Editor's note: When we wrote Peter Adler, asking if he'd be willing to contribute to this discussion, he replied "Like you, I’m worried and continue to think we are on the brink of a major outbreak of fighting in the U.S." But instead of writing academic essays on the topic, as Guy, Sanda, and I have done, Peter has written a novel, which is currently being shopped around to a variety of publishing houses. He offered to share some excerpts, which are reprinted below.
As we hope is evident from the first section of our framing essay in CRQ we have long been afraid that the continuing cycle of hyper-polarization could, in the not-too-distant future, lead to large-scale violence and potentially war. We also recognize that academic essays can only go so far in making people aware of the danger. Novels can reach out and grab people—academics and non-academics alike—and get them to understand things in their hearts as well as their heads. That is exactly what Peter is doing with his novel. And the potential for something like this to really happen, quite possibly long before 2037 when Peter's story starts, it exactly what prompted us to start the Constructive Conflict Initiative and more recently write the CRQ paper. Thanks for sharing this, Peter! Let us know when the book is out, so we can read the whole thing!
We urge readers to also take a look at the nonfiction essay Peter wrote on the same subject in January, 2022 which is reprinted in our blog and the article which Peter forwarded to us on August 30, 2022 from The Guardian that reports on a poll saying that more than 40% of Americans think civil war is likely within a decade!
From Peter Adler
August 24, 2022
Dear Heidi and Guy,
These last few years, above and beyond my professional work as a mediator and ADR consultant, I wrote a novel that is now in the hands of a fine literary agent who is moving it around to publishing houses. My motives for writing this have been mixed.
I have been as alarmed as you and our colleagues about the growing, intensifying divisiveness in the U.S. and elsewhere, I’m an inveterate scribbler, and I love a good story. I keep thinking the world is made of stories, and good stories accumulate into larger narratives and make the world’s history what it is, and what it could be.
This particular story takes place in 2037 and is called Defiance at Duck Springs: A Novel of Small Town America and the Next Civil War. On the draft it has a famous quote from Leon Trotsky on the cover: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” I could have just as easily plugged in a recent tweet from Steven Crowder who was part of the January 6th mob that assaulted the Capitol and more recently loudly objected to Attorney General Garland’s legal search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida: "Tomorrow is War. Sleep well."
My story centers on a 41-year old man named Daniel Goodman. Goodman is an ex- Marine with occasional bouts of darkness that come from PTSD. He fought in a future war between the U.S. and Pakistan and is a recent divorcee, a disbarred lawyer, a secular Jew, and a slightly foulmouthed philosopher who has read deeply into Albert Camus’s writings and is now retreating from his unhappy past to a borrowed cabin deep in in the Cascade Range. He is looking for escape or oblivion, whichever comes first.
As he heads off the grid, he is slowly drawn into the rhythms of a delightful nearby small town and falls in love with one of its residents, Clover Fiffe. At the same time, a violent coup d’état led by white supremacist paramilitaries called the New American Defense Force is throwing America into a second Civil War. The President is assassinated, cities are on fire, and rogue militias are closing in on Duck Springs for reasons that are revealed deeper in the narrative.
Under the leadership of a retired major general, Harlan Morgan, Goodman helps lead a rear-guard resistance movement and discovers the power of a pissed-off community. I won’t reveal the ending but Danny’s first person account draws on some of what we know about negotiation and conflict resolution.
Here then, are some excerpts from Goodman’s writings.
On the Road Heading to His Cabin, Stopping for Gas…
“The ancient AM radio in the car blares an announcement. A large riot has broken out in Chicago. Student demonstrators marching north on Michigan Avenue are being attacked by a crowd of opponents wearing berets and red scarves. The disturbances are still in progress and the police are on hand. There are reports of 20 deaths and dozens of injuries.
Before I reach Berwick along Washington 104, I stop at a Chevron station to buy coffee and gas up the car. On the TV above the cashier, a blonde newsman is speaking; he looks like he just graduated from high school and may be wearing a suit for the first time. His newsreader voice is steady, even as dramatic events are shrieking at viewers watching him. A few other customers near me are staring wide-eyed.
