By Brian Michael Jenkins, RAND Corporation
The country is deeply divided. The political system is polarized. Bizarre conspiracy theories have entered mainstream political discourse. There seem to be messaging efforts designed to delegitimize next month’s elections. The president refuses to say that he will abide by the results. One official talked on social media about buying ammunition and preparing for violence. Some pundits are warning of civil war. The nation’s anxiety is palpable and understandable.
Older Americans have a slight advantage in avoiding alarm. They personally recall the turbulent late ’60s and early ’70s with the country at war abroad and at war with itself at home. It was a violent period that witnessed lynchings, church bombings, open defiance of the federal government, assassinations, riots, the unprecedented resignation of a president, political conventions under siege, and an openly segregationist political campaign aimed at throwing the election into the House of Representatives, where its proponents could determine the next president. It is curiously reassuring to recall that we have been here before—and come through it.
American institutions held then, but can they do so again now? What are the prospects for domestic terrorism in the context of U.S. elections?