There has been loose talk of an impending civil war circulating around our county for decades now. So far, none of our local politicians has bothered to address this, whether in favor or in opposition — perhaps understandably so, since the proposition is, on the face of it, absurd.
Lately, the notion has been gaining popularity though, more often mentioned and in more urgent terms, in the form of a question: “When do you think the civil war will happen?”
What was once the negligible fantasy of a few local extremists has now become a more common belief in its inevitability.
The prime proponents of this uncivil warfare are members of, or supporters of, so-called “citizen militias.” Our state does have a real militia, the Oregon National Guard. These are not actual militias at all, but haphazard (and hazardous) groups of people who adopt the title and claim legitimacy in preparing to rise up and overthrow real or imagined tyrants or tyrannical systems of government by use of arms.
It is obvious that open, traditional-style warfare against our government could not be carried out with any hope of success. One side would have helicopter gunships, drones, tanks and a half-million trained personnel, while the other side would not amount to enough citizen militia members to fill the stands in a minor league baseball park. It would be utterly impossible to occupy and hold territory under such lopsided circumstances.
Given the reality of that situation, this contemplated (and in some sad lost-soul cases yearned-for) civil war would necessarily take the form of an insurgency — that is, scattered acts of terrorism directed at soft targets. In more honest terms, that means killing people who pose no threat to anyone in the hope that a horrified government will eventually accede to the insurgents’ demands. It means devastating families and their communities.
The odds of any such widespread uprising occurring anytime soon are minuscule at best. What we can count on is isolated incidents of the sort that have already happened: isolated bank robberies, kidnappings, murders and bomb attacks such as the 1996 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City — all carried out by believers in the imminent necessity of civil war in order to maintain freedom from tyrants.
Even just the talk of antigovernment violence is a dangerous. There are excitable people who can be triggered to commit violent acts by extremist rhetoric. The Christmas Eve 1985 murders of Charles Goldmark, his wife, Annie, and their two sons in Seattle was carried out by David Lewis Rice, who mistakenly thought that Goldmark was a communist, something that he’d been told by right-wing extremist friends. In Lewis’s mind, he was doing his patriotic duty, protecting his freedom and his country by bludgeoning those four people to death. He was convicted of the murders, of course, but the ones who stirred up his anger and provided him with the false charge of Charles Goldmark being “the head of the Communist Party in Washington” were never on trial. None of Rice’s friends had urged him to kill anyone, he took it upon himself secretively and in the firm belief that they would all approve of it.
One would think that eventually some local politician, pundit or preacher would publicly condemn this loose talk, and perhaps one or more will eventually do so. If the history failing to speak up about threats of violence here in our county in the past in an indication, it is likely that none will take a public stand at all or, perhaps, only too late, after the killing has begun.