Our ears are hearing what our minds can’t quite grasp. Beginning at 2:17pm EST, bombs went off three minutes apart at the Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR memorials. Someone had sent assassins to take out President Norma Chavez's motorcade and tried to kill Vice President Marcus Longborn in his home at the Naval Observatory. Both efforts failed.
Norma Chavez’s armored limousine withstood the bomb blast. In Bethesda, assassins made it over the fence and part way to Longborn's house before they were killed. A reporter at the scene says four of the dead assassins wore identical black berets, camo pants, and red scarves.
The picture on the screen shows a partially demolished Lincoln memorial with Honest Abe’s marble chair and body split in half and his bearded head on the ground. Several supporting columns are shattered, and the bodies of tourists and National Park rangers are covered with plastic sheets. Paramedics are administering to others.
The crawler at the bottom of the screen tells us that at least 34 deaths have been confirmed and scores more have been injured by the blast of ball bearings, screws, and nails. The body count is rising; the berets and red scarves suggest these are orchestrated attacks; some kind of militia.
A third video report then breaks in. Details are still sketchy, but more bombs have gone off at the federal courthouses in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Atlanta, and St. Louis; at FBI headquarters, the Supreme Court, and the J. Edgar Hoover building in D.C.; and at the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas. The baby- faced newscaster informs us that machine gun assaults are also underway at the Roosevelt, King, and Jefferson monuments and at park headquarters at Grand Canyon.
There are no accurate numbers yet, but CBS News reports that hundreds have died. A picture from the Jefferson Memorial next to the Tidal Basin flashes on the screen. It is in shambles. We are told to standby for more breaking stories. I am frozen in place.
The talking heads are already jumping in to comment on the images of destruction and closeups of the dead and wounded. As always, media gasbags quickly array their comments along the tribal divide between Democrats and Republicans. Dems say it is a right-wing plot precipitated by years of Republican demagoguery against working class people. Republicans insist it is a left-wing conspiracy by socialists masquerading as Democrats.
These speculations are thrown out by hastily assembled panels of commentators who talk about wingnuts and crackpots. Prosperous-looking congressmen are being interviewed and pointing fingers at each other's politics. One of them, an unctuous Republican senior senator from Iowa in a three-piece suit with a flag in his lapel, says it could be a peak moment in the long cyberwar with the Russians. He calls for reflection and prayer.
His Democratic counterpart, however, reports that it was a malicious, murky right-wing group called Pharaoh. The announcer asks who is behind Pharaoh and both of the senators shrug off his question and look away. I have heard vague things about Pharaoh as a source of shadowy internet rumors that President Chavez and Vice President Longborn are global sex-traffickers, pedophiles, and the spawn of demons from another planet.
I can envision press releases gushing out of the Capitol's ego-driven hall of mirrors and I imagine a frenzy of social media suddenly lighting up millions of handhelds as storylines amplify. There will be electronic locker room brawls of verbal nose pulling and towel snapping and thousands of anonymous poison darts and sharpened arrows flying through the ether from a million unnamed keyboard cowards. All of this toxicity is churning around the world in seconds.
Every dog has its day and each political hound will have his or her moment to sniff other asses and then proudly proclaim why it is someone else’s fault. I think to myself this could be what many forecasted ever since the first insurrection in January 2021when domestic terrorists smashed into the Capitol ransacking, looting, killing capitol police, and looking for public officials to assassinate. Most people thought that the arrest of the insurrectionists was the end of it. It wasn’t. The rioters went underground.
Now again? Or is it just another noisy day of the background violence we have all become numbed to.
Hardened as I am to most politics, independent national polls over the last decade have been showing increasing numbers of people bracing for violent change. Back in 2020, the Department of Homeland Security released a report calling virulent white supremacists the “most persistent and lethal threat in America.”
Several years later, 75% of all Americans thought armed insurrection was inevitable. Smart historians, philosophers, and respected former government officials agreed. “It’s 1859 again, just like the Civil War,” one of them argued. “Everyone is angry, everyone is tribal, and everyone has a gun.” He laid odds at 95% on a second civil war erupting within three years.
Back in my high school science class, Mr. Meyers taught us that water boils at exactly 212°F. What nobody could accurately predict, he said, was which molecule would agitate first and start the simmer. When it came to combustible national politics, no one could foresee which excited particle would kickstart a big boil.”
