Running For The Hills Is Not An Option
I suppose when you live in the same country, there’s only so many places you can run away to before you discover everyone else, including the other side, is trying to claim the same land as you.
NOTE: [all bold mine]
I’ve quoted James Pogue before and I have to say: I’m a fan. He’s the only mainstream journalist willing to give the right-wing a fair shake. Unlike most, who’ve written them off as irredeemable enemies of the state, Pogue seems genuinely interested in what they have to say. He wrote a great piece in Unherd last year where he interviewed American right-wing militiamen and concluded they’re not plotting an insurrection. This came at a time when academics, journalists, and national security “experts” were making a serious push at selling the idea the entire American Right was the biggest threat to national security, they were as bad or worse than the Nazis and the Taliban, and they were getting ready to kick off the next civil war. That narrative hasn’t died, but it has fallen off the map, at least for now. Probably because Pogue was correct in his analysis.
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Now he has written a new piece for Vanity Fair exploring how the so-called “Dissident Right” is seeking refuge out in the Mountain West, far removed from metropolitan America. It’s a fascinating journey, one I hope you’ll all take the time to read. I wanted to highlight and unravel some of the parts which stuck out to me, though.
The first thing that stood out to be me is how pervasive the sense of doom and gloom is. It shouldn’t surprise me - after all, I have a blog dedicated to doom and gloom - but most of the people in this story seem to have gone further and become resigned to a post-American future. Once upon a time, it was the Left that promoted the idea of a post-American future, but now it seems like everyone’s onboard with it now. Maybe the people featured in the story don’t reflect the general public’s sentiments - I doubt they do - but they’re also the kinds of people who lead movements and shape the views of that same public.
In this realm, it is taken now more or less as a given that America is so enervated and fractured that people need to think about fending for themselves until some dictator-like figure steps in. “Right now the crown of France is lying on the ground,” Bennett’s Phylactery said to a podcaster recently. “At some point somebody is going to figure that out and pick it up.”
The idea of authoritarianism coming to America is something which has gained currency while remaining deeply controversial. On the Left, you have their obsession with “democracy,” while inching closer to one-party rule and dominating all our institutions at all levels of society with a totalitarian ideology of Woke Leftism. On the Right, you have their opposition to tyranny, while desiring a strong leader who can break the impasse and bring this country back from the brink. Both sides believe they’re doing the right thing and, while they may or may not be correct in their convictions, they all intuitively understand democracy no longer serves their purposes and believe their way of life can only be preserved through strong leadership, whether it comes from a single figure or from totalizing institutions.
Though I wouldn’t characterize him as such, Donald Trump certainly gave off strongman vibes, more so than any predecessor. By the same token, Joe Biden resembles a political boss, in charge of a party which dominates the country. Perhaps it a destination America was always headed to, but in either case, there are many people on both sides who sense the threat of authoritarianism coming from one or both directions. People also prefer strong leadership, especially in a time of crisis. They want to hear politicians say they plan to do something about the problem instead of saying they plan to minimize the role of government in our lives. Wonder why libertarianism has a tough time catching on? A sentiment is all it is. Few people are going to vote for someone who says they plan to do nothing about our problems and instead leave it to you to figure out.
Ironically, the people featured in the story moved to states like Montana and Wyoming to get away from it all, get away from Big Government. But many would just as return if the right person came to power. Whatever the case, the old political alignment is long gone and it’s no longer about Big Government vs. Small Government. As I like to put it, it’s about who’s willing to use government to defend civilization vs. who’s willing to use government to unravel it. And the people featured in the story believe, as I do, that this country is increasingly under the thumb of the latter.
The prospect of civil war is something which weighs on the minds of a lot of these people:
She said she’d gotten into an argument with some investors from Atlanta just a few days before. “I said to them, you’re gonna have to make housing for people who are going to wipe your asses,” she said. “Everybody deserves to choose where they want to live, but people that are in the elite, in their heads, they don’t think that. When did that happen?”
I had versions of this conversation dozens of times over the next few weeks. “The only fix to what is happening right now,” a man from tiny Augusta, Montana, told me, “is gonna be if we drag that real estate agent who is selling away the soul of this community down Main Street with a chain.” I stopped to fish off the Green River, between Pinedale and Jackson Hole, and ended up chatting with a mother and her adult son who were living out of a camper, having been priced out of rural California. “What’s going to happen when there’s nowhere left affordable to go?” the mom asked. “There’s gonna be a war,” the son said casually.
