Back in 1994, the Atlantic Monthly published a notable article by Robert Kaplan entitled “The Coming Anarchy.” The article dealt with what Kaplan took to be global indications of impending chaos as resources dwindle, infrastructures decay, weapons are peddled, gangs and armed bands replace states, and ethnic, racial, and tribal loyalties prevail over less ferocious identities. The article was illustrated with several photographs of pitiful and chaotic scenes in such picturesque localities as Beirut, the Balkans, and Central Africa. One of the photographs, indistinguishable from the others, is from Los Angeles during the “Rodney King riots” of 1992.

To look at the last photograph and suddenly realize it’s not Rwanda or Belfast but the second largest city in North America is jarring, and perhaps it was intended to be. If nothing else, the picture serves as a reminder that it can happen here, that it almost did happen here, and that it might well happen here in a short time to come.

That it is going to happen here is the thesis of a new monograph, Civil War II, by an ex-mercenary named Thomas Chittum, which has attracted no attention whatsoever in the mainstream book reviews but over the last few months has been a hot topic in what can today only be called the “Underground Right”—the buzzing hive of Internet sites, shortwave radio stations, one-man newsletters, guerrilla fax warriors, and other dissidents who use new and alternative technologies to construct their own counterculture. When it comes to warfare, Mr. Chittum—a Vietnam veteran and former artillery expert who served in Rhodesia as well as in Croatia—seems to know what he’s talking about. Now he’s settled down to prepare for the coming Armageddon that his book prophesies.

The premise of his prediction that the United States (sometime in the next generation or so) is going to collapse into an anarchic civil war is the ethnic and racial fragmentation of the nation that the Census Bureau has been projecting since 1992. By 2050, according to the projections, whites will constitute 52.5 percent of the national population (down from the current 74.8 percent), blacks will constitute 14.4 percent, Hispanics 22.5 percent, Asians 9.7 percent, and Indians 0.9 percent. As Mr. Chittum writes, “It’s as if every day 3,000 whites were disappearing and being replaced by 3,000 minorities. Every single day! This is a sort of statistical ethnic cleansing engineered through liberal immigration laws and unchecked illegal immigration.”

But Mr. Chittum’s point is not that whites are ceasing to be a majority. His point is that whatever the mix of races and ethnic groups, the mix itself is the problem. He offers a list of other countries that have collapsed into ethnic conflict when the mix reaches certain levels. He allows that “multiethnic and multilingual nations can and do work. However, all evidence clearly indicates they work only if each group is allowed to conduct its own affairs without undue meddling by the central government.” Switzerland and Belgium are examples of highly decentralized federal multiethnic states where the different ethnicities appear to be able to live with each other without cutting each others’ throats. Such is not the case in the United States, however.

Here, federalism and decentralization are not happening and are not going to happen. The United States is in fact an empire, not only by reason of its military and political predominance but also its internal structure. Authoritarian trends in the central state, the increasing stratification of the social structure into an overclass and underclass, the destruction of the middle class, and the pattern of immigration all suggest an “imperial conversion” of the American nationstate.

But the imperium will be unable to control its own domain, for the simple reason that weapons, funds to buy them, and the will to use them, driven by ethnic-racial loyalties and hatreds, will outdraw the empire. The Los Angeles riots are a kind of paradigm for Mr. Chittum’s grim predictions. In the course of the riots, armed street gangs undertook most of the actual violent action, and Mr. Chittum points out that while the City of the Angels alone sports no fewer than 100,000 gang members, the entire United States contains only about 554,000 full-time police officers. If the gangs wanted to, they could simply take over Los Angeles by force, and during the riots, police units actually retreated from armed rioters whose weapons were heavier than those of the cops. There were a number of incidents in which police squad cars deliberately ignored looting of stores—probably because they lacked the instruments of force to stop the looting—and Korean shop owners armed themselves to protect their shops and homes that the police refused to protect.

Of course, the state and federal governments could stop the rioting and the takeover by the gangs, couldn’t they? Well, as a matter of fact, no, Mr. Chittum argues. Federal military bases within the United States are highly vulnerable to armed attack and neutralization. Designed to placate civilian tastes and sensibilities as much as military needs, military bases typically lack a cleared field of fire within which an invader could be cut down like ripe wheat, defensive perimeters of mine fields and armored bunkers that could deter invaders, adequate manpower, and adequate facilities for withstanding sieges. Moreover, no small number of the defenders of the bases will be co-ethnics of the attackers and could provide “fifth columns” inside the bases. The same is true of local and state police and national guard units. Your local military base might be terrific for entertaining the kids with a Veterans’ Day parade, but don’t count on the troops protecting your neighborhood during Civil War II.

In addition to the incipient ethnic and racial fragmentation of the nation, Mr. Chittum points to political and regional schisms already appearing. All of these will, in his view, enhance the likelihood of chronic armed violence throughout the country in the near future.

When civil authority breaks down in America, our criminal gangs will instantly fill the power vacuum, just exactly as has been the pattern in other lands. The gangs have their organization and firepower to serve as the nucleus for actual armies. And since they will be self-financed in the coming time of chaos, they will grow like wildfire. Militias, cults like the Nation of Islam, and other armed organizations will also rapidly grow into full-blown armies.

