Essay: The ‘Civil War’ Psy-Op

Psychological operations can have many objectives, demoralization being the most common. But they can also be used to create opportunities that otherwise might not present themselves…

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egime propaganda is so ubiquitous that even if, like me, you make no effort to seek it out and even take steps to avoid it, you can’t help but notice that our masters have fastened onto a new narrative: the coming “civil war.” 

This was the crux of all the maudlin, dishonest January 6 retrospectives, of several “think pieces,” and at least three new books: America is facing a second civil war and it will be started by the Right. 

Really? With what? In one of his more lucid moments, Joe Biden himself noted that the disaffected on the Right have no chance of taking on the United States government without F-15s and nukes. Like the blind squirrel finding a nut, the old man was onto something. The government’s overwhelming advantages in technology, firepower, manpower, money, transportation, supply networks, surveillance tools and much else would be so lopsided as to make the military buzzword “asymmetric” a grim joke. Think, instead, Bambi versus Godzilla. 

To fight a civil war, you have to organize. But organizing is all but impossible for those who genuinely dream of taking on the state. The U.S. government is incompetent at many (most?) of its assigned responsibilities. But it’s quite good at keeping tabs on any hint of “right-wing insurrectionary” impulses. That task is made much easier by the fact that there is so little such activity to monitor—so little, in fact, that the feds increasingly feel compelled to incite it. 

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It would be hard to hide a mass movement of people gearing up to fight a civil war. Do you see one anywhere? I don’t. If there were one, don’t you think the feds would be all over it? Of course they would. And don’t you think regime media would be blaring about it 24/7? Again—of course. This is a classic case of a dog not barking. Silence is confirmation that nothing is happening. 

Organization, like civil war, requires elites. Indeed civil wars, like all wars, are fought between two opposing factions of elites. Even backwoods insurgencies have leaders. Where are the elites poised to lead red America in a civil war? Who are they? There is Trump to be sure, and regime propaganda insists that he’s a modern-day Jeff Davis-Robert E. Lee hybrid. But this is the same Trump who spent January 6 tweeting. The real elites made sure that was his last day on that platform—and then impeached him for the second time. The real elites—Republican and Democrat alike—wish he would crawl into a hole and die. Trump may have tens of millions of committed followers. But a real civil war requires generals and colonels and captains and lieutenants and sergeants. Go ahead—name some. I’ll wait.

Granted, some on the Right speculate about the possibility or desirability of a “national divorce.” But they are in all cases proposing a peaceful way out of the present impasse—a parting that would be, if not necessarily amicable, at least orderly and bloodless. It’s one thing to argue that such is not possible; that’s a reasonable position, though one I think weaker than its alternative. It’s another to accuse advocates of national divorce of advocating or wishing for violence. That’s simply a lie. 

So what’s going on? Two things, I think—one conscious, the other less so. 

The conscious effort is what’s known in national security geek speak as a “psy-op,” a.k.a., a “psychological operation.” These are coordinated efforts to use propaganda, disinformation, truth and half-truth, to influence the target’s thinking in ways favorable to those behind the op. It’s not simply propaganda; that is, not Tokyo Rose merely telling American Marines they’re destined to lose. Seemingly fact-based lies are an essential element to a psy-op. Think Tokyo Rose telling Marines about to hit the beach that an American carrier has been sunk when it hasn’t. 

Psy-ops can have many objectives, demoralization being the most common. But they can also be used to prep the ground for other operations, to create opportunities that otherwise might not present themselves. 

That’s what’s going on now. The regime wishes to crush all actual and potential opposition. To do this, it needs to criminalize dissent. But doing that runs against the letter and spirit of the great charters of American liberty, and against the grain of the American character. To do what they want to do requires changing public opinion. Or, more specifically, it requires wearing down Americans’ inborn resistance to censorship and political persecution. 

But as much as Americans hate those things, they also hate and fear even the prospect of terrorism, civil strife, and domestic conflict. Here we come to another dog resolutely not barking. There is no terrorism, civil strife, or domestic conflict—at least not coming from the Right. Yet the Department of Justice recently created a “domestic terrorism unit” to target “those who are motivated by racial animus, as well as those who ascribe to extremist anti-government and anti-authority ideologies.” 

Read carefully that unusually candid statement. They aren’t going after actual terrorists or terrorist acts. I suppose they would if they could find any. But there aren’t any to be found. So instead they’re targeting motives, animus, and ideologies—i.e., ideas and feelings, not actual acts. 

The closest thing they have is January 6—an unplanned, unarmed, inchoate protest in which the only victims of violence were protesters. The regime is trying to brainwash everyone that January 6 was the equivalent of Pearl Harbor and 9/11. But, it’s not working— at the very worst, three-quarters of Americans think it was “a protest that went too far”—so the regime needs a Plan B. 

And that’s to sow disinformation of a coming “civil war.” Historians, philosophers, and survivors of civil wars all agree that they are the worst of all wars. Hence the desire to avoid them is understandably overwhelming, justifying (in many minds) almost any measures, including many that would be unthinkable absent the alleged threat. If the regime can stoke enough fear of an imminent civil war, suddenly all kinds of draconian measures that are presently out of the question will become possible. 

For this reason, there is perhaps no more urgent rhetorical task right now than to demonstrate, repeatedly, the falseness and dangerousness of this narrative.

Typically, the first rule of a psy-op is that you do not talk about the psy-op. And that remains the case with this one—to a point. But interestingly, regime voices have chosen this moment not merely to acknowledge the existence of psy-ops but to praise and recommend their use to further regime ends.

That may be a coincidence. Or it may emanate from an uncharacteristic sense of self-awareness on the part of the ruling class. Certainly some of them believe the nonsense that the Right is yearning and preparing for civil war. But just as certainly, many do not. The second rule of a psy-op is that those mounting it must be able to distinguish truth from falsehood. It’s possible that some who know they’re lying feel bad about it, at least on some subconscious level.

It’s also possible, even likely, that many elites intuit that if a civil war were to come, they would bear the lion’s share of the blame: for despoiling middle America for decades, and then for demonizing decent, normal people for daring to object to their despoilation. One way to cope, psychologically, with the guilty conscience that may arise from harming so many for so long is to contrive rationalizations for why the victims are evil and deserve it. 

The truth is that for the last 50 years, and accelerating greatly over the last 10, America’s elites have relentlessly divided the country, strip-mined its institutions, leeched its wealth, and attacked a large portion of its people. Those actions, taken together, may be said to be almost a recipe for civil war. Perhaps the smarter elites have concluded that such a war is now inevitable and they want to get a jumpstart on assigning blame. A cynical person (not me!) might wonder if civil war is not exactly what the ruling class wants and is trying to provoke. 

We might therefore analogize every fresh provocation to those feds who apparently entrapped some very imprudent men into trying to kidnap the governor of Michigan. They want you not just to talk about civil war, but to begin taking concrete actions that they can insist are preludes to war. Then they will have free rein to impose ever more censorship, surveillance, no-knock raids, computer and records seizures, asset confiscation, frivolous (but deadly serious) criminal charges, endless pretrial detention, and draconian sentences for misdemeanors and noncrimes. 

So my advice is: don’t give them any excuse. Be careful what you say and do. You may complain: “But it’s unfair that a stray comment might be used to throw me in federal lockup while leftist allies can loot and torch whole cities and get off scot-free.”

Indeed it is. But this whole system, this whole regime, is unfair—to you. That’s the whole point of it. ✪

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