The official definition of an insurgency is the “organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control” of an area. An “incipient insurgency” might be happening when “inchoate actions by a range of groups”—followed by organizing, training, acquisition of resources (including arms), and the buildup of public support—lead to “increasingly frequent” incidents of violence, reflecting “improved organization and forethought.”

Kilcullen argues that this is what we’ve been seeing the past few months in the waves of provocations and street violence that have blown through American cities since the May 25 police killing of George Floyd. By and large, the protesters haven’t been at fault. It’s been the extremists—left and right—who have tagged alongside the protests and counterprotests, exploiting the disorder.

In some cases, the violence has been committed by “individual idiots”—as Kilcullen calls them—such as, most notably, Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old self-appointed vigilante who, after reading radical right-wing ravings online, drove from his home in Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, and wound up shooting three people, killing two of them, in the wake of demonstrations over the police shooting of Jacob Blake.