gang or tribal conflict than it is to traditional war. And that’s exactly what LIC is. The organizing being done on the Far Left and Far Right are a precursor to conflict waiting for a flashpoint or catalyst. The militias on the Right and the radicals and revolutionaries on the Left have organized for decades. They’re here, they’re angry, their views of American history and their desired future are inimically opposed, and there could absolutely be a tipping point that, in their eyes, demands violence. This is not an analytical leap because this type of violence is already happening, just at a very low level. The real leap, however, is to view these indicators and their exhibited desire to commit violence on behalf of their ideology, and then say or believe that things are going to get better instead of worse. I’m seriously interested in the case for how and why political, racial, and social wounds are more likely to heal than worsen, and how and why our political divide is more likely to be bridged than widened.

That being said, one popular misconception is that everyone will be involved in a domestic conflict, and that’s just not the case. Scan the history of insurgencies, insurrections, and other small wars, and you’ll find that it’s a small percentage of the population involved in the actual fighting. Depending on the conflict, maybe five, ten, or up to twenty percent (on the high end) are involved in sustained fighting, and everyone else is just trying to survive. Even then, I don’t imagine pitched battles of hundreds or thousands, but sporadic and opportunistic attacks involving small groups of individuals. Let’s look at violence in Iraq and Afghanistan as an example: yes, there were days and weeks long battles, usually as a result of a military operation. Take away the military operations, and we’re left mostly with small group actions, unpredictable small arms fire, bombings, raids, and other short-duration attacks — in other words, activities typically employed by irregular forces in a low intensity conflict. Average citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan were involved, but relatively few dedicated their lives to sustained conflict against U.S. and Coalition Forces. That’s likely to be the case in America, as well.

Another popular misconception is that this will be a nationwide conflict. Some might say, “Well, if one percent of the population takes part in the fighting, that’s 3.2 million fighters”. I can appreciate the mathematics, but this is highly unlikely to be a nationwide conflict. There may be cases of violence that span coast to coast, yet this conflict is much more likely to be local and regional; confined mainly to cities and built-up areas where the political friction of ideology, race/ethnicity, and class turns into violence. For most Americans, this is going to be like watching a wildfire or hurricane consume a region. News casts will interrupt with breaking coverage, but most Americans won’t be directly affected. Indirect effects are an entirely different story.

Low intensity conflict spans well beyond physical fighting to include economic, financial, and informational/cyber disruption, too. Boycotts motivated by politics or ideology are a great example of LIC, and those are routine by both the Left and Right. Chick-fil-A, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Israel/BDS, advertisers on political talk shows, Target, and the NRA are just some of the more recent and notable targets of economic and financial disruption due to political ideology. One thing that either hasn’t happened with any regularity or has not been publicized, however, is cyber disruption motivated by domestic political ideology. American and international Hacktivists (not to mention foreign cyber units) could play a significant role in attacking anything from the websites of companies and political opposition to critical infrastructure during a domestic conflict.

I’ll continue to write about this topic indefinitely because I think there’s a significant chance that our low-level conflict worsens, especially in light of the next recession, the potential for financial and economic instability, political turmoil and the fallout of elections in 2018-2024, and social movements that are really quite toxic for the country. This cumulative approach to understanding potential tipping points is helpful, and I think that those who say that worsening domestic conflict is unlikely or impossible underestimate the great challenges we’ll have in this country, not just in the next two or six years, but over the next decade and beyond.

My conclusion is this:

  • There’s a significant likelihood of worsening domestic conflict
    • Violence is going to be geographically limited
    • Most Americans won’t be targeted or directly affected
    • Relatively few Americans will take part in politically-motivated violence
    • Good likelihood of increased government authority
    • Unlikely to significantly worsen on its own; waiting on a flashpoint or catalyst
  • Americans sitting on the sidelines are going to feel the effects indirectly
    • Potential for systems disruption
    • Potential for foreign exploitation
    • Resulting civil unrest likely to pose other threats and challenges

And, by all means, if you disagree, let’s hear it. Leave a comment below.

If you’re interested in the potential for these scenarios, or concerned about where we could be headed as a country, then stay up to date with developing conditions with our threat intelligence reports. Each Friday we publish the National Intelligence Bulletin, which covers issues of national security, domestic systems disruption, risk of failing critical infrastructure, and threats to social, political, and economic stability.

If you enjoyed this article and want more of my thoughts on intelligence, security, and defense for an uncertain future, be sure to subscribe to my email updates.

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper

Mike Shelby is a former Intelligence NCO and contractor. He's now the CEO of Forward Observer.


  1. When you say not nation wide and more regional is like to see more about that.

    Regional like the real big major cities on each coast, with sporadic flare ups around the nation.


    More like each region will have its hot spots, and they’re by and large unrelated group/organizations in each region with limited communication/cooperation outside of each region?

  2. One other thing, if our current situation is classified as an LIC then that would mean LIC is about the regular state of our nation.

