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How Active is the Insurrectionist Movement in the United States?

How Active is the Insurrectionist Movement in the United States?

For decades, I have tracked political instability and insurgencies around the globe, assuming that the indicators I developed would never have relevance for the United States. The events of January 6, 2021 led me to challenge that assumption, speculating that the same dynamic might now be occurring within our borders. I decided to apply the indicators developed for foreign countries in the past to our present circumstances in the United States.

Following the January 2021 attack on the Capitol, I surveyed a dozen colleagues, asking them to rate 19 indicators of incipient insurgency or insurrection (based on the definitions provided below) during the time period subsequent to the November 2020 presidential election. The matrix below organizes the indicators into five categories, and displays my colleagues’ responses over time. In January 2021, their informal, consensus view generated an overall rating of Medium as shown by the M in the chart.


In January 2021, insurgency—or, in today’s terms, insurrection—was defined as “a protracted political-military activity directed toward completely or partially controlling the resources of a country through the use of irregular military forces and illegal political organizations.” Such activity is designed to weaken government legitimacy and control while increasing insurgent power, legitimacy, and control over territory or government institutions.

Insurrectionist activity is distinguishable from terrorist activity because terrorists do not seek to create an alternate government capable of controlling a given area or the country. Insurrectionists also can be distinguished from members of a political movement so long as those members do not aspire to supplant our democratic institutions with a new form of government.

Three months later, we reevaluated the indicators to consider what new information had been revealed by Congress and the press relating to the activities surrounding insurrection. The overall rating moved from Medium to High because four indicators’ ratings changed (as shown in red), resulting in 10 of 19 indicators now rated as High:

  • Oath Keepers cached arms in Arlington, VA for a quick reaction force that could be employed before and after the 6 January attack.
  • Some attackers had radios, gas masks, zip ties, body armor, night vision goggles, and bear spray.
  • The 6 January Congressional investigation uncovered extensive planning involving the White House and at the Willard Hotel and several states for months prior to the attack.

Another indicator was raised from low to medium to reflect subsequent reports of five deaths and more than 140 injuries to police officers. We encourage you to review all the indicators and generate your own set of ratings.

Applying this time-proven “indicators yardstick” to current political dynamics in this country strongly suggests that an incipient insurgency—or in today’s parlance, an insurrectionist movement—has emerged in the United States. The number of active proponents of insurrection may be limited to only hundreds or thousands of citizens, but scoping the size, motivations, and intentions of this movement is a critical challenge that merits further investigation by law enforcement and homeland security analysts.

Insight into how to use Indicators to track future insurrectionist behavior can be found in the Analyst’s Guide to Indicators.

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