What if the “2nd amendment people” Donald Trump mentioned recently during a campaign rally were actually able to spark an armed rebellion to overthrow the United States?
In a 2012 article for the Small Wars Journal, two academics took a stab at such a scenario and tried to figure out how state and federal authorities would likely respond to a small force taking over an American town.
In their paper, retired Army colonel and University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies professor Kevin Benson and Kansas University history professor Jennifer Weber wargamed a scenario where a Tea Party-motivated militia took over the town of Darlington, South Carolina.
The circumstances may seem far-fetched, but in today’s deeply partisan political environment, it’s at least worth looking into how the feds would respond if an American town tried to go it alone.
Precedents for fighting an insurrection
Benson and Weber cite Abraham Lincoln’s executive actions during the Civil War and Dwight Eisenhower’s 1957 intervention in Little Rock, Arkansas as precedents for the executive use of force in crushing a rebellion. The President would be able to mobilize the military and Department of Homeland Security to recapture a secessionist city and restore the elected government.
The government would invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to form a response.
From Title 10 US Code the President may use the militia or Armed Forces to:
§ 331 – Suppress an insurrection against a State government at the request of the Legislature or, if not in session, the Governor.
§ 332 – Suppress unlawful obstruction or rebellion against the U.S.
§ 333 – Suppress insurrection or domestic violence if it (1) hinders the execution of the laws to the extent that a part or class of citizens are deprived of Constitutional rights and the State is unable or refuses to protect those rights or (2) obstructs the execution of any Federal law or impedes the course of justice under Federal laws.)
The Insurrection Act governs the roles of the military, local law enforcement, and civilian leadership inside the U.S. as this type of scenario plays out.
How it could go down
An extreme right-wing militia takes over the town of Darlington, South Carolina, placing the mayor under house arrest and disbanding the city council. Local police are disarmed or are sympathetic to the militia’s cause and integrated into the militia.
The rebels choke traffic on interstates 95 and 20, collecting “tolls” to fund their arsenal and operation. Militiamen also stop rail lines and detain anyone who protests their actions.
The insurgents use social media and press conferences to invoke the Declaration of Independence as their rationale, arguing they have the right to “alter or abolish the existing government and replace it with another that, in the words of the Declaration, ‘shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.’ ”
Because of this, they enjoy a “groundswell” of support from similarly-minded locals throughout the state. The mayor contacts the governor and his congressman. The governor doesn’t call out the National Guard for fear they’d side with the militiamen. He monitors the situation using the State Police but through aides, he asks the federal government to step in and restore order, but cannot do so publicly.
The President of the United States gives the militia 15 days to disperse.
Mobilizing a response
The executive branch first calls the state National Guard to federal service. The Joint Staff alerts the U.S. Northern Command who orders U.S. Army North/Fifth U.S. Army to form a joint task force headquarters. Local units go on alert – in this case, the U.S. Army at Forts Bragg and Stewart in North Carolina and Georgia, respectively, and Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The Fifth Army begins its mission analysis and intelligence preparation of the battlefield. This includes locating enemy bases, critical infrastructure, terrain, potential weather, and other important information.
Once the Fifth Army commander has a complete picture of the militia’s behavior patterns, deployments of forces, and activity inside the town, he begins a phased deployment of federal forces.
Civilian control of the military
The Fifth Army is in command of the military forces, but the Department of Justice is still the lead federal agency in charge on the ground. The Attorney General can designate a Senior Civilian Representative of the Attorney General (SCRAG) to coordinate all federal agencies and has the authority to assign missions to federal military forces. The Attorney General may also appoint a Senior Federal Law Enforcement Officer to coordinate federal law enforcement activities.
It’s interesting to note that many of the Constitutional protections afforded to American citizens still apply to those in arms against the government. For instance, federal judges will still have to authorize wiretaps on rebel phones during all phases of the federal response.
Troops on the ground will be aware of local, national, and international media constantly watching them and that every incidence of gunfire will likely be investigated.
Beginning combat operations
Combat units will begin show of force operations against militiamen to remind the rebels they’re now dealing with the actual United States military. Army and Marine Corps units will begin capturing and dismantling the checkpoints and roadblocks held by the militia members.
All federal troops will use the minimum amount of force, violence, and numbers necessary. Only increasing to put pressure on the insurrectionist leaders.
After dismantling checkpoints, soldiers and Marines will recapture critical infrastructure areas in the city, such as water and power stations, as well as TV and radio stations and hospitals.
Meanwhile, state law enforcement and activated National Guard units will care for the fleeing and residents of the city. This is partly for political reasons, allowing the government most susceptible to local voters to be seen largely absent from being in direct, sometimes armed conflict with their own elected officials.
Restoring government control
Federal troops will maintain law and order on the streets of the city as elected officials return to their offices. Drawing on U.S. military history, the government will likely give individual members of the militia a general amnesty while prosecuting the leaders and those who broke the law during the uprising.