    After the revolution there were a handful of random rebellions/insurrections, the various slave rebellions, post civil war the violence of the Jim Crow era, 1900-1960 or so at least 200 people died in violent labor clashes all across the country, obviously the instability of the late 60s and early 70s.

    I mean it seems like domestically LIC is the norm if the current state of our nation is to be defined as an LIC.

  3. I have watched the recent events in the US with great interest, and have concluded that there is a very real possibility that there will be a major fight coming in the future. If the US erupts in violence, I also expect that the entertainment will migrate across the border into Canada (My Country) It is not well known, but the same polarization is taking place here and it’s reaching the point that direct action seems the only solution.

    I have also concluded that most of the ‘Civil War/LIC’s follow a fairly predictable path. As the have played out many times in the 20th century, most notably in Spainin the 1930’s.

    In effect you have essentially the same players involved with the Anarchists/Socialist/Communist antagonizing people and demanding social change, Whilst the Conservative/Religious/Traditionalist are opposing them.

    In 1931 Spain the left gained power and started a program of destroying churches stealing land (expropriation by government) and created a hostile environment for anyone who was conservative. Essentially the same actions as Obama, however he used executive orders, regulations or whole owned legal system.

    In 1933 the CEDA (Right Wing) gained power and attempted to stop and/or reverse the previous administrations activities but we’re restricted from complete authority by the legislative actions, followed by a general strike/insurrection which resulted in many deaths.

    The outcome of the violence and deaths was a narrow win for the left in the 1936 elections with the startup of violence (State Sanctioned) against the conservatives which culminated in the murder the leader of the opposition (conservative) by the Parliaments own private police force.

    When you look at the events/time lines, you see a pattern that seems to be initiated by the left,that is essentially the same in subsequent years. There have been outliers with the right winning the conflict, Chile comes to mind.

    On the time line, I would place the US at about 1936-37 Spain and Canada at 1931-32.

    The main wildcard in the pack is that the populations of both countries are armed, this was not the case in most countries, however firearms ownership was common among the landowners in Spain.

    1. robins111, thank you for your insightful comment. I have a stack of books about the Spanish Civil War that I’ve been meaning to read. I’ll take a swing at the first one this weekend because of your comment. Very good stuff. Thank you, again.

      1. Samuel, I’d better give you a heads up on the information/books on that war, the vast majority of it is created by either Anarchists, Communists or Socialists.

        Some of the most blatant misinformation is the line about France declaring and commitment to non-intervention when in fact they opened the border regularly to supply the Republicans (Left wing) with arms and supplies Second the French were by a large measure the major source of ‘volunteer’ troops for the Republicans also, in spite of the glorified ‘International Brigades’.

        I knew as a youth a member of the ‘International Brigade’ who told me that they has more people killed by the Purifiers’ who were weeding out non Stalinist, Communists than were killed in combat. Stalin generously provided the Republicans a supply of NKVD staff to make sure nobody stepped out of line.

        I would suggest that you view any publications on that war with a cynical eye, but that’s just me.

        There is a fairly good BBC/Granada, documentary about the conflict available on youtube, In my opinion not too badly done, but it’s pretty obvious that the producers were obsessed with the Anarchists.

        1. Yep–I saw that BBC docu-drama on YouTube about the Spanish Civil War, Robin. You’re spot -on. Thanks for sharing all this info with us. The MSM always seems to slant the story/coverage to the poor, poor Marxists. What a crock! They are the murderous destroyers of any civilization. All they “normalize” is death and destruction.

          In His Majesty’s Service…<

  4. Concur on the regional character of the current and future conflict. The element that could take it national would be whomever had control of the bulk of federal assets might just decide that some regions are in ” rebellion” (non-compliant with whatever edict comes from the “national” government) adjuster brought to heel.
    Whether the defiance is left ( “sanctuary cities”) or the right (bitter clingers”) will depend on TPTB, as will the level of restraint. The “literally hitler” and current CINC is showing commendable restraint IMO.

  5. I think we can all agree that the USA is the worlds 911 call of choice.

    But there is a strange absence of same in the Biblical prophesy of
    all the Middle East gang banging Israel in the days when Israel
    retakes their ancient homeland.

    Since Israel is our main ally where are we when it hits the fan?

    Either we no longer exist as a nation or we are so internally
    conflicted in a civil war that we can’t help Israel.

    Their is one other possibility: We reelect Obama and he
    refuses to defend Israel. But that isn’t likely.

    I think your LIC is going to be a bit more because every town
    and village is going to straiten out the K-12 education, abortion,
    University and LGBTQ issues just to get started.

  6. I see this article is aged, however I’ve just discovered you. My personal opinion is the erosion of gun rights or the out right nullified of the 2nd amendment will be the catalyst for what I prefer to call the 2nd revolution. Calling it a 2nd civil war doesn’t sit well with me. Splitting hairs? Maybe, but in my mind words mean something and what we are fighting for is the very foundation of our nation. Now I don’t pretend to know exactly what this is going to look like, but I have no doubt it’s going to happen.

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