The Black Box: US Military & Law Enforcement Support for a Coup

Today the Washington Post published an opinion piece by three retired US Army generals, about the likelihood, in their view, of a 2024 insurrection to install a right-wing government. They fully expect “lethal chaos,” and point out that recently

The authors point out that there could be consequences to a right-wing coup that even those on the right might not find congenial:

There is evidence to support the concerns of the generals; for example, the idea that the US military is more politically polarized now than in the past:

No matter how many polls or studies we look at, though, the probable level of support for a 2024 coup among either military or law-enforcement personnel remains unknown–a black box. But as the generals say:

How likely is it the Pentagon will take those actions, especially in time to do any good? How unified is the Pentagon (or let’s say the Joint Chiefs) in their support for the Constitution? I am not confident that the answer to either of those questions would be comforting.

I can also imagine worse scenarios, if the military starts breaking up and taking sides, and they all have to do with nuclear weapons.

I would say 2028 is more likely to be the problem. IMHO it is far more likely that an incumbent will use their existing hands on the reins of the military to stay in power than for a losing challenger to try to stage a coup from the outside.

There’s no way Biden will try to stay in power if he loses in 2024. So I think the real risk is that a Trump-style Republican wins in 2024 and spends the next four years making sure the MAGA’s second attempt at remaining in power by force works.

They’re wrong, tho; it won’t work out like they want.

The generals and admirals who run the military are career men who’ve spent decades (41 years in Gen. Milley’s case) in service, serving under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

I don’t see any of them sticking their necks out, and risking their retirement (and possibly execution for sedition) to help Donald Trump become a dictator.

Looking up on Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, he seems to be under no illusion on how the situation with vaccinations and dual obligations to the state Governor under Title 34 and the Federal government under Title 10 will end.

Oklahoma Guard Leader Tells Vaccine Refusers to Prepare for ‘Career Ending Federal Action’

“Anyone exercising their personal responsibility and deciding not to take the vaccine must realize that the potential for career ending federal action, baring [sic] a favorable court ruling, legislative intervention, or a change in policy is present,” Mancino wrote in the statement.

“The Governor has used his authority under Title 32 to grant you a limited safe harbor within his authority to not be subject to Title 10 negative actions for not taking the vaccine,” Mancino explained.

In one of the last paragraphs of his message, Mancino noted that he is “fully vaccinated, plus the booster.”

“I believe the vaccine to be safe and effective against COVID-19 based on the millions of doses administered,” he wrote.

In his message, Mancino admitted that, ultimately, “continued service in the national guard will require connections with Title 10 authority.”

“Such connections including training events, schools, and mobilizations are going to eventually force you out of that safe harbor, and subject you to title 10 authorities. This is reality,” his statement said.

“It is important you do not mistake my vigorous defense of the Governor’s rights under Title 32 as a guarantee you will not face consequences from Title 10 authority,” Mancino wrote. “I have no such power.”

Nvm… text

Good points, but they don’t translate into an extra four years to take prophylactic steps (I recognize that you didn’t suggest otherwise). If 2024 does get us another America-hating fuckstick, THAT guy sure isn’t going to initiate any preventive measures.

Indeed and this is the problem with @Smapti‘s view. If a Trump II has the competence that Trump I happily lacked, they will spend their four years doing what they can to stack and hollow out and factionalise the military precisely to sideline the non-partisan brass.

I’m not sure it could be done in four years but I think it could be done in eight. It took Hitler about eleven.

Didn’t Hitler pretty much cement his hold on power in one year after becoming Chancellor?

Yes but I was counting from the Beer Hall Putsch which is when he discovered it wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought and that he was going to have to do much more background work before he could take power.

In a way it’s more disturbing that Mancino doesn’t appear to be a fire-breathing Trump-Is-My-President kind of guy.

He appears rational—AND was quite willing to say that the federal government has no power over the National Guard in his state. (Well, narrowly, anyway; he wasn’t making a broad claim.)

Here’s a ‘gift link’ (I hope) to the WaPo article from the op. As many know, you can click on this without using up any of your per-month article allowance.

It’s also possible that those same individuals, seeing the way the wind was blowing (hypothetically: toward a right-wing coup), wouldn’t want to stick out their necks to prevent an anti-democracy candidate from being made President-for-Life.

A 2020 piece by Texas Public Radio offered some sobering observations:

(So far I’m not finding the study in question available to read online, though there are numerous references to it on sites like Salon and

They got the name of the study wrong; that’s the name of one of the graphs in the study.

Here ya go (ETA: the link goes to a GitHub server where the pdf is displayed and available; I doubt it has the preview code tho, hence the gobbledygook):

From this page:

This is the page that got me to the page that got me that link:

Thanks, Bo. I had gotten to that “The Effect of White…” page in Google Scholar, but somehow didn’t find the link to the paper referenced in the TPR article.

“In other words, it’s time we as researchers start asking the hard questions about support for democracy in the United States we would otherwise ask in Pakistan or Venezuela.” —from the paper’s conclusion. Hard to argue!

As something I read recently said [paraphrasing], “If what is happening in the US now was happening in a foreign country, every politically aware person in the US would consider that foreign country’s democracy to be crumbling. But because it’s happening at home few are seeing it”.

Mancino’s actions don’t disturb me that much from what I’ve read since he sounds like he takes his oath to the constitution and not a particular president seriously in stating to those under his command that they are going to have to either get vaccinated or accept the end of their career with the military once they fall under Title 10. What truly scares the living shit out of me are the likes of Michael Flynn, retired Lieutenant General and former fucking National Security Advisor advocating that Trump declare martial law and order voting machines seized back in December 2020 along with his assorted QAnon insanity.

Yes. There’s a human propensity to believe ‘nothing ever really changes’ along with ‘it can’t happen here.’ These mental tendencies do seem to amount to either rose-colored glasses or blinders, depending on what metaphor you prefer.

Dissonance: fair comparison. Flynn’s level of contempt for democracy and the rule of law is truly stunning (and Mancino doesn’t appear to share those views. Still, the WaPo editorial-writers seem to find his willingness to defy the federal government, even in a limited context, to be a troubling sign of a trend).

A military coup in a high per capita income country is very rare, so it’s understandable.

As for this instance, I keep on thinking that Trump surely will soon hit his sell-by date. I still think he will, despite recent signs being bad.

Biden does need to take this seriously, as he probably does. It wouldn’t be a good time to cut back on military pay or benefits, as that historically makes a coup more likely. And the administration should be aa strict as possible in separating unvaccinated military members, since anti-vaxxers are liable to be coup-friendly. I hope they aren’t accepting pseudo-religious objections.

Also important is to avoid unnecessarily alienating the Supreme Court, as they could be crucial in event of a coup attempt teetering on success or failure. When the Supreme Court likely rules against Roe and affirmative action, any administration pushback should be painfully courteous.

It’s unlikely to be a military coup in the usual sense. It’s more likely to be a Trump style president who makes up BS excuses about election fraud or states of emergency to give themselves a figleaf of legality to staying in office. How that plays out is hard to say, but could involve the question of who the military stands behind.

I doubt Trump will run because he would deeply fear losing again. But I’m far from sure. Anyway I don’t think it matters too much - he’s only the current point on the spear. The real issue is that at least substantial parts of the broader Republican party no longer support democracy. Democracies need a consensus view that the democratic system overall is more important than one’s own ambitions. Once that isn’t true, it’s hard for a democracy to survive.