This series has looked at some of the tactics used during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. A prolonged period of civil conflict between two ethno-religious groups. It has sought to understand largely the Loyalist/Protestant paramilitary response and tactics. It has not looked in detail at the Republican cause or how effective its tactics were. Today there is a power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland, but it remains part of the United Kingdom. The Good Friday agreement has held. There have, however, been sporadic acts of violence from both sides. Dissident groups continue to exist and threaten the peace. Many of the ‘peace-walls’ between Loyalist and Catholic communities still remain and the Loyalist marching season always has the chance to spark some fresh civil disturbance. Not to mention the lasting effects of the paramilitaries has seen them evolve into criminal gangs settling petty feuds with the violence of old.
What are the lessons we can draw from this 25 year conflict? How do they instruct us in the possibilities that await America?
A fight between who?
The Northern Irish experience is unique in many ways – the Loyalist’s history as a people ‘planted’ in Ireland to subdue the locals doesn’t have a true parallel in the US. Nor do we see the kind of sectarian strife and hatred between communities here. It is both faith and ethnicity being interwoven in Northern Ireland’s conflict that we do not see in the US. America has too many denominations of Christian that one can turn to and there seems to be little social cost at doing so. For all the bombastic fervor of American protestant preachers, they are far more given over to the feel good mega church versus calling the Pope the antichrist in tirades. The mobility that space affords people in the US meant that whilst at the start some white ethnic-religious groups clumped together and had conflict (the Irish, the Italians) over time those groups have spread out and become deracinated and diluted. This weakens ethnic and religious bonds.
Perhaps the closest analogy to the kind of split we saw in Northern Ireland would appear if Southern secessionist or even state secessionist movement gained force again. That would largely be driven by the same historical forces that saw the Loyalist community rally around themselves. And yet, ideology appears are more destructive and disruptive force to the American, a Southern descendant may have been ideologically corrupted by his university professors and curse his ancestors. The self-segregation that allows the construction of roadblocks and building of power bases of which paramilitaries form does not quiet seem present across the US. What groups would self-segregate here? If we take the political divide as the point at which Americans split is that powerful enough to force it and are there enough boundaries to facilitate a siege and warfare mentality?
It does not seem unfair to assume many Sun readers live in urban centers. Bastions of sanity in liberal cities gone mad. The political split can be characterized here in America as largely between the urban and the rural. Urban areas being blue Clinton bastions, rural areas fighting against it. Any state that has seen a city explode in growth has subsequently seen it turn completely blue. So is that the most likely split that could produce conflict? Do we see a future where ‘Rural America’ vs ‘Urban America’ becomes violent? In part, some of the bloodiness of the Troubles comes from the intensely close proximity these different groups lived. Rural to Urban has more space and may mitigate against that. The purple suburbs would have the action then.
What about race? Ever since the Turner Diaries, Manson or the Black Panthers there have been sections of the racial identity movement agitating that a racial conflict will break out. Small scale racial violence has been a hallmark of America – that is unlikely to change. Recent events seem to suggest this could see continued sporadic outbursts of violence. However the pattern seems to be more chaotic and random than anything in N.I. Lone wolves on all sides attacking whatever group they dislike. Blacks of course getting a pass whenever they make racial attacks on whites, and the media hiding the fact that hispanics clean blacks out of towns and even cities. It seems in an easy way to target people this makes the most sense in the US. Where the sectarian strife was such that Protestants knew if a pub was a ‘Catholic pub’ here people know if an area, a social club, a Church, a bar is black, white, hispanic, asian. That unfortunately means it becomes a visible target.
Who sides with the State?
In Northern Ireland, the Loyalist community identified and sided with the State. This fed the conflict as Loyalists moved to defend the State. One of the big and easy observations to make in the US political split is that a section of fringe right-wing in this country have a unique identity of being opposed to the federal government (State). That is a complete opposite approach from the N.I Loyalists who identified with the State. The militia movement of the ’90s, events at Ruby Ridge, Waco, the attack in Oklahoma city, the list goes on. In more recent times the Bundy ranchers galvanized this fringe and the boomer dominated 3%er movement is similar. The most activist orientated ‘right-wing’ people do not care for government. Now, what we see, is a growth of left wing violent opposition to the State (that is largely sanctioned and allowed). The FBI is looking into shootings that targeted an ICE office, a leftist opened fire on a Republican ball-game, Anti-Fa attack police, etc. It is hard to imagine those prone to action on the fringe right retaliating against leftist agitators because those leftist agitators attacked the state. Both sides in America seem now to have a ‘common enemy’.