Unsettling. I’ve often said America’s size acts against the prospect of civil war, since people can simply move away from those they don’t want to live near. I still believe that. However, as I explained a few posts ago, America has become an unaffordable place to live, at least if you prefer a decent standard of living. As more and more people relocate to more affordable parts of the country, tensions are rising as the mass relocations raise the cost of living and people discover their neighbors are on the other side of the divide. People of differing political persuasions have always lived next to each other, but as the stakes get higher, it gets harder and harder to live amongst those who share nothing in common with you.
Think about it - what I like to call your “Friendly Neighborhood Democrat” tells you you don’t need to own as many guns as you do, regards you as selfish for not getting your COVID booster, and thinks you’re a crank for believing the government doesn’t have your best interests at heart. How do you live next to someone like that? In the past, we managed it well because life was good and politics weren’t widely viewed as existential, nor as a reflection of one’s personal character. Now, politics is increasingly viewed as existential and indicative of one’s character. The advent of social media has also revealed just how little we really have in common. In all likelihood, we’ll continue to co-exist without devolving into total madness, but it’s also certain that conflict will become more normal. Even in a country as big as the U.S., whose population keeps growing, you can apparently run out of places to run away to.
In a late summer evening, friends of John Stettin gathered at a bar called Kitty Cohen’s in East Austin to say good-bye. A carrot cake with “Good Luck” written in orange icing softened in the heat, but as far as they were concerned, the occasion was his birthday. “You can’t say, ‘Happy going away!’” said Jeff, his best friend, greeting him with a hug. “We’re just not happy. We’re all very sad about it.” Good-bye parties are inherently not that fun. They’re even less fun when they’re driven by a far-right takeover of the state government.
“Tell him he can’t leave,” whispered a woman seated under an umbrella. “There are too many Republicans.”
To hear Stettin tell it, that is precisely why he is moving out of what Rick Perry once described as the “blueberry in the tomato soup,” a predominantly Democratic city full of liberal expats like himself seeking progressive politics and an urban lifestyle at a red-state cost-of-living discount. “It was easy to just be in Never Neverland, floating with a bunch of other transplants having a good time,” said Stettin, who relocated from Dallas to Austin five years ago.
This all sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s the same kind of phenomenon described by Mexican writer Germán Saucedo, except it’s happening in America. Left-wing Americans, mostly well-off professionals, move from place to place, seeking premium lifestyles at affordable prices. Blue states under Democratic political leadership tend to be more expensive, so many go to Red states with Blue cities - like Austin - for the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, they find a Red state is still a Red state. Many stick it out, going as far as to try changing the culture and politics of the state, in many cases becoming successful. Others discover it’d be much better living somewhere they don’t need to change and depart for greener (or, in this case, bluer) pastures.
On one hand, it’s good to see people can just leave if they don’t like it. On the other, the utter hostility these people have towards those of the other political persuasion is troubling. There’s something insidious about moving somewhere one knows is different from the place you left and being both so appalled and insistent on messing with what others have built. I remember a friend’s ex-girlfriend talking about life in rural, red, Virginia, how wonderful it was, but remarking how the people “weren’t like us” (she wasn’t aware of my political views).
How do you deal with people who want what you have and also want to force you to adopt their culture and lifestyle? It’s the story of colonization and conquest playing out in our own locales. By the way, it’s worth noting Blue state residents don’t want Red state transplants coming, either, but I also don’t get the sense Red Americans want what Blue America offers.
Even self-sorting has its downsides. At the risk of being hyperbolic, some think it’s the sort of thing that breeds extremism:
While schools, crime, real estate prices and quality of life are still major considerations for folks who are moving, finding an area with shared political views is key.
Political scientist Larry Sabato posted an analysis on Thursday that shows how America's "super landslide" counties have grown over time.
Of the nation's total 3,143 counties, the number of super landslide counties — where a presidential candidate won at least 80% of the vote — has jumped from 6% in 2004 to 22% in 2020.
"Trump's blowouts were concentrated in white, rural counties in the Greater South, Interior West, and Great Plains," Sabato writes, "while Biden's were in a smattering of big cities, college towns, and smaller counties with large percentages of heavily Democratic nonwhite voters."