Pulled Over by a State Trooper…
“Half an hour beyond the Berwick city limits, a uniformed state trooper stops me. His globe light is flashing, but he hasn’t used his siren. He steps up to my window cautiously.
“What’s your name?” he asks.
“Goodman” I answer, handing him my license and keeping my hands on the steering wheel where he can see them, a lesson I learned from a Black man in the Marines who said he did that so he wouldn’t get shot right off the bat. “Daniel Goodman.”
He asks me where I am from. “Portland, but coming from Seattle right now,” I say.
Then he asks me where I am headed, and I tell him. Indian Creek, not far from a town called Duck Springs.
“Nice up there,” he says affably. “Used to fish and hunt with my dad there when I was a kid. Hand me your registration certificate.”
I pass it over and say, "It's my brother's car, Joshua Goodman. I'm borrowing it."
Then he notices the long guns in the back seat, asks me what kind they are, and if they are registered. I tell him, yes, a Marlin .22 and a Remington 30.06 and I also have a .40 caliber Sig Sauer pistol and would be pleased to show him the guns and my papers but would need to dig them out from under a bunch of boxes and duffel bags in the back seat.
“You ex-military?” he asks.
He looks ex-military himself. A lot of cops are former soldiers. Men and women who have served seem to have a sixth sense about this; especially those who have been in combat.
“Yes Sir,” I say. “Jarhead, 1st Marines.”
“Oorah,” he says. “So was I. Afghanistan. No need for the gun licenses Mr. Goodman. I believe you. Where’d you do you tour?”
“Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir.”
“I heard those were hard fights.”
I nodded and he says, “You hear the news about the bombings and killings in D.C.?”
I nod again.
“U.S. is going to the dogs. No matter what your politics are, God knows you may need to stay up there. I just heard some paramilitaries called the Western Badgers tried to kidnap and kill Idaho’s attorney general. They failed, but the mayor of San Francisco was killed in a knife attack.”
Then he looks at the car more carefully.
“Nice Karmann Ghia, Mr. Goodman. Don’t see many of those. Tell me about it.”
"It’s actually a replica, mostly fiberglass, an oversized version on a bigger frame with strong springs and shocks and a Ford engine, so it has some juice. It's a kit car, a hobby. My brother Josh put it together in his garage in Seattle."
“Daniel, tell your brother his safety sticker is out of date. Get that fixed.”
I thank him and tell him I will, though I know I won’t, and drive on.
At Wild Wind Pass, the top of the Cascades, a cluster of men and women with black berets, red scarves, and dozens of rifles are building some kind of checkpoint structure. I roll through and start downhill on 104.”
At a Small Town Social Gathering…
“Then, I talk at length with Brian Jankowski, an independent freighter who owns a couple long-haul tractor-trailer rigs. Mabel is his girlfriend. Jankowski is wearing a black western shirt with blue embroidery and white snap buttons. He has baggy jeans riding low under an immense belly and sports a red baseball hat.
When he takes it off, he is bald as an egg. He tells me he has regular runs between certain cities and had just come back from a delivery of electric generators from Spokane to San Diego. Brian tells me he’s got more in his warehouse that will be going to Salt Lake City soon.
“What’s it like in the cities and on the road?” I ask him. “It seemed ugly when I was in Cockett last month.”
“The truth?” he shrugs. “It’s bad. We’ve started organizing convoys. There are more and more robberies and hijackings. Some militia guys wearing the New American Defense Force colors pulled a friend of mine out of his vehicle at a rest stop just south of Eugene. He was carrying electronics and going to a big box in Sacramento with radios, computers, that kind of stuff. They wanted his truck. Shot him right there in the rest stop when he pushed back.”
“It’s worse than that. There’s unrest all over the Northwest. Local militias are connected and organized. Word is the NADF is assembling into armies.”
“How big are they?”
“I don’t know, but rumor is they have thousands in different parts of the country spreading havoc. The cities are more and more lawless and the disturbances seem to be escalating: Food riots in Cleveland. Mobs in New York and Atlanta. Rioting and neighborhoods burning in Miami. And the violence is spreading. A bunch of them broke into a Sikh temple in Chicago, raped the women, and lynched their priest. Same with Black churches in the south, synagogues in Chicago, and a Muslim community center in Kansas City.”
