In the Fall issue of Forward Observer Magazine, I had the great opportunity to interview Matthew Bracken, a former Navy SEAL and prolific author (I know you’ve heard of him), about the future of conflict in America. A potential scenario he talked about was the “dirty civil war”, where a group of well-meaning Americans goes rogue by doing something really stupid (like indiscriminately killing cops or other officials, for instance). That event or those actions start a chain reaction of copy cats and reprisals, things get really dirty, really fast, and our nation descends into chaos; one side too uncoordinated and unskilled to make any appreciable gains, and the other too brutal in their pursuit, resulting in too much collateral damage to take control of the situation and gain the support of the populace… thus the inability by both sides to end the conflict.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this scenario, and one thing that really concerns me is providing stability in our own communities during the potential protracted conflict described above. I started looking through my library and found a Naval Post-Graduate School paper entitled, Rethinking Militias: Recognizing the Potential Role of Militia Groups in Nation-Building. (A highly recommended read; published in 2007.) This paper was written by two Army Majors, and they begin by saying that the negative view by the media of militias is misguided. I agree. In my experience, although there are still plenty of the grossly amateur militias out there, with the returning of combat veterans, the number and quality of semi-professional militias and defense groups is growing. Realistically, in a “dirty civil war” scenario, we will need to participate in these types of Constitutional militias (yeah, we’re already lawfully in the militia, I know) to aid local law enforcement, or to resist tyranny. (Of course, this scenario really is a worst case type of event, but it may apply to other potential scenarios as well. The only reason I write about it is because, like Matt, I actually do think it’s a possibility that multiple idiots go indiscriminately attacking cops, which leads to the proverbial “stuff” rolling downhill onto everyone else. I’d really like to avoid that.)
The authors provide some parameters for the word ‘militia’, and I’m a fan of these two following descriptions:
A militia is capable of using violence as a means of influence and, at its core, serves to fill a void in governance not filled by a central authority. Unlike an insurgent group, the “militia” is not driven to remove the host nation government as much as it seeks to protect and secure its own interests or autonomy…
Unlike a gang, a militia possesses a greater degree of legitimacy in the territory in which it operates, and it is not primarily a predator or parasite on the state. Instead, a militia is viewed as a competing, legitimate representative of a segment of the populace based on religious, tribal, ethnic, ideological, and/or territorial grounds.
Rethinking Militias pg. 8
Here’s this paper’s definition of militia, and I’m also a fan of it:
Militia: recognizable armed groups possessing some level of regional legitimacy granted by a segment of the population. Militias might be permanent or ad hoc in nature and maintain their legitimacy through the ability to offer security and/or social services to members (based on ethnic, tribal, geographic, ideological affiliation).
Although this paper is written from the perspective of US commanders building, training, and utilizing indigenous militias to bring about stability to the host-nation, it’s entirely applicable to a post-SHTF environment as well. It may also give us some insight as to how the US military or the federal apparatchiks respond in this type of scenario, including a martial law event. (And since Ferguson is about to make some news, we should also look to how the Missouri State Police and other law enforcement agencies respond. I’m torn on whether or not there will be widespread rioting and looting like we saw earlier this year. It’s probably a good event to start examining, for those so inclined.) Without further ado…
Lesson # 1: Local militias provide geographical and cultural expertise
The learning curve is steep for incoming, out-of-area security forces. In a martial law type of scenario, smart security commanders are going to liaise and rely on the expertise of the local security forces (duh). This presents a unique opportunity for pro-Liberty elements in local law enforcement not only to collect intelligence information, but also to provide cover for pro-Liberty elements in the area. When I harp on Hearts & Minds, it’s for this reason, especially. Identifying FreeFor law enforcement officers, then, should be a top priority for both sides. The ability for these out-of-area security forces to leverage local expertise will increase situational awareness and planning, potentially leading to an increased operational tempo. This local expertise is most readily available with existing law enforcement officers, however, there may be those willing to act as local guides and advisers. Identifying these people, too, should be a top priority for both sides. Should these security forces be more interested in domination and tyranny than enforcing the Rule of Law and fostering Liberty (which they most assuredly could be), then it’s incumbent on us to provide real security and support for Liberty and the Rule of Law in our area, in defense of First, Second, Third, and Fourth Amendment rights (as well as Fifth through Tenth, where applicable). One way we do that is to work against an invader, inside and out. Hearts and Minds, people. The more we have working for us, the fewer we have working against us. Simple math.
