‘Accidental Guerrillas’ in a U.S. domestic conflict – Forward Observer Shop

‘Accidental Guerrillas’ in a U.S. domestic conflict

This month, I’ve been re-reading The Accidental Guerrilla by counterinsurgency theorist (and practitioner) David Kilcullen.

The premise of the book is simple: Osama bin Laden baited U.S. and Coalition Forces into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Middle East, while simultaneously baiting the Muslims in those countries to fight the Americans, thus ensuring a protracted war between Islam and the West. The book covers many examples of irregular, tribal wars and the ‘accidental guerrillas’ who fight in them.

Many fighters in Afghanistan didn’t necessarily want to fight until American soldiers stepped foot into their homelands and, being now forced to fight them, became ‘accidental guerrillas’ because they had no other choice.

(That’s how many Southerners felt during the War of Secession. Non-slave-holding Confederate citizens who had no benefit of protecting the ‘peculiar institution’ took up arms against an invasion of their states by Federal troops. We’ve seen this before.)

One potential I see for us going forward is that current cold civil war tactics will progress into regular but sporadic acts of armed political violence (like the attempted assassination of Steve Scalise).

Since reciprocation is a universal human trait, victims of political violence or their supporters will, once political violence is normalized (and armed political violence is rationalized; read this), carry out their own political violence and perhaps one to five percent of the U.S. population become ‘accidental guerrillas’ involved in a hot domestic conflict.

In the very first pages, Kilcullen discuses the Chinese way of “unrestricted warfare” and I think it sets up a worst-case scenario or model if our cold civil war turns hot. Here’s a brief background:

First, Chinese activities like intellectual property theft (economic and industrial espionage) to the tune of $200-300 billion per year should be classified as an act of war — because the Chinese Communist Party certainly see themselves being at war with the U.S.

Second, espionage outside of government and military sectors has been going on for decades; this is much more than just competition for military supremacy, it’s competition for total supremacy and eventual global dominance (especially economically, commercially, and technologically).

Third, an acquaintance recently described to me how the Chinese look at espionage. “To the Chinese, a door is a door,” he said, describing that all avenues are on the table, regardless of how traditional or acceptable the targets are. Every door being just another door to walk through is the basis for understanding Chinese “unrestricted warfare”.

“The first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules, with nothing forbidden.” – Qiao Liang, People’s Liberation Army

Kilcullen describes Chinese unrestricted warfare as:

“combining direct combat with electronic, diplomatic, cyber, terrorist, proxy, economic, political, and propaganda tools to overload, deceive, and exhaust the U.S. ‘system of systems’.”

In previous posts (here and here), I’ve described why we’re already locked in a cold civil war or, a term I like better, domestic conflict. Here are the types of ‘warfare’ we’re already seeing:

  • Diplomatic (international solidarity in national populism and international socialism/communism)
  • Economic (boycotts, politicization of corporations and commerce)
  • Political (soft coup against a sitting president, battle over immigration, struggle for political dominance)
  • Propaganda (media/news outlets, misreporting facts and poor reporting for political gain)
  • Information (censorship in social media, selective reporting of the news, doxxing)

(Kilcullen just uses ‘propaganda’ but I think a broader description of information operations or information warfare is applicable to what we’re seeing in this country.) What we’re not seeing either in great numbers or to great effect is electronic, cyber (questionable), terrorist, or proxy warfare.

We might be tempted to say that attacks against Trump supporters is a form of terrorism but through the lens of low intensity conflict, Trump supporters are actually cultural combatants. They’re among the politicized social bases involved in this civil war/domestic conflict and, in the eyes of their opposing belligerents, are acceptable targets of political violence. (One thing we ought to keep an eye on is the normalization of violence against socialists/communists, because that seems to be a logical progression of tit-for-tat political violence, which would mark a turning point in our otherwise cold civil war.)

In the United States right now, we’re seeing all the hallmarks of low intensity conflict — confrontation between politicized social bases below the threshold of conventional war but above peaceful and routine competition. That’s the basis for my argument that we’re already in a domestic conflict, albeit a low grade one.

I’ll be producing chapter by chapter lectures of The Accidental Guerrilla and my lessons learned for a U.S. domestic conflict at the FO Schoolhouse, our online intelligence and security training area. In addition to August’s training videos, I’ll be recording audio lectures (and maybe video) as I pick this book apart chapter by chapter. It provides a great basis for understanding irregular warfare and the community security mission, especially in areas where law and societal norms are degraded (i.e., during a natural disaster or national emergency).

If you’re concerned about where we’re headed as a country, whether on the near-end of the spectrum or the far end of the spectrum (social, political and economic instability; domestic conflict; or collapse of empire), and want to stay informed on what the headlines don’t cover, then I invite you to try us out. If you’re not happy within the first two weeks, I’ll refund your monthly or annual subscription cost – no questions asked. You can get access to our intelligence reporting and training area here.



Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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