Illustration: Bracken’s CW2 Cube; click to enlarge
From Matt Bracken:
In response to recent articles in mainstream military journals discussing the use of the U.S. Army to quell insurrections on American soil, I offer an alternate vision of the future. Instead of a small town in the South as the flash point, picture instead a score of U.S. cities in the thrall of riots greater than those experienced in Los Angeles in 1965 (Watts), multiple cities in 1968 (MLK assassination), and Los Angeles again in 1992 (Rodney King). New Yorkers can imagine the 1977 blackout looting or the 1991 Crown Heights disturbance. In fact, the proximate spark of the next round of major riots in America could be any from a long list cribbed from our history.
We have seen them all before, and we shall see them all again as history rhymes along regardless of the century or the generation of humankind nominally in control of events. But the next time we are visited by widespread, large-scale urban riots, a dangerous new escalation may be triggered by a new vulnerability: It’s estimated that the average American home has less than two weeks of food on hand. In poor minority areas, it may be much less. What if a cascading economic crisis, even a temporary one, leads to millions of EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards flashing nothing but zeroes? Or if the government’s refusal to reimburse them causes supermarket chains to stop accepting them for payment? The government can order the supermarkets to honor the cards, but history’s verdict is clear: If suppliers are paid only with worthless scrip or blinking digits, the food will stop.
STEP ONE: FLASH MOB LOOTING
In my scenario, the initial riots begin spontaneously across affected urban areas, as SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) and other government welfare recipients learn that their EBT cards no longer function. This sudden revelation will cause widespread anger, which will quickly lead to the flash-mob looting of local supermarkets and other businesses. The media will initially portray these “food riots” as at least partly justifiable. Sadly, millions of Americans have been made largely, or even entirely, dependent on government wealth transfer payments to put food on their tables.
A new social contract has been created, where bread and circuses buy a measure of peace in our minority-populated urban zones. In the era of ubiquitous big-screen cable television, the internet and smart phones, the circus part of the equation is never in doubt as long as the electricity flows. But the bread is highly problematic. Food must be delivered the old-fashioned way: physically. Any disruption in the normal functioning of the EBT system will lead to food riots with a speed that is astonishing. This will inevitably happen when our unsustainable, debt-fueled binge party finally stops, and the music is over. Now that the delivery of free or heavily subsidized food is perceived by tens of millions of Americans to be a basic human right, the cutoff of “their” food money will cause an immediate explosion of rage. When the hunger begins to bite, supermarkets, shops and restaurants will be looted, and initially the media will not condemn the looting. Unfortunately, this initial violence will only be the start of a dangerous escalation.
The ransacked supermarkets, convenience stores, ATMs and gas stations will not be restocked during this period due to the precarious security situation. A single truck loaded with food or gasoline would be perceived to be a Fort Knox on wheels and subject to immediate attack unless heavily protected by powerfully armed security forces, but such forces will not be available during this chaotic period. Under those conditions, resupply to the urban areas cannot and will not take place. The downward spiral of social and economic dysfunction will therefore both accelerate and spread from city to city. These delays, in turn, will lead to more riots with the constant underlying demand that hungry people be fed, one way or another.
Catch-22, anyone? When these demands do not bring the desired outcome, the participants will ratchet up the violence, hoping to force action by the feckless state and national governments.
The “food riots” will be a grass-roots movement of the moment born out of hunger and desperation. It will not be dependent upon leaders or an underlying organization, although they could certainly add to the sauce. Existing cell phone technology provides all the organization a flash mob needs. Most of the mobs will consist of minority urban youths, termed MUYs in the rest of this essay. Which minority doesn’t matter; each urban locale will come with its own unique multi-ethnic dynamic.
Some locales will divide upon religious or political lines, but they will not be the dominant factors contributing to conflict. In the American context, the divisions will primarily have an ethnic or racial context, largely because that makes it easy to sort out the sides at a safe distance. No need to check religious or political affiliation at a hundred yards when The Other is of a different color.
We Americans are all about doing things the easy way, so, sadly, visible racial and ethnic features will form the predominant lines of division.
Would that it were not so, but reality is reality, even when it’s is a bitch.