Tensions are running high in America as social and political forces collide, sometimes forcefully, and sometimes in the streets. Political polarization in America has been closely studied over the last several decades and while the large-scale impact of social media, which has only risen to prominence in perhaps the last five years, is still being understood it is clear the advent of advanced communications technologies is placing additional stressors on the fabric of society. We have no reached a point where many openly talk about acts of political violence and even civil war.

In a recent essay written by Hamilton Nolan, he angrily described many real and perceived injustices that have occurred during the Trump administration and outlined how the backlash will go far beyond heckling political appointees at restaurants:

These people, who are pushing America merrily down the road to fascism and white nationalism, are delusional if they do not think that the backlash is going to get much worse. Wait until the recession comes. Wait until Trump starts a war. Wait until the racism this administration is stoking begins to explode into violence more frequently. Read a fucking history book. Read a recent history book. The U.S. had thousands of domestic bombings per year in the early 1970s. This is what happens when citizens decide en masse that their political system is corrupt, racist, and unresponsive.

On the other side of the coin, alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos has been responding to journalists (via text) asking for his comment as follows, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.” Such yearning for political violence from the far right is not isolated as we can also recall an advertisement from a Florida based gun company that displayed a handful of black-clad “patriots” with AR-15s standing up to Antifa protesters.

A recent poll conducted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found that Millennials are rejecting our current form of democracy, as well as capitalism. While many favor socialism, what is even more frightening is that 7% of those polled favor communism and another 7% favor fascism. This would appear to indicate that 14% of young people in America are now political extremists. A Rasmussen poll released this June revealed that 31% of those polled believe that America will experience a civil war in the next five years.

While it is important not to take alarmist positions especially about something like civil war, it is hard to deny that the stage has been neatly set for political violence in the near future. I have personally witnessed some on the far left walk right up to the line with their rhetoric, stopping just short of calling for an armed insurrection against what they see as the “forces of reaction” that threaten our lives. I have also heard veterans talking about how America needs another 9/11 attack in order to get our country, “back on track.”

It is equally distressing to see so many people on social media, including many military veterans, openly welcoming the notion of a civil war. Some naively believe that with war will come a cleansing fire, a creative destruction that will set things right. These are the daydreams generated by television shows and movies in which the apocalypse brings people together and instills a sense of community in us. However, history tells us a very different tale.

Many on the far left and far right will never act in violent ways, some are even pacifists, but it may only take one lunatic in one of those movements to light the fuse. To be sure, political violence is already taking place, it is just a question of degree. One targeted assassination, one bombing, could end up changing this country forever. As Hamilton Nolan pointed out in his essay, another catalyst for a civil war could be the United States heading into another recession. In these periods, extremist ideologies carry more water than usual for people as they appear to offer a solution. In this scenario, Americans would be forced to choose a side as the centrist positions fall out as the middle class is obliterated.