What we have seen though is evidence on non-federal level of Police departments taking action. This is evident in two ways. Leftist controlled local governments are reluctant to use the Police to contain leftist violence. This is the tacit approval that the agitator left are getting currently. Yet we see a push-back from the rank-and-file. There are reports that Police have fed some information to Proud-Boy groups in Portland (largely about movement). We discussed the extent of collusion in escalating violence in the Northern Ireland conflict. N.I Police and Army could not retaliate themselves against the Republicans, but they could feed information to those outside their ranks who were more than happy to strike back. Is it possible that rank-and-file officers in the US will do the same? Could this escalate non-state actions? We do not yet seem to have had a kidnapping or targeted violence outside of a protest – but maybe that is because with social media there are other ways to attack your enemies.
Social media is the alternative weapon of our times. It is the way attacks can be launched – the journalistic class readily use this to hunt down those who speak contrary to the norm. The social justice movement has weaponized social media. People can be doxxed, their employers notified, jobs lost, wages and earning potential destroyed. Make no mistake violent doxxing is not so far away now that there has been a normalization of doxxing as a tactic. Due to the lack of hard geographic separation social media is also a more powerful force. Battles/fights take place in this constructed social media realm. The two sides clash most openly on Twitter – they don’t have roads or districts they can be attacked in. The sides seek conflict where both willingly engage. Currently the left side with the ‘deep state’ – the media class, the bureaucrats, the DMV. This is confusing and contradictory at times as their chaotic ideology seeks to destroy and undermine institutions whenever it suits them. In whatever outcome America faces, it seems the State won’t have either side as a ‘true ally’. This will likely create more chaos.
Tactics, violence and drugs
Loyalist and Republican groups patrolled their neighborhoods. They set up roadblocks (that usually were replaced with peace walls) and engage in a tribal form of skirmishing warfare. This type of warfare is as old as the hills. The equipment and technology available just made the lighting strike tactic of hitting your enemy hard easier due to explosives. There was a willingness to commit violence in both communities. Real violence, whereby the hatred was so intense that bombing innocents was morally justifiable. The side most willing to commit that kind of violence in the US in an organized fashion is the left. The far-right has produced some terrible one off episodes of violence but the left are organized into groups. Anti-Fa protestors can beat people up without facing any repercussions, they are allowed to organize and fight people. There is an evolution in the far-left the far-right doesn’t have. One thing to watch is the growth of armed left-wing groups. These groups are tooling up and it is more likely to draw members who already know what it is like to street fight. That is radically different from a 3% militia type who may have all the gear, take all the courses, but hasn’t actually violently attacked ‘the other’.
It’s hard to make a prediction of the tactics each side will use. We’ve already seen lone-wolf shooting attacks on senators. Firebombing ICE facilities, shooting up ICE facilities. Attacks on police by angry, well armed ex-military blacks. Thankfully bombing seems to not have returned at this time but again it shouldn’t be ruled out from making an appearance.
Lastly the other part to touch upon would be the existence of violent cartels south of the border and the existing violent gang networks. As the state fractures, primary loyalties will bounce back. Those gangs and the drug trade will become more important. They are non-ideological groupings for now. They want to control territory and make money. Following peace in N.I we also saw the paramilitaries on both sides drift into the drug trade. America has criminal elements that may drift the other way if it can be seen to benefit their standing. It’s not hard to imagine cartels linking up with leftist ‘anti-racist’ types as useful idiots to increase their reach or social standing.
The Troubles stand out to us as a conflict in the modern era because they were ‘close to home’. In spite of the thick accents, they spoke English, in spite of them being close to the Anglo-West they committed barbaric acts of murder against each other. The sectarian divide, the power of the identities is something very alien to the modern bugman. It’s a conflict many dare not look at too long, it is a story of tribal brutality in the modern age. Something we have often ascribed to the racial other, be they the Slavs in Serbia/Bosnia or to the Shia/Sunni Arabs. Northern Ireland serves as a reminder that tribal identity once awakened can lead to potent violence that spirals ever upward. It shows the power of ideas and beliefs and where defense of those can lead to. The ultimate American lesson is that violence is never as far away as it seems.