Put another way, Biden won 85% of counties with a Whole Foods and only 32% of counties with a Cracker Barrel.
What are the implications of people clustering in Sean Hannity's America, or Rachel Maddow's?
"Groups of like-minded people tend to become more extreme over time in the way that they're like-minded," says Bill Bishop, a journalist who wrote the influential book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart in 2008.
Bishop's book explains how Americans sorted themselves by politics, geography, lifestyle and economics over the preceding three decades. Sitting in a Central Texas café, Bishop says that trend has only intensified in the 14 years since the book's publication.
"They are still sorting themselves in ways that end up that places are increasingly Republican or increasingly Democratic," he says. "Then you can see that playing out in Congress. There are fewer people in the middle. And so politics becomes less about solving our problems anymore. It's about cheering for our side. And so we're stuck."
Yet while social scientists and journalists may fret over this political segregation, for the people changing ZIP codes to be with their own tribe, it's a kind of deliverance.
By “extremism,” we’re not talking Antifa nor Timothy McVeigh. We’re talking about not letting the other side have even the tiniest of victories. Maybe we’re already there and have been there for some time, but it also means the political process is no longer a means of resolving disputes and impasses. Worse, when your partisan political identity becomes your personal and collective identity, it’s precisely the kind of thing that breeds civil conflict.
I just came back from Colombia earlier this month, where I learned houses in rural areas were L-shaped to reflect the allegiance of these areas with the Liberal Party. Imagine how ingrained partisanship has to be to build your homes to reflect your party affiliation. Colombia then fought a civil war from 1948 - 1958, which was less of a war in the sense we understand it and more widespread political violence. While self-sorting does prevent conflict, it can also make it more likely, since you come to view the other side not as people with differing political views, but as foreign invaders, threatening to destroy everything you know and love.
Going back to the Pogue piece, life in America likely to get more expensive, in large part due to inflation, which is certain to become chronic. Even left-wing Americans don’t like living in expensive areas. When you have that many people trying to claim the few nice spots left in the country, cost of living and quality of life become a matter of life and death. These aren’t minor issues either - societies are often destabilized when life gets too expensive and quality of life declines. It’s beginning to play out at a local and state level.
Pogue’s article makes reference to a popular blog post written by Montana resident Isaac Simpson last summer. I suggest you read the whole thing - it’s eye-openingly provocative - but I wanted to highlight this passage which lines up with what a lot of people in the Mountain West describe as an emerging flashpoint:
But this is a new thing. Montana has always been the site of land battles—but these warring factions are brand new. The Washington Post presents the risk as one-sided—that angry Trumpists are going to soon resort to violence because, well, that’s what they do when the modern world comes knocking. The media doesn’t notice that Trump flags are being raised in reaction to the rainbow ones, not in spite of them. The anger bubbling up from Three Forks isn’t happening because Montanans, left alone for decades, somehow developed into anachronistic bigots unready for the modern world. It’s happening because Montanans got their sh*t taken. They were intentionally shoved out, left behind. Their music, their signs, their cars, their language—they’re all born from a fresh wound.
The media doesn’t warn us about a civil war in San Francisco or Seattle, even though downtown Seattle was occupied for two months by insurrectionists not two years ago. That’s because the bourgeoisie/private equity tag team is secure in its ownership of the cities—the new underclass isn’t a threat. No, they warn of civil war in places where there’s still land to win. And there’s no better land than Montana’s.
We’ve already seen that political violence is possible in these areas. Remember Cayler Ellingson of North Dakota, the 18-year-old mowed down by a 41-year-old man who accused him of being a “Republican extremist?” I wrote about the incident last September. The message I wanted to get across then and now is that large-scale violence often has innocuous beginnings. It starts with blaming, pointing fingers, then it turns into shoving, fist-fights, then someone loses their life. After that, everyone realizes their way of life is being threatened. What follows?
We’re entering a stage of our history where living close to each other breeds conflict, but so can self-segregation. I suppose when you live in the same country, there’s only so many places you can run away to before you discover everyone else, including the other side, is trying to claim the same land as you.