“Any pushback?” I ask him.
“Not that I’ve heard of, but I bet it will happen once the shock wears off.”
At His Cabin by Indian Creek and a Visit from his Brother…
“I am sitting on the wooden bench in front of the cabin avoiding the nail sticking up on the left side and smoking a pleasant midday cigar when my brother Josh drives up in his Subaru. He gets out with packages, which turn out to be a box of mail, two six-packs of Heineken, some bags of Starbucks coffee, a vacuum-sealed package of smoked salmon, a large bottle of herring in wine and vinegar from Fisherman’s Terminal, sandwiches for lunch, a fishing rod, fresh oatmeal cookies, and two loaves of bread that he and Sharon made.
“How’s it hanging Danny?”
“All good. What are you doing here?”
“Came up to make sure you hadn’t driven my Karmann Ghia into the river. It’s a collector’s i
item you know. More valuable than you. Also, brought your mail. A few things look important.”
“Come in and let’s drink one of those beers.”
“Good idea. Long drive with a lot of detours. And some NADF guys on the road with black berets playing soldier are stopping cars at the Pass. A bunch of them carrying submachine guns stopped me. Wanted to see my ID and know where I was going. Told them I was going fishing. Ugly-looking bunch.”
Josh is about my height but has blonde hair and blue eyes. When he would get dressed up for a date or prom, my mom used to tell him some Viking or Nazi must have snuck into our bloodline.
“It’s nice up here. Good place for a loner like you to hide away, though that stogie is stinking up the place.”
“Keeps the bears away. Also unwanted humans. Want one?”
He nods and I hand him a cigar. He snips the end with a pocket knife and lights it with a kitchen match.
Josh and I are close. He is six years younger than I am and somehow managed to keep Mom and Dad calm when I was in Kashmir, especially when they got news that I had been wounded and had hot IED shrapnel extracted from my side. They freaked out. The Marine Corps was slow to tell them that it wasn’t fatal, but good enough to get me home.
We talk and drink, walk up the Little Green to look for rainbows, and start casting into a few pools.
“What’s it like in Seattle?” I ask.
“Bad. Sharon and I are still working but our hours at the city have been cut way back. Even the cops and firefighters are having a hard time getting paid. The mayor and the city council members mostly argue with each other behind closed doors and then issue joint statements saying it will all be better soon. Nobody believes them.”
Josh tells me there had been a run on certain banks and that a homeless camp at Lake Washington has grown to 3,000 restless, angry people living under tarps without much sanitation. There is a lot of looting and mugging, food shortages, and the streets aren’t safe. People are hungry. Someone from a nearby camp went to the local mall with a lot of Japanese stores and grabbed all the colorful koi to boil for fish soup.
The New American Defense Force and some of their allies are turning into a serious enterprise, according to Josh, coming out of the shadows and creating a martial law government. Their patrols are everywhere.
“You and Sharon armed?”
“I have Dad’s old shotgun, the over and under, and my own .38 Special,” he answers. “I refurbished both and they shoot reasonably straight, though that .38 is not very good beyond a few feet.”
“You were never a very good shot. You better let Sharon shoot and you stand behind her. She’s more of a warrior than you anyway.”
Josh chuckles. “She hates guns. Won’t touch them.”
“How about knives and brass knuckles?”
He rolls his eyes and then tells me the NADF has brought a lot of small paramilitary units together in the Northwest. They are adding numbers fast and equipping themselves with military-grade weapons. Their standard garb is black shirts, black berets, red scarves, combat boots, and tan or camouflage pants. Most carry pistols, shotguns, and combat knives.
They are issuing daily proclamations calling for order. They say in flyers and what is left of the media that they are now the real government and the transition to a new American order. They seem to have taken over the streets in some neighborhoods and are issuing identity papers, commandeering homes, and demanding to be fed.
“Doesn’t make any difference,” Josh answers. “They are suspending laws and making their own rules. I’m sure they’ve tampered with elections and are sending out hit teams to knock out anyone who looks like serious political opposition.”