Mr. Chittum also has some fascinating scenarios of how the conflict will play out in various areas of the country, particularly the South, where the ethnic and racial composition will be so mixed that certain “enclaves” may survive. Finally, he has some practical advice on how to survive even if you don’t live in such an enclave: stockpile food, get a gun (he doesn’t like handguns but recommends military semiautomatic rifles that fire easily available standard cartridges), and select the part of the country for your stronghold based on its capacity for economic self-sufficiency and distance from likely areas of conflict. Also, don’t tell anyone what you’re doing since otherwise you may enjoy unsolicited and none-too-friendly visits when your friends and neighbors realize you’re prepared and they’re not.

Mr. Chittum has no doubt that all this is going to happen, and indeed he makes a powerful case for it. But there are also reasons to think that it probably won’t happen. First, with all due respect to ethnic and racial loyalties, there are other social relationships that are often no less powerful as group bonds. Given a chronic breakdown in the economic infrastructure and governmental enforcement of order, it is just as likely that regional, economic, class, and religious bonds will divide the population into mutually competing and conflicting groups. Race appears to mean very little either to Christian evangelicals or to most militia members, and at least some urban gangs are already ethnically mixed. Areas that depend on agriculture or on serving economic demands that could still be served and can’t sustain themselves any other way would probably continue to function as fairly peaceful communities of mixed ethnic, class, and religious groups.

Moreover, even if ethnicity and race do become the primary identities for group existence and action, it does not follow that they will go to war with each other. Urban street gangs haven’t made a bid to take over entire cities yet, despite the large funds from drug trafficking and the availability of sophisticated weaponry, precisely because they are criminals. not soldiers or empire-builders, and because they provide a certain sense of community and group bonding to otherwise socially crippled adolescents. It’s more likely that the gangs will insist on pushing crack and running girls than attacking military’ bases, however soft and flabby. As for the militias, strange religious cults, white separatists, and similar underground movements, I’ve seen and read nothing about any of them that would convince me they’re a serious danger to anybody. Most of their burned-out members seem to spend more time smoking dope and reading pornography than they do plotting guerrilla warfare. The fact is that, apart from criminals and a few lunatics, Americans in general today are couch cabbages whose closest approach to guerrilla warfare is the weekly argument over who holds the remote during Melrose Place.

But the major argument against Mr. Chittum’s predictions is that the overclass, as flabby and crooked and imperial-decadent as it might be, is not about to let Civil War II take place. What Mr. Chittum doesn’t entirely grasp is that the riding class, as I have argued before, rules mainly through manipulation, not through force or intimidation. Ruby Ridge and Waco, which he sees as signs of impending reliance on force, are more likely signs of the incompetence of the ruling class at using force. Ruling classes that do rely on force (like the Nazis or the Communists) would have gobbled Randy Weaver and David Koresh at a single bite and not spent weeks pondering how to get them to come out peacefully. It’s quite true that there is an emerging federal police state, but our incumbent ruling class, Republican or Democrat, simply isn’t constructed to rely on it as its primary mode of power. Instead, it relies on manipulation, the deliberate inculcation of an apparently spontaneous and voluntary desire to obey, and soap operas, game shows, and professional sports are far more useful instruments of control for its purposes than BATF goon squads.

Mr. Chittum is entirely right about the ethnic, racial, social, and cultural fragmentation — “Balkanization”—that mass immigration is engendering, but it doesn’t follow that the ruling class that permits, wants, and indeed commands that this fragmentation take place won’t be able to control the results. Balkanization and fragmentation are themselves means of manipulation (“divide and conquer”) by which the elites prevent the formation of any enduring national community that can challenge its own power. The real future, perhaps less exciting than that of Civil War II, is what various writers have called “Brazilianization,” the disintegration of traditional community, class, and nation at the base of American society and the domination of a technically skilled, affluent (if not luxurious) overclass that is no less multiethnic in its composition but is bound together by its control of wealth, status, and political and cultural power. That is why American society becomes more “diverse” through immigration but more homogeneous through the uniform discipline exerted by the federal leviathan in conjunction with the mass consumer economy and mass instruments of culture and communication.

Mr. Chittum is aware of this line of criticism and tries to respond to it: “The overall tendency is for establishment types to predict a crime and poverty stricken multiracial banana republic, something like Brazil. Brazil is wracked by violence, but has so far avoided massive bloodshed like Bosnia. In such a society, the establishment reckons it can endure quite nicely behind its razor wire, walls, and security guards. This optimistic view is based on their utter contempt for working-class whites. I’m confident they will be proven wrong, but time will tell.

I guess you can put me down as “an establishment type,” though I don’t consider the prophecy of Brazilianization an “optimistic view,” and I don’t harbor “utter contempt for working-class whites,” even if they do tend to be couch cabbages. But you don’t have to harbor “utter contempt” for anyone to believe that there is nothing in most Americans’ background to prepare them for the kind of stockpile-and-shoot first future Mr. Chittum predicts. You do have to believe that most Americans can see no other option for themselves but a passive endurance of the regime the ruling class has created, and of course that is a narrow vision that the ruling class does all it can to maintain. But who knows, maybe Mr. Chittum will turn out to be right after all. If and when Americans are able to glimpse an alternative future in which they can displace the ruling class and its regime of manipulation through their own resistance, Mr. Chittum’s book may pop up on the best-sellers list.