Following my post on "Terrorism as a response to electoral fraud" two days ago, I've had a few e-mail conversations with readers about the prospects for widespread disruptions in the event that our politics "goes kinetic", to coin a phrase. What struck me was the sheer, blind arrogance of a couple of left-wing correspondents about how all this was "nothing more than right-wing mental masturbation", that "Trumpers talk a good fight, but will never do anything about it", and that "there simply isn't much any individual can do to disrupt our cities".
I'll leave the first two comments for events to prove or disprove. The third, however . . . how anyone could be so blind to reality is mind-boggling. I mean, have you ever looked - really looked - at the streets within one mile of your home, and realized how vulnerable our towns and cities really are? I learned about it at first hand as a Civil Defense Sector Officer for part of the central business district of a major South African city. Here's what I learned way back then, and what I see every day all around me.
- A utility right-of-way (for hard-wired telephones, cable TV, etc.) runs through the middle of our back yard, about 20 feet from my back door. I see two of its connection boxes jutting up from our lawn every time I look through a window. If the cables running through that right-of-way were to suffer some sort of accident, every hard-wired telephone connection and every cable TV connection linked to them would come to a grinding halt. That includes the control panel for the water storage and distribution center about a third of a mile down the road.
- Every major intersection in a nearby city is equipped with traffic lights. Every one of them is controlled from a single large metal container set back from the road on one of the intersection's corners. Take out that metal box, and the entire traffic light system connected to it would shut down. Do that for a couple of dozen major intersections, particularly in larger cities with heavier traffic, and the resultant gridlock would make traffic cops tear their hair out and weep. It'd take weeks or months to sort out, because municipalities (not to mention manufacturers) don't keep large quantities of spares for those things just lying around. They're too expensive. For that matter, there are only so many people who know how to connect and/or repair them.
- In larger cities and even in some smaller towns, tunnels carry utilities, power and other connections to large buildings. Take out those tunnels (e.g. a fire, a flood, or whatever) and every service they provide shuts down. Skyscrapers have no air-conditioning, no elevators, no sewage service . . . you get the picture. The CBD shuts down until repairs can be made - and if traffic is also disrupted, those working there have a hell of a time getting home. We're not talking delays lasting hours, but days or even weeks.
- Every pole around here carrying power cables is made of wood, often treated with bitumen or some other substance to slow down rot or control insects. Wood burns very easily, particularly if it's soaked in bitumen or helped along with some gasoline. A couple of drive-bys in the small hours of the morning could burn a hundred poles in a several-mile radius. For that matter, a couple of wraps of home-made or commercial det cord will bring down the entire pole.
- For that matter, many of those power poles carry small transformers. A few rifle shots into each from a passing car, and that transformer's toast. Take out enough of them, and you've lost power to an entire suburb. That doesn't count electrical sub-stations, as discussed in the earlier article. Take out one of those, and you've lost power to multiple suburbs. Take out a dozen of them, and a city is paralyzed.
- There are nine or ten centers within 50 miles of me where couriers (e.g. FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc.) receive parcels for delivery and/or collect parcels for dispatch to other centers. Disrupt those centers (which can be as simple as a power or utility interruption, or a blockage on roads leading to or from them, or something more serious such as a fire) and package processing and delivery will be severely impacted. Nowadays, that hits home shoppers as well as businesses - and have you any idea how many medical prescriptions are filled by courier or mail order these days? In a bigger center, which might have an Amazon fulfilment center or a Walmart regional distribution facility, disruptions to them might have a serious impact for scores, even hundreds of miles around.
- In areas where heavy rain is a factor (not only severe storms such as hurricanes, but just normal seasonal rains too), any blockages to storm water drainage systems can very rapidly cause flooding. Enough of it can paralyze a city for days, if not weeks, particularly given collateral damage to things like rail and road tunnels, electrical wiring and junction boxes, commercial and domestic basements, and so on. Why do you think cities constantly urge residents to keep the drains clear of debris and foreign objects? If anyone were to dump a lot of those foreign objects where they'd do the most harm, perhaps aided by a few bags of Portland cement here or there, chaos might result.
- What if trash collection trucks were immobilized for some reason? The same applies to fire trucks, ambulances, tow trucks, etc. They're all vital resources. Engines can be damaged in any number of ways that leave no trace as to who did it.
- Cell phone towers. No need for anything complex: a few rifle shots into each transmitter/receiver element on the tower would shut them down. Millions of Americans own rifles with telescopic sights that are more than capable of doing that. With every smartphone in a city shut down, how will everyday life be affected? No apps, no GPS navigation . . . it doesn't bear thinking about.
- Railroads. One of the major east-west railway lines passes less than two miles from my front door. I don't want to think how many trains per day use it, laden with containers, coal, oil, and who knows what else. Interrupt that traffic, and you're talking millions of dollars per day in economic costs - not to mention goods and supplies that don't get to where they're needed.
- Flat tires. Have people driving around, going about their ordinary everyday business, discreetly drop home-made caltrops along roads and in intersections as they pass. There are many ways it can be done without anyone noticing. Before long, every tire shop in town will have run out of popular tire sizes, and there'll be a waiting list days or weeks long to get new tires fitted. Do that in cities and towns across a region, and you're talking weeks or months to get everyone mobile again. That includes ambulances, fire trucks, police vehicles, delivery vans, and so on, not just private motorists.
- Disrupt the distribution of clean, potable water, and within days you'll have an epidemic of diarrhea, cholera and other nasties. Most cities and towns I know use water towers to manage distribution. They're great big metal things, sticking up out of the ground, recognizable for miles. How much work would it be for someone to cut through the wire fences surrounding them, get inside, and take care of business?
- Disrupt the EBT system in supermarkets and corner stores, and watch an entire segment of the urban population erupt in riots.
Those are just a few thoughts, based on what I've seen happen in urban conflict and violence in several countries in Africa, as well as local problems I've seen here in America since I moved here more than two decades ago. Note, too, that I haven't mentioned a single deliberately lethal attack - no bombs directed at people, no mass shootings, no arson of occupied premises, etc. If those are added to the mix, the consequences will be unimaginable.
One doesn't even need sophisticated destructive devices to do the work. A chain wrapped around a small junction or controller box, tied to the tow ball of a pickup truck, will rip it out of the ground. It'll take out a section of fence, or pull a door out of a wall. There are lots of pickup trucks around, and plenty of heavier vehicles that can be "borrowed" if needed - or even just hired for a day. U-haul, anyone? Penske? Budget? There are dozens of firms that'll eagerly rent you what you need. Heck, Home Depot or Lowes will rent you power tools that will make a mess of just about anything! Chainsaw, meet wood pole. Tree-trimmer, meet power lines. There are firms renting major powered equipment to building contractors, or construction equipment to road builders, etc. that can do even better. Bulldozer, meet brick wall. Farm tractor with plow, meet utility right-of-way.
To make matters even more interesting, there are millions of Americans who've "seen the elephant" in Iraq, Afghanistan and similarly interesting places over the past few decades. They've witnessed at first hand how terrorists were able to disrupt society and normal everyday life. They were also taught, by Uncle Sam, to deal with such things. They're now in civilian life, but still have all that knowledge. (Mine didn't come from Uncle Sam, but I learned the same lessons wearing a different uniform.)
Our society and its structures are very, very vulnerable to those wishing us harm. Let's hope and pray we don't learn that the hard way. They can be found on both wings of US politics, too, as evidenced by 'Earth First' terrorists or pipeline opponents. The problem isn't limited to just 'frustrated Trumpers'.