According to most historians, the US Civil war ended on April 9th, 1865 with the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia by General Robert E. Lee to the top ranking Union General Ulysses S Grant in the courthouse at Appomattox, Virginia. There were a few skirmishes that continued for a time, but essentially the major combat operations between the two factions came to a halt on that day and the remnants of the Confederate States of America as a political entity dissolved shortly thereafter.
Just five days later, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in Lincoln’s theater box as he was watching a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington DC. Wilkes unwittingly set in motion the events which would produce a sustained period of strife and discord that continues unabated even today. Ironically, Lincoln who was of course the South’s chief adversary during the war, was apt to be their strongest ally in the aftermath should he have lived to see it through. He was interested in reconciliation and bringing the South back into the fold with a minimum of contention. His plan for reconstruction was comparatively humane and designed to essentially let bygones be bygones. Radicals in congress wanted vengeance and passed much more punitive legislation which Lincoln allowed to fail with a pocket veto.
Once Lincoln’s successor Andrew Johnson assumed office, the path toward a humane re-integration of the South was replaced with one of humiliation and vengeance, and it set this nation on an unabated path of conflict which continues today. Johnson’s plan required an "iron clad" oath of allegiance from Southerners certifying that they had never served in the rebel forces nor in the Confederate government. By definition this would exclude nearly every adult white male under the age of 50, thus setting the stage for a state of lasting disenfranchisement within their own communities for nearly every white family in the South.
Reconstruction, which under Lincoln could essentially be viewed as a welcoming back to the family of an errant son, became under Johnson one of retribution, forced hardship, and exploitation. An entirely new class of entrepreneur was established in the South with the arrival of northern businessmen and politicians who arrived carrying their personal articles in a popular type of suitcase made from Oriental rug remnants. The carpetbagger was born. These people, armed with a mandate from the federal government to essentially exploit the South, formed coalitions with freed slaves and local scalawags which treated the majority of the local population as adversaries.
This naturally gave rise to local insurgencies which ultimately congealed into what we now know as the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan remained strong well into the 20th century, until its eventual marginalization with the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. But although the Klan as an organized entity is no longer a force to be reckoned with, it’s simmering hatred, anger, and intolerance lingers throughout the South even today, and it is no longer confined to the South. Controlled, but barely contained, it’s most effective antidote has been a combination of education and economic prosperity, but as this nation remains mired in what is now becoming known as the "Great Recession", both of those pillars of support are being eroded with shocking rapidity.
We are now seeing a rise of fringe groups with ideologies based on conspiracy theories which become increasingly implausible and outrageous as each new one is introduced. Among these groups are the teabaggers, the birthers, and now the deathers; all stoked to action by the insane ravings of extremist right wing talk radio and cable "news" hosts such as Glen Beck, Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Lou Dobbs, and Joe Scarborough to name just a handful. These groups, in some cases opportunistically financed and organized by health insurance industry goons, are becoming increasingly vocal, intolerant, deliberately intimidating, and even physically forceful under the guise of opposition to healthcare reform. They have gone beyond the vociferous to the dangerous. They are now showing up to town hall meetings not merely with hand scrawled signs and boisterous shouts, but with knives and even loaded guns.
As if on cue, militia groups like the ones which sprang into existence during the early 1990’s have become resurgent. And within the past few months we have heard talk of secession from the governor of Texas, and from the Georgia State legislature. We have heard talk and seen signs threatening bloody rebellion by political candidates and extremist lunatics willingly given a platform to spout their ignorance, intolerance, fear, and blind rage in major news media, while the desires for real reform by over 75% of the American population are either downplayed or ignored entirely by these same media titans.
With each new triumph of the Obama administration, these groups increasingly betray both their desperation and the real focus of their rage. Their entire claim to privilege becomes ever more transparent and unsustainable as each new milestone of progress into a new world order is laid. First it was the election of the first African American president, then it was the nomination of the first Hispanic Supreme court justice, and finally the confirmation of that same judicial nominee.
Each day it becomes increasingly clear that one need not be white to be successful, to be powerful, dare we say it, to be superior in some way. Their last remaining refuge of unearned supremacy is being exposed as the patent fallacy it always was. They cling ever tighter and more desperately to anything and everything they can to reinforce their dwindling status. They search for anything, anything at all to bring the object of their furor down a peg. They’ve portrayed him as the anti-Christ, an ape, a monkey, and now as they reach the absolute limit of their patience, they find themselves at the ultimate breach of decorum by engaging in Godwinian insult, spray painting swastikas and nakedly casting the president as Hitler himself.
There simply is no level lower to which to sink. They don’t even understand the issues they use as the convenient vehicles for the venting of their frustration. They call democratic congressmen liars before they can even open their mouths, they taunt them with screams to "read the bill" when a cursory perusal of the relevant sections clearly shows they did not even bother to do so themselves. They fallaciously insist on the existence of provisions which are nowhere contained in proposed legislation, nor even alluded to.
They physically force their way into the dialog and take it over completely at town hall meetings to yell, catcall, screech, and scream so that no other constituents can even ask questions nor legislators can answer. No other issues of salience can be discussed, indeed, even the issues which concern them cannot be responded to as they refuse to allow anyone else to speak, precisely the tactics used the world over by aspiring totalitarians and fascists. That which they accuse, they are in fact the most vigorous purveyors of themselves. And as there are no newer levels of ideological depravity to which these people can further sink, their only remaining option for the spewing of their bile will be the one they are explicitly now calling for, an open and armed rebellion.
For the moment then, the Civil war is really not over, it has merely been in a state of ceasefire. The face of the conflict has evolved over time, the geographic regions have expanded to include a few new states that did not exist as states at the time, a few states have shifted allegiance, and some of the players have changed, but the conflict and underlying anger is still as palpable today as it was over 140 years ago.
Despite the breathless focus of the news media on radical groups who still attempt to cling to the ideologies of the antebellum South, or 1950’s Ozzie and Hariett suburbia, their profile vastly exceeds their actual potency. They are very small in number, and if they do actually begin any kind of armed insurrection, it will inevitably take the form of scattered small terrorist-like insurgencies. There will be no widespread public support for them, they will ultimately relegate themselves to the dustbin of history with what will surely be seen as the last dying gasps of undeserved racial dominance.