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Is The US Headed For A Second Civil War?

 May 20, 2019 at 10:13 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 There's been an increase in violent domestic terrorism, like the mass shooting at the Habad of Poway, the mosque burned in Escondido, the mass shootings in a Pittsburgh synagogue in Charleston AME church. The frequency of these attacks are an indication of a possible second civil war in the United States. According to Barbara F. Walter, who is a university of California San Diego political scientist who studies civil wars. Her expertise has been sought by the US State Department, the CIA and others. She joins me now via Skype to talk about what many would call a chilling warning for our country. Barbara, thank you for speaking to midday addition. Thank you for inviting me. What got you thinking the United States may be headed towards a civil war? Speaker 2: 00:43 I started thinking about a second civil war here in the United States when people started asking me about it and they started asking me about it as early as 2016 and back then I said, no, we know actually know a lot about why civil wars start and where they start and why they started at particular times. And, um, the United States back in 2016 had none of the risk factors associated with the outbreak of civil war. So I didn't think Americans would fight each other. Again. One of the big surprises though over the last two years is how quickly things have changed. The two biggest factors that are associated with the outbreak of civil war, our transitions to and from democracy, yes, democracy and increasing fractionalization in societies. So when populations become more polarized, either ethnically, racially based on religion or class, and both of those features have emerged relatively quickly over the last few years. Speaker 1: 01:47 And you know, we're seeing trends emerge, one of them being the violence and the white supremacist violence particularly, how does that tie into the risk factors for civil rights? Speaker 2: 01:57 When experts who study civil wars, when they see things like an air rise of extremism, and here are the United States and in other Western democracies, we have seen an increase in the rise of right wing extremism. When we see the, an increase in the number of militias and violent militias, these are all, um, all things that tend to happen very early on. And they're sort of the precursors to more organized forms of violence. Speaker 1: 02:30 And would you characterize those forms of violence? Has Political violence? Do all of them fall under that umbrella? Speaker 2: 02:37 Really interesting. Most people, when when you talk to them or when reporters writes stories about, let's say Timothy, Mick Fay, oftentimes they're portrayed as crazy. They're portrayed as lone wolfs. These are isolated incidences. But if you dig deeper, oftentimes there is either an explicit political motive or an implicit political motive. Speaker 1: 03:02 And Democrats have said this country is in a constitutional crisis. Would you characterize our state of democracy that way? And if so, is that also a factor in pushing us closer to civil war? Speaker 2: 03:13 The reality is is our constitution, it can be quite vague on many important issues and doesn't detail all of the possible scenarios, hi, which our democracy could come under attack. And so what we're seeing now is that the vagueness or the areas that aren't detailed provide loopholes for individuals or groups of individuals who want to gain additional power, who want to exploit the system. And so one of the questions people ask me all the time as well, how would a civil war breakout here could a civil war break out if a president loses and election for example, and refuses to leave the White House? And it was interesting because I actually didn't know what the procedure was for escorting a president out of the White House if that's what it came to. And it turns out the constitution doesn't either. And so if you have a president, for example, who is willing to buck convention, who is willing to challenge longstanding norms, basic of what that person is doing is daring, daring the system to try to figure out how to respond. And of course where there's uncertainty, there is opportunity and there's potential chaos. Speaker 1: 04:37 You don't necessarily think the US is actually heading towards a second civil war. So why do you think it's important to talk about this? Speaker 2: 04:46 It's really important to talk about this because I think if, if we ignore the risks, if we ignore the hazards that are beginning to emerge or we're distracted by something else, which we are, and I'll talk about that in a second. If we're distracted by something else, then while we're looking at one shiny object to our right, really bad things could be happening to our left and suddenly we're in our situation where we're not just a flawed democracy but we are really a democracy in deep trouble. We're not just polarized but we are organizing more and more and we are preparing for civil war until one day it does explode and we don't want to be taken by surprise. And right now what we are distracted by, and we have been distracted by this since September 11th is international terrorism and is L'amec extremism. And what we have not done a particularly good job at is looking at extremism within our own midst. Speaker 2: 05:52 More people have been killed in the last two years by a domestic terrorists, by right wing terrorists then have been killed by any other form of terror. So right wing extremism is growing much faster than other forms of extremism. Violence on the right is growing, and if we continue to focus almost exclusively on international terrorism, on Isis, on, I'll tida on the potential threat of Islamic extremism. Um, and it's much harder for those individuals to operate here in this country to the exclusion of our own home grown right wing extremism, then we really could potentially get ourselves in trouble. I've been speaking with Barbara F. Walter, who is a university of California San Diego political scientist who studies civil wars. Barbara, thank you so much for joining us. It's my pleasure. Thank you. Speaker 3: 06:52 Okay.

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Barbara F. Walter, a professor of political scientist at UC San Diego who also blogs about political violence, said the frequency of domestic terrorist attacks are one of a handful of factors researchers consider when looking at indicators of a possible second civil war in the U.S.
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