A Drone Hovers Over his Cabin…
“On a warm day, I sit on a stump close to the river watching the wind move pines and cottonwoods and bubbles of foam go by. I’m whittling a piece of wood that could become a bird. It’s a peaceful Thoreauvian moment. A couple of small trout are finning in the lee of a large rock. Yellow butterflies flutter down as does a large iridescent green dragon fly hunting gnats. A Douglas squirrel chatters away nearby.
Suddenly, a drone swoops down and hovers over the cabin. The squirrel races off. I hear it before I see it come in low, propellers whirring and emitting a low whistle. I remember small hand-launched reconnaissance units like these in Kashmir along with massive Reaper drones that launched guided missiles.
It drops down low, maybe 50 feet or less and hovers just above the front of the cabin. It has multiple propellers and a camera underneath snapping pictures.
I go inside, grab the 30.06, race back out, and click off the safety. I can see the drone drifting higher and heading north. I get off three quick shots but my drone hunting skills are rusty.”
A Visit to the Dentist in Cockett City A Few Months Later…
“After that, I walk around town and slowly make my way to the dentist. The streets are emptier than I expect for a place like Cockett and a lot of military-looking people in black berets and red scarves are hanging out on street corners. One of them seems to check me out but I walk by and show up at the office of Dr. Eric Abbott, DDS.
We instantly hit it off.
Abbott is a tall, muscular Black man about my age. He moved to Cockett City from Gary Indiana several years earlier because he liked to fish and hunt and Cockett had clean air. He has a wife and young kids and a small but diminishing practice because folks can no longer afford professional dentistry. He tells me some people are pulling out their own teeth.
“Call me Eric,” he says.
Eric has a stout frame, thick arms and legs, but small hands that can work their way inside and around a person’s mouth. He was a former football and hockey player. He asks me what is going on and I tell him a filling fell out and the tooth is sensitive to hot and cold. He agrees to see me but says I needed to pay cash up front, which I do.
After numbing my mouth and doing some poking and drilling, he stops for a minute, squints, and digs around with a dental pick. Then he puts in a temporary filling but informs me the tooth is rotten and I will need a root canal and an implant.
I tell him I’ll come back down to Cockett when things start to hurt, which he says will be sooner rather than later. Then I ask him, “What’s going on here?”
He doesn’t hesitate.
“Cockett is going to shit,” he says as I shift in the chair, “in fact, I think the whole country is in trouble.”
I like his candor.
“What do you mean?”
“Look, I don’t know what your politics are, but you seem like a decent guy. There’s a group here called the New American Defense Force that has taken over the City Council. They may be part of something bigger or some local or regional group. I can’t say for sure but what I do know is that they rigged our local election.”
“Basically, these guys are gangbangers. A lot of them look like high school losers trying to be badasses; like the ghetto gangs back in Gary. The NADF gives them status. They dress up in camo with black hats and red scarves, pack guns, and strut a lot. They think this guy Remus Willard is the country’s new genius. They got in a fight and killed several people near Roosevelt Park. They have their own flag. The old ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ rattlesnake.”
“New American Defense Force? A friend of mine in Duck Springs mentioned them. She said some of them are living in the woods up where I’m staying.”
“They’re paramilitary and want a completely white America. You won’t see any of my people with them. I heard they have little camps and cells all over Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Other parts of the country too. No one seems to know for sure.”
He stops and has me rinse my mouth.
“Just watch out for them,” he warns. “They’re zombies. Brainless but nasty and they seem to be connecting and getting organized.”
I like this man: sensible; practical; direct. Reminds me of Kenny Stokes who hailed from Alabama and managed to survive our squad’s disasters in Kashmir losing only his right eye. Kenny was one of the few people in my platoon I got close to in Kashmir.
Abbott and I talk a few minutes more and I ask what he thinks lies ahead for the country in general.
“Pardon my French,” he says. “but I think we’re fucked.”
“That’s just what I’ve been thinking after catching up on some news … which I never should have done.”
We shake hands and I leave to do my shopping. At Costless, many of the shelves are empty, but I stock up on a few supplies. I head into a nondescript clothing store and buy flannel-lined pants, then gas up the Ghia. Several stations are closed and gas prices have risen sharply. I am glad to be heading back to the mountains.