More from the Pogue piece:
“Balaji [Srinivasan] tends to look at it holistically,” Fredrickson said. Their cohort sees the Northern Rockies as one of a few places in America that will be livable in the coming decades, when life in much of the country is likely to be defined by heat waves, floods, storms, and fires. But they were concerned about living through what people in these spheres tend to call “managed decline,” a comedown period from the age of cheap fossil-fuel energy and rapid economic and technological progress, in which America’s so-called “state capacity”—our collective ability to do things—steadily degrades, our “real economy” hollows out, and political divisions worsen. It is a scenario that looks more like the long decline of the Roman Empire than it does cataclysmic collapse. And it’s this scenario—a muddling, unhappy, middle course—that most people in this sphere tend to predict is coming.
I don’t like the characterization of the U.S. as the Roman Empire because I don’t think the U.S. has ever been a true empire. Certainly, the U.S. is a superpower and that time is coming to an end, but having outsized influence on world events doesn’t necessarily constitute imperialism. Empires are far more than that, in that they reign over lands outside their national boundaries and, more importantly in my view, aren’t very democratic, at least compared to what we understand to be democracy today. There are examples of historical empires that were not outright authoritarian states, but there’s a reason why empires are so often contrasted against federations and republics.
If the Roman comparison is to be made, it ought to be remembered the empire was preceded by the republic. I view the U.S. at the end of its republic phase and we are currently in a transition period. So while I agree the U.S. is in a long decline and following “a muddling, unhappy, middle course” as opposed to an outright collapse (something I’ve repeatedly argued against), what’s declining isn’t an empire, but a republic, and if anything’s collapsing, it’s the superpower. This is hardly the end of the American story and we aren’t headed towards a “post-American” world, even if we are headed towards a world where the role America plays will be very different from the role it’s been playing since the end of World War II.
This is all important towards understanding what I believe to be coming up the road for us, something I’ll be talking about more in future posts.
Talk of civil war continues:
Many liberal Americans do not actually understand how easy it would be to launch an insurgency in this country. “Everyone on the planet is redpilled on low-intensity warfare now,” a host of the dissident podcast Good Ol Boyz said recently, flicking at the way the Taliban was able to beleaguer and eventually defeat the American military, mostly using small arms. Pretty much every single guy in towns like Pinedale goes out to hunt elk every autumn, and the skills of overland navigation, long-range shooting, and use of high-quality optics involved in what is known as Western “spot-and-stalk” hunting are not very different from the skills involved in modern guerrilla warfare. Insurgencies are less a military war than a complicated political conflict, in which a few people demonstrate that they’re willing to kill, die, or go to prison, and dare governments to overreact, gaining support when innocent people end up shot or arrested. Blood becomes political currency, and it does not take all that much of it to create a conflict scenario.
Color me skeptical. The thing about conflict is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy and resources to sustain, even at a low level. It’s not just about being a good shooter or having warfighting skills. Conditions would need to deteriorate dramatically before waging insurgency becomes something people are willing to risk. It’s not something a person does casually in the evenings or on the weekends, the same way you might go hunting. Insurgencies are a serious commitment with grave risk involved.
I believe most of these people described as being “red-pilled on low-intensity warfare” are expressing a sentiment, not intent. They like the idea of relatively weak, lightly-armed civilians being able to resist the tyrannical Leviathan that is the federal government. It gives them a sense of hope and a belief they can never be conquered. I suppose it makes sense, but it also seldom crosses their mind that insurgents die. In fact, it’s the insurgents who often suffer more casualties. Like the article suggests, they may be willing to have their own blood spilled, but I seriously doubt anyone in Montana or Wyoming is truly ready to give their lives for the cause. If a true insurgency did kick off, it’d likely draw a powerful government response, involving federal law enforcement and maybe even the military. It’d turn into a confrontation the authorities would need to win at all costs. For these reasons, I disagree launching an insurgency is that easy. Even if they were, sustaining them is even more difficult.
That said, if an insurgency ever were to emerge in the U.S., it’d be in the places described in Pogue’s article for the reasons I articulated earlier. You have largely unconquered land both sides are willing to fight over, plus the geography lends itself well to unconventional warfare. Then again, civil war is not a fire waiting for a spark to happen, says Brazilian prepper Ommar Fabian. Lots of angry people and land to fight for is a precondition for conflict, surely. But it doesn’t mean it’s going to turn into a shooting gallery. For now, I just want to note that the Mountain West is one place in America that could see something resembling a traditional civil war.
