What Would a Hybrid Civil War Look Like?

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Hardly a day goes by without the tempo of political hostility rising — sometimes to the level of physical confrontation. Recently, “a man being sought for the assault of a conservative activist on the University of California, Berkeley campus [was] arrested.”


There is less and less regret for incivility. Nobody says sorry anymore, they just retreat into a private reality where they are always right. The Washington Post, still reeling from misidentifying the victim and aggressor in a story about Covington Catholic High School students and activist Nathan Phillips, simply slapped itself on the wrist with an Editor’s Note admitting it got its account wrong and declared it all square. That was better than YouTube, which allegedly deplatformed a retired Navy SEAL who debunked Nathan Phillips’ claim that he was a Vietnam vet.

Retired Navy Seal Don Shipley has made it his life’s mission to expose these shameless charlatans. His channel had 232,806 subscribers at the time it was taken down and had been in operation since around 2008.

He told PJ Media that he thinks his channel was taken down because he had “outed Nathan Phillips,” who had “masqueraded as a Vietnam vet.”

In Britain, politicians are calling for the frank censorship of “hate speech.”

“I have written to Google CEO @SundarPinchai calling on him, as a matter of urgency,” wrote one high ranking Labour MP on Twitter, “to remove the YouTube page of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson.”

The take-no-prisoners nature of the new politics was illustrated by Michelle Malkin’s claim at CPAC arguing that Republican elites could not deliver border security.

“E-verify has been stalled. Sanctuary cities have metastasized, and both parties are to blame. And yes, I’m looking at you, retired Paul Ryan. And yes, I’m looking at you, Mitch McConnell! And yes, I’m looking at you, Bush family!” she said before a brief pause, and then, pointing up to the roof, added: “And yes, I’m looking at you, the ghost of John McCain!” The remarks were met with applause and a standing ovation.


Howard Schultz tweeted that “the failed political class of Washington, D.C., has broken America’s political system. And out of that are rising political extremes on both sides.” Yet to some, extremes are not a bug but a feature. Bernie Sanders declared without a hint of irony that “Donald Trump wants to divide us up based on the color of our skin, based on where we were born, based on our gender, our religion and our sexual orientation,” even though that is the perfect definition of intersectional identity politics.

While one explanation for the fractiousness is a reversion to our primitive natural tendency to mistrust outsiders, the other possibility is that it is now the way modern warfare is waged. The Russians have ascribed events unfolding in Venezuela to an American Trojan Horse strategy. It “would rely on ‘protest potential of the fifth column’ to destabilize the situation in the countries with unwanted governments … using the technologies of color revolutions.”

The Russians, whose Soviet empire was overthrown by the color revolutions, have been experimenting with similar strategies known as hybrid warfare. As the NYT reported

General Gerasimov laid out in an article published in 2013 … which many now see as a foreshadowing of the country’s embrace of “hybrid war”… analysts see a progression from the blend of subversion and propaganda used in Ukraine to the tactics later directed against Western nations, including the United States, where Russia’s military intelligence agency hacked into Democratic Party computers during the 2016 election.

With conventional war rendered suicidal by the advent of nuclear weapons, a cocktail of lawfare, info war, deliberate population movement, and targeted physical intimidation is now the toolset of choice and the Russians, Chinese, jihadis, EU, and USA each have their versions.


“The idea that the Russians have discovered some new art of war is wrong,” Mark Galeotti, a Russia expert at the Royal United Services Institute and the author of “Russian Political War,” said of the general’s latest speech. “This is basically the Russians trying to grapple with the modern world.” Hybrid war has long been a Western military term of art, analysts say, especially in the context of counterterrorism.

But since the resulting battlefields are waged inside the country, there is little reason why domestic political conflict should not resemble the international ones. Because victory is now attained by jailing opponents, silencing or financially sanctioning them, punitive prosecution, deplatforming, and universal surveillance are used alike in both cases and it is increasingly hard to tell them apart. The thesis that America is already in a “civil war” or on the brink occurred to Greg Jaffe, national security reporter, and Jenna Johnson, national political correspondent for The Washington Post.

At a moment when the country has never seemed angrier, two political commentators from opposite sides of the divide concurred recently on one point that was once nearly unthinkable: The country is on the verge of “civil war.”

First came former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova, a Fox News regular and ally of President Trump’s. “We are in a civil war,” he said. “The suggestion that there’s ever going to be civil discourse in this country for the foreseeable future is over. . . . It’s going to be total war.”

The next day, Nicolle Wallace, a former Republican operative turned MSNBC commentator and Trump critic, played a clip of di­Genova’s commentary on her show and agreed with him — although she placed the blame squarely on the president.

Trump, she said, “greenlit a war in this country around race. And if you think about the most dangerous thing he’s done, that might be it.” … fears that once existed only in fiction or in the fevered dreams of conspiracy theorists have become a regular part of the political debate. These days, there is talk of violence, mayhem and, increasingly, civil war.


If a civil war were actually underway it would take the form of hybrid warfare and look much like what can already be observed today. It would explain why, in an era obsessed with safe spaces and tolerance, there is little of either left; why no one is safe from offense, nothing is private; why everything is increasingly criminalized. That context would explain why each new restriction, whether on the use of cash, private transportation, or gun ownership can be perceived as a veiled threat. “Speaking to conservative pundit Laura Ingraham, diGenova summed up his best advice to friends: ‘I vote, and I buy guns. And that’s what you should do.'”

It might shed light on why so many people already feel like psychological refugees with the strange sense they have been evicted from their homes and wondering: what happened to my country? To the church on the corner? To family gatherings? Trust networks? Why have they been turned into battlegrounds?

In an eerie case of possible mirror-imaging, the Washington Post article quotes Michael Cohen: “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” But even if overt violence never breaks out, already among the casualties may be America’s soul.  Arthur Brooks of AEI describes how hate-filled he thinks society has become.

People often say that our problem in America today is incivility or intolerance. This is incorrect. Motive attribution asymmetry leads to something far worse: contempt, which is a noxious brew of anger and disgust. And not just contempt for other people’s ideas, but also for other people. In the words of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

The sources of motive attribution asymmetry are easy to identify: divisive politicians, screaming heads on television, hateful columnists, angry campus activists and seemingly everything on the contempt machines of social media. This “outrage industrial complex” works by catering to just one ideological side, creating a species of addiction by feeding our desire to believe that we are completely right and that the other side is made up of knaves and fools. It strokes our own biases while affirming our worst assumptions about those who disagree with us.


Is America already in a state of civil hybrid war from which only one winner can emerge? The problem with Trojan horses and the reason they’re so effective is that they remain ambiguous until it’s almost too late.

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