I am disappointed in myself. I fell off another wagon, succumbed to the tractor beam of current events, and accidentally opened my mental window to the universe. Current events are just another compulsion like poker and race tracks. When I open the shutters to my reclusive universe, the netherworld whooshes in on a hot, oily wind.
Good thing I don’t see a casino.
I figure my inconsequential out-of-the way little hidey-hole at Indian Creek is a good place to wait out what might be a massive shit storm. People like Willard might be taking over the country but I am confident I can tuck myself away at Indian Creek and sit out the madness.
Sometimes when the sun is out, I sit by the stream and watch water ouzels swim through a pool, dive down, and walk on the bottom. It’s one of the oddest birds I’ve ever seen: about the size of a robin; thick body and short tail; seems to eat little fish, bugs, and crustaceans. An appropriate metaphor. I’m a human ouzel hiding underwater.”
Goodman Drives Some Wounded People from a Commune into Duck Springs…
“In town, I find Cynthia McDonald, the nurse, and knock on her door. She is patching the elbow of a 10-year-old kid who had fallen off his moped. She is picking out pieces of gravel with a long-nosed forceps.
“Cynthia, I’ve brought you some customers. These folks could use your help.”
Wearing her usual wine-red scrubs, she looks up from the elbow she is wrapping and peers over her half-frame glasses. She is like a big, burgundy owl herself, sitting on a branch swiveling her head, scanning for mice.
“Bring them in.”
To my eye, Cynthia is endlessly interesting and likeable. She reminds me of some of the military medics and doctors I had known. They all seem to possess a mix of pervasive and optimistic expectations about healing bodies coupled with a deep skepticism about the human condition. In her endless line of dealing with sick or injured customers, Cynthia is intelligent, cynical, and unflappably pragmatic.
I leave Alyssaranda and Masaji with her and head over to the café to see what is going on. When I walk in, Clover rushes over and hugs me with a frightened look. The Clover I’ve known so far is normally full of confidence.
“You haven’t heard, have you?” she asks.
“Nothing. I’ve been hanging out with Stumpy the last few weeks and just brought some beat-up people to Cynthia. What’s going on?”
“Izzy picked it up on a short-wave radio. Norma Chavez was assassinated two weeks ago. She was shot point blank in the face. In addition to the president, 275 political, military, and judicial leaders have disappeared. Maybe more. Rumor has it they were taken to Maryland and executed. No one knows for sure. Rumors are flying.”
“What about Longborn?” I ask.
“The vice president is in Canada courtesy of Prime Minister Michael Maclean. He and a few cabinet members and legislators, the ones who weren’t killed or stuck in prison camps, escaped D.C. by plane and were given asylum in Ottawa. They sent out a few messages that they are the U.S. government in exile and managed to cancel the nuclear launch codes since the president’s football disappeared. Now even those broadcasts have stopped.”
“Near as we can tell from what we’ve heard,” she says, “electricity, water, radio, television, and broadband are down all over the country; that, or they are all hijacked by the NADF.”
Duck Springs electricity has been off for days.
Huddled near Pops and Thelma’s radio are Mayor Hernandez and Fire Chief Terwilliger, stone-faced. There too are the Miyamotos, Bob Williams, Peter Ashkin, Stinky Hart, and others. The radio, powered by a generator, has drawn Duck Springs people in like a campfire. Izzy is holding Penelope Nazzara’s hand.
The truth, the fears that Abbott talked about, the stuff I read at The Ars, the reports from Josh, Jankowski, and others … all have come to ground. The coup d’état is succeeding. I wonder: what will happen to this little town?
I haven’t been around very long, but I guess that if you were to give Duck Springs a demographic MRI you would find particular clusters on the sweeps—some people agreeable and thoughtful; others, cranky and difficult.
Underneath, I suspect you would also find some core fidelity to America’s basic principles of government. Even if they carp and complain about the country, a good anthropologist would reveal a certain shared cultural loyalty to the idea of a democracy situated just under all the whining and complaining.
In the café’s men’s room, there is a fading sticker that someone put up years ago. It captures the town’s spirit perfectly. It says, “I may not agree with your bumper sticker, but I will defend to the death your right to stick it.”