Now, I spent most of 2022 talking about the prospects of another American Civil War. By now, you ought to know I don’t see it coming, not in any conventional sense. I see instead a period of prolonged low-intensity conflict, with brief, periodic spikes of higher intensity that resemble civil war. I don’t think I’m alone in that assessment:
“So that’s like to the civil war question, man,” he said. “I think if my middle model is something like the ’70s, which is bombings, political assassinations, that I think is very, very reasonable as an expectation.” But he was, he said, “as prepped as I can get. I don’t even know what other stuff I could buy.” Now, he said, “I honestly think these days about moving to Singapore.” He’d visited recently, and despite the fact that he was a civil libertarian, he’d found it an oddly appealing contrast to America. “I was like, man, this place is actually truly very high functioning and they care about it. They’re involved in a collective thing,” he said. “And they have a kind of benign nationalism.” He shrugged. Could be worse.
What the interviewee - Balaji Srinivasan - describes as a “middle model” is precisely that. I often evoke The Troubles of Northern Ireland as an example of what this armed conflict would look like and it will certainly look like that when zooming out to a God’s-eye view of the U.S. In fact, the 1970s described in the passage was itself a time of low-intensity conflict, one which spared most Americans, but was also more prevalent and violent than most realize (read Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage for a comprehensive account of the far-left violence wave that decade). There was also the 1990s, when it was the far-right in the hot seat, the defining event being the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. Again, most Americans were spared from this low-intensity conflict.
I also believe, at the ground level, this conflict will mostly be experienced through the media, with competing narratives on who’s fighting for what and why, who’s righteous and who’s not. In other words, not that different from where we’re at today, though when the assassinations and bombings begin and the shootings intensify, the polarization is certain to intensify along with it. Political unrest is also certain to return and I’d expect the next wave of riots to be as intense as the last. For now, a strange sense of tranquility prevails, but I doubt it’s because things are actually far better than they are. There’s too much discontent and loathing out there to be the case.
But the biggest exposure to this conflict for most Americans will be crime which, as we all know, is a politically-charged issue. Clearly, nobody likes crime, but it’s yet another issue where there exists no consensus and, therefore, no will to do anything beyond what we’ve been doing all this time. Worse, we live under anarcho-tyranny, meaning the focus will always be on how to regulate the behavior of those who follow the rules versus the rule-breakers, since the Regime has calculated, for one reason or another, that the law-abiding citizenry is more dangerous than the criminal element. Crime is very much a means of waging cultural and political warfare. Expect it to get worse.
In some ways, the Mountain West is coming to represent something of a national flashpoint: where the competing forces clash not just over ideas, but over tangible things like land. Something the article alludes to is that it’s not just right-leaning Americans moving there. The Left is moving to these areas, the same way they once moved to Texas for the lower cost of living. You have two competing forces, both laying claim to a largely unsettled land, much like the Wild West of yore. We all know the Wild West was not a peaceful place. We also know that America has always been an expansionist country, but now we’re running out of frontiers. If there’s anything people have always fought over, it’s living space. Draw your own conclusions as to what that says about the future.
The running theme in Pogue’s article, which again, I hope you read, is that there’s nowhere left to run. Nor is there much use in self-segregation, because the other side will always find a reason to encroach on your turf. The fight has always been about whose country this is, it’s just playing out at lower levels. You’re not going to escape it by simply running for the hills. We’re far too interconnected these days for that to be possible.
I realize this sounds blackpilling, arguably one of my more blackpilling pieces. But it doesn’t need to be. Hard times are coming and there’s no stopping it from happening. However, you can take this time and cultivate strong families and community to weather the storm. I live in a place that hasn’t hit rock bottom, but rock bottom can be seen. I don’t expect this place to turn itself around and go back to being affordable and liveable, nor do I see the politics of this place becoming more to my liking, not any time soon.
What I do know is that this is my home and I intend to stay for the long haul. If I were to move to a place like Montana or Wyoming, which I’d once sought to do, not only would I need to re-establish myself, I’d also need to watch the same dynamic that happened where I’m living to play out in a new state. Again, there’s no running from it. At some point, you need to stand your ground and fight for your family and home, even in a losing effort.
The opportunity to stop the madness may come in our lifetimes, it may not. You will never be around for such an opportunity and enjoy the rewards if you keep running, however.
Max Remington writes about armed conflict and prepping. Follow him on Twitter at @AgentMax90.
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