Civil war expert predicts ‘tipping point’ in US’s next armed conflict

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As the US prepares to head to the polls for next week’s midterms, a political scientist said the attack on the Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband was only the opening salvo in terms of political violence. David DePape broke into Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco mansion and allegedly took aim at Paul Pelosi when he was actually targeting the third most senior US politician. But these attacks could become more commonplace and ultimately escalate into a full-blown civil war, said author Barbara F. Walter.

The ‘How Civil Wars Start” author told PBS’s Amanpour programme the “tipping point” for a potential internal conflict is “the big election in 2024, that worries me. And it worries me no matter who wins.”

She said if Democrats solidify their grasp on power and remain in both houses of Congress, Republicans may grow frustrated and seek legal routes to retake power.

Ms Walter said: “If the Republican win that election, which they may well do, their incentive to hold on to power is to use legal means. And legal means can be to increase gerrymandering, to stack the courts.

“They can use a whole series of measures that are allowed to in some ways cement minority rule to ensure that when elections are held in the future that the opposition never comes to power. 

“And we know that’s what Trump intended to do after he lost the election when he was trying to overturn it. He came out and said, ‘Once I’m back in power, we’re going to ensure that I never lose it again’.”

She argued Republicans are losing their electoral base – mainly constituted of white Christian men – as it is gradually eroding, with that subset of the population declining.

On the Democratic side, she said a prolonged control of both houses of Congress could backfire and have Republicans escalate the narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

She added: “If they become convinced, they can go to vote and do everything that they’re told is correct in a democratic system and they can never win, this gives fuel to the fire of extremists who are saying: ‘See, we told you so’. We’re going to have to think of another method to take back control.”

Dr Walter served on a US government task force that was run by the CIA to predict where political instability and civil unrest were likely to break out. 

From her time in the task force and 200 studies carried out around the world, she said the two main factors that contribute to civil wars are a weak and partial democracy and whether political parties are divided along racial, religious and/or ethnic lines. 

She claimed the groups more likely to start civil are those that used to be dominant and are now in decline because of fast-changing demographics like in the United States. Since 2008, America has seen a wave of extremist actions perpetrated predominantly by white men. 

Dr Walter added: “If you look at the history of the United States, the group that had been dominant since the very inception of our country were white men. They also tended to be Christian. And they’re losing that position.”

President Joe Biden issued a rallying cry for the preservation of democracy warning that America could face increasing political violence as it edged towards the midterms elections.

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The US President said: “We’re facing a defining moment and we must with one, overwhelming, unified voice speak as a country and say there’s no place for voter intimidation or political violence, whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans. No place. Period. No place. Ever.”

US security agencies have issued a heightened threat advisory, warning of potential attacks on political candidates, election officials as well as polling workers. The bulletin cites lone actors who repeat the false narrative that the 2020 election results were skewed as the most plausible threats to potential targets. 

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the US Capitol Police have issued a rare joint warning of isolated terror attacks in the run-up to – and after – the midterm elections. 

Americans are casting their ballots on November 8 in one of the most polarised contests the country has ever seen.

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