“How do you know all this is happening?” I ask Clover. She is trying to be calm but I can see her alarm bells are ringing. Same for everyone else. So are mine. I feel the old shivers, fears from Kashmir and jitters from lawsuits during moments in high drama trials.
Clover says, “Amos loaned us his shortwave radio. Izzy has one too. And Brian has a ham and CB set up. We’ve been getting some broadcasts from Canada, BBC in London, and some offshore pirate radio stations, but even those are slowing down. We think they are being blocked.”
“I never imagined it could come to this,” I say.
Pops looks up and answers instead of Clover, his normal easy-going face devoid of the usual cheer. He is wearing a fierce look, a side I haven’t seen.
“From what we’ve heard, the NADF is led by Remus Willard, his man Eugene Brody, and a group of senators and businessmen. They’ve pulled off a takeover with hundreds of hate groups, paramilitaries, and domestic terrorists. I just assumed they were screwballs and would fade away if we ignored them.”
Others chime in.
Ted Cingcade says, “They seem to have a bigger network of survivalists, white supremacists, and state militias than anyone suspected.”
I remember reading an essay on tyranny by a professor at Yale. He urged everyone to stay especially wary of paramilitaries. When gunslingers who claim to be against the system start wearing uniforms and march around with pictures of Exalted Leaders, we are up shit creek, especially if they intermingle with the police and military.
Amos adds, “BBC enumerated a bunch of them.”
He rattles off a lot of names: The Five Percenters, The Oath Holders, the Ancient Order of Christian Knights, the United Minutemen, the Louisiana Lions.
I assume a lot of these people are antivaxxers, flat earthers, and crackpot followers of Pharaoh. But all them share grievances at whites being edged out of the demographic mainstream and a hatreds for liberals, gays and people they think aren’t Christian … or the right version of it.
Ted Cingcade adds, “Remus and his people claim it’s all fake news, but BBC and CBC have done interviews with independent reporters who said Willard was behind the plot to kill Chavez, behead the government, and declare martial law.”
“This would require a lot of serious organization,” says Ian Jeffers. His voice and manner flat, almost clinical. “I wonder where Remus got all the money?”
“If I were to speculate,” says Cingcade, “I’d guess most of it came from rich, right-wing friends and supporters and some from criminals connected to drugs and trafficking. Or they just stole it.”
Everyone is pouring in opinion, purported facts, and pure speculation. None of it seems reliable.
Alberto Hernandez: “Willard said that the long-awaited day for American renewal has finally arrived. Law and order will soon be restored.”
Grant Terwilliger: “I think Remus wants to break the country into different confederacies.”
Vern Craft: “I heard pitched battles were underway between generals led by Eugene Brody and those who are still loyal to the existing U.S. I’m guessing a lot of boats, planes, vehicles, and munitions are in play and what the NADF hasn’t captured, loyal armed forces are either securing or destroying so those coup fuckers can’t get them.”
Thelma whispers to him, “Vernon, please don’t use that language. There’s kids in here.”
He suddenly wears a chastised face. First time I’ve seen him blush.
While he was on the road delivering freight, Brian tells us he heard rumors that newspaper reporters had disappeared into prisons or death camps. At the time, he treated them as hearsay.
Someone worries out loud if the Russians or Chinese might not take advantage of the situation. Russia is in the hands of an aggressive new troika—Agranov, Brodskaya, and Lemontov, all former KGB and GRU types. The Chinese have been busy crushing internal dissenters in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mongolia, and Tibet, but they always take pride in sticking it to Americans.
More locals pour in. Mo Ersbeck is here from the bakery. So is a guy in a wheelchair with two Labrador service dogs, one black, the other white. More little kids are running loose while their moms and dads cluster near the radio. Even Peter Ashkin, the restrained, buttoned-down lawyer who is part of Albert Hernandez’s City Council, is attentive. He is wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. With his hood up, he looks like someone off to rob a liquor store.
The town is congregating and the mood is somber.
Then, Harlan Morgan walks in. He glances at some of the others, sees me, nods, then joins the back of the scrum around the radio.
“Clover, I’m going to check on the people I brought to Cynthia’s. They were pretty banged up. After that, I’m going back to Indian Creek.”
“Come back soon. You may not be able to stay at Indian Creek much longer if all this is true and the NADF is really taking over.”