Lesson #2: Stability depends on local militias upholding the Law, not devolving into organized crime
History is plagued with stories of ‘mission creep’, and seemingly well-meaning good guys, who later turn out to be really bad dudes. John Ainsworth once told me, “You don’t get morality from immorality.” I certainly think that’s true. “I was just doing my job,” was not a defense at the Nuremberg Trials, and it shouldn’t be a defense during the Recovery phase of SHTF. A militia that can’t keep the trust of the populace is a militia that’s soon going to find itself without support and be out of work. The populace will eventually turn to a group that can provide it security. Why do gated communities have their own security? Because the regular police are either unable to provide security, or the residents lack the trust in the police to do the same job. Let’s look at Iraq for another example. One of the reasons why the Islamic State was able to take power over large swathes so quickly was because the Sunnis were disenfranchised by the Maliki government for so long that they turned to the group that was most aligned with their interests. When militias become the enemy of the People, they begin enabling the real adversary. So we absolutely must police ourselves and ensure the ‘good guys’ remain the good guys. Lastly, the local Constitutional militias will likely be labeled as “terrorists” or “criminals”, so any indiscretion will only serve to support that regime propaganda (and after a while, it stops being propaganda and starts being the truth).
Now whether you consider “acquiring” supplies from regime elements as stealing, or not, is up to you. In this case, I think regime elements are a fair military target, and anything taken is justly acquired war booty or re-supply. Under no circumstances, however, should the militias be stealing supplies from the populace.
Lesson #3: We are always fighting the ‘parallel war’ – the fight for support from the populace!
… it is possible for an armed group to fit multiple categories and be labeled a number of different ways. A street gang might be viewed as both a criminal organization and legitimate protector of the populace… Rethinking Militias, pg. 7
In the scenario above, if an out-of-area security force came looking for the group that protected the populace, would these residents have any reasons to cooperate? Would these residents give up information leading to the arrest of their protectors? Of course not. The same will be true of any group who provides security for and defends the Rights of the populace, including FreeFor. Hearts & Minds – can’t win ‘em all, but we have to try. The more we have working for us, the fewer we have working against us.
… a gang might be viewed negatively by a particular neighborhood, but this perspective might change in the event a greater threat intrudes from outside the neighborhood which the gang helps to defend…
An armed group that serves as a societal defense mechanism is likely to be granted legitimacy by those it protects. It is true that this legitimacy might only be temporary, but if it is based on a positive contribution and/or the militia achieves the population’s goals this is surely worth noting.
Just because militias or FreeFor elements aren’t immediately embraced doesn’t mean that segments of the populace won’t come to depend on them later, especially in the face of a greater external threat. That’s all I’m asking for as a member of FreeFor. And if our key assumption, in many if not most cases, is that regime security will use heavy-handed tactics, then it’s entirely possible that we can gain large portions of the populace if we exploit those regime missteps.
Lesson #4: Militias must be capable of providing security
As the [Host Nation] government weakens and violence increases, people look for ways to protect themselves. If the government cannot provide protection, people may organize into armed militias to provide that essential service. – FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency
From time to time, I’ll have to defend the purpose of the militia. Ultimately, the militia exists to provide security and defend the People. That fact goes all the way back to at least the beginning of the 17th Century at Jamestown. I really don’t consider the militia to be a ‘warfighting’ organization, although they may end up fighting in wars. The principle purpose is simply to provide security and defend the People. That’s open to flavors of opinion, but I think we can all agree that defense of the People is certainly a key task of the militia. In that case, militia training must also be realistic and requirements-based.
Militias are generally viewed as legitimate in the eyes of their members and often provide simple measures of governance that a central authority is not capable of providing. Even ad hoc armed groups, consisting of locals rallying to defend pasture lands from raiders, serve a purpose similar to border security forces in more developed nations. Though untrained and organized dramatically differently than a professional military, militias can respond to a threat and are often able to put aside differences for a collective purpose: usually protection. (pg 12)
A friend was telling me a couple weeks ago, that he’d purchased a lot of radio communications equipment before attending a Sparks Grid-Down Comms course. He completed the course, and ended up realizing that all the money he’d spent on the equipment was basically worthless because it didn’t meet his needs and operational requirements. The same will apply to many militia groups who are training for unrealistic scenarios. This isn’t really my realm, except to say that a threat analysis should be completed before training for your Mission Essential Task List (METL). Some militias are training to fight military elements of the regime, and are unlikely to ever encounter regular army or National Guard units. They’d be better suited training for clandestine warfare against a lesser trained and smaller force, like police state forces. Just sayin’. Either way, if a militia can’t provide “simple measures of governance that a central authority is not… providing” then the militia, in my opinion, is failing a key responsibility.
Lesson #5: Intelligence Preparation of the Community for the Community Based Militia
A community based militia is one which has influence only over a very limited area, such as a village, or a neighborhood within a larger community. The militia is seen as a legitimate protective entity only by that community, and generally does not seek objectives beyond that community.
Ask an infantryman how important Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield is. Or ask their S2 shop. It’s supremely important. Understanding our operating environment begins with this intelligence planning process. I highly recommend that every Patriot and Prepper team/organization begins work on Intelligence Preparation of the Community. Just how far will your community militia’s authority or legitimacy extend? In other words, what is the extent of your sphere of influence, and just what parts of the community will you be expected to secure? That’s a huge part of understanding the mission, and it truly does begin with IPC. Of course, I teach Intel Prep of the Community during the ICAC, and we’ll have an updated e-course available over at the Forward Observer site later this year.