“Why would they bother with Indian Creek or Duck Springs?”
“Because that’s what people like them do,” she says, her poise recovered.
By the time I get to the clinic, Cynthia has wrapped Masaji’s arm, which is badly bruised but not broken. She’s put disinfectant, ointment, and bandages on their other injuries. I tell her I am going back to my cabin.
“I’ll find places for them,” she assures me. “They’re odd people, but gentle and polite.”
Then Alyssaranda looks at me. She starts choking up, full of fear, hurt, and anger. “Mr. Goodman, can I ask you for another favor? If you are able, would you or someone go up to Superstition Pass and see if anyone from the Parliament is left and try to help them?”
“No promises, but I’ll see what I can do.”
On the way back to Indian Creek, I think about the implications of a takeover but my brain is full of debris. It’s my monkey-mind, jumping around, through, and across tumbling lists of thoughts.
I think of Clover. I think about supplies and how little ammunition and chopped wood I have in the cabin. I think about coffee and peanut butter pie at the café, Josh and Sharon in Seattle, and the little shrimp that stopped us in Cockett City demanding our papers and whose lights I really wanted to punch.”
And I also remember what others have said. The world never leaves you alone. It sends out feelers to find us and bring new moments of trouble … usually, just when we are feeling sunshine on our cheeks.”
Duck Springs Prepares for War…
“He dislikes being called ‘Sir’ or ‘General’ but alone among us, Harlan is our supreme orchestra conductor. He has a profound understanding of how wars come in different packages and at different moments—some of them simultaneous, some sequential, some asynchronous. They range in size and ferocity, and are fought with different strategic or tactical ends in mind. They all result in carnage.
Harlan told me the First American Civil War consisted of 10,500 distinct fights. WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Mideast Wars had thousands of smaller sieges, hit-and-run operations, ambuscades, tank fights, surface battles, destroyer and submarine chases, aerial dog fights, massive bombing runs, and ferocious confrontations fought and refought over the same ground by foot soldiers. Each clash had its own signature.
Ours will be a set of fights we have prepared for, thinking they are inevitable but hoping to minimize or avoid. Harlan repeatedly tells me our biggest danger is hubris and over confidence. Years ago, Sam Johnson and Myron Shapiro told me the same thing in different ways. Myron’s style was intellectual, soft, oblique. Sam was boisterous and straight to the point.
Harlan has examples he draws on. Bonaparte at breakfast with his generals on the morning of Waterloo said, "I tell you Wellington is a bad general, the English are bad soldiers, and we will settle this matter by lunch." And General George Custer, full of monomaniacal thick-headedness, said this before he and his soldiers were completely annihilated: "There are not enough Indians in the world to defeat the Seventh Calvary."
Harlan is what my people call a 'Mensch,‘ a man of unusual integrity, intelligence, and honor. Not only is he a noble human being, he is also learned, scholarly, and brilliant at on-the-ground thinking. He has a few basic maxims that keep showing up in his leadership: Have focused political purposes— in this case, the defense of Duck Springs and the restoration of a U.S. government. Always bow to legitimate civilian authority. Trust your number twos and threes and give them a lot of leeway to suggest, criticize, and interpret. When you fight, fight to win, and come back alive.
It takes two days to prepare for the battle that is now unavoidable. We shape C-4 charges and place them inside buildings and around the community center. Vern, Thomas, and three others insert detonators and set trip wires. More are placed behind trees and in small outbuildings near the center of town. If it all works, we might win the fight with the NADF but will probably lose most buildings.
Meanwhile, Ian preps his fighters for a fresh run to the top. He has 30 men and women, mostly combat veterans and a few well-trained and athletic civilians. They are equipped with grenades, long guns, automatic weapons and can move fast on foot. They will add to the dozen others stationed there along with a few armed vehicles that can defend the top.
Then he comes back down to join Masaji, Paul, and me for our special project.”
Postscript for Beyond Intractability
Not all big civil disturbances turn into titanic Blue-Gray civil wars. But they are all dangerous. My book was born of fear that we are at an inflection point and desperately need to find a pathway that prevents escalation. I stay endlessly optimistic and follow Woody Allen’s dictum that the cup of life of life is more than half full but it may have some arsenic in it.
With warmest regards,