A new movie imagines a modern-day United States in the midst of civil war : Consider This from NPR Civil War, the new A24 film from British director Alex Garland, imagines a scenario that might not seem so far-fetched to some; a contemporary civil war breaking out in the United States.

And while the film has taken heat for little mention of politics, the question of an actual civil war has everything to do with it.

Amy Cooter is a director of research at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Her work has led her to the question that Garland's movie has put in the minds of both moviegoers and political pundits: Could a second civil war really happen here?

Cooter joins host Andrew Limbong to discuss the actual threat of current political movements in the U.S., outside of the movie theaters.

For sponsor-free episodes of Consider This, sign up for Consider This+ via Apple Podcasts or at plus.npr.org.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

Is this fictitious civil war closer to reality than we think?

Is this fictitious civil war closer to reality than we think?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1198911283/1245992373" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Kirsten Dunst (left) and Cailee Spaeny in Civil War. Murray Close/A24 hide caption

toggle caption
Murray Close/A24

Kirsten Dunst (left) and Cailee Spaeny in Civil War.

Murray Close/A24

You're reading the Consider This newsletter, which unpacks one major news story each day. Subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox, and listen to more from the Consider This podcast.


1. A civil war for the silver screen

Civil War, the new A24 film from British director Alex Garland, imagines a scenario that might not seem so far-fetched to some; a contemporary civil war breaking out in the United States.

In this world, the U.S. has split into various factions. The president, played by Nick Offerman – has given himself a third term, and he's hoping to fend off an assault from one of the more powerful groups.

In what might seem like the most unbelievable narrative twist, California and Texas form an alliance to become the "Western Forces" and fight against Offerman's regime. Sure, I guess!

2. How far are we from reality?

NPR movie critic Bob Mondello says the movie doesn't do a lot of explaining to help us understand how the U.S. got to this moment. But he says that makes it stronger.

"What became much more interesting in the moment was what it looks like to transpose things that we've always associated with other countries – the bombed out helicopters and things like that – to place that in a J.C. Penney parking lot."

And while the film has taken heat for little mention of politics, the question of an actual civil war has everything to do with it.

Polling has shown a significant minority thinks a civil war is at least somewhat likely in the next 10 years. So what do the experts say?

3. Division in the U.S.

Amy Cooter is a director of research at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Her work has led her to the question that Garland's movie has put in the minds of both moviegoers and political pundits: Could a second civil war really happen here?

Cooter wants to make one thing clear: "I don't think that civil war is imminent, but I think there are some people who wish we would have one, and wish that they could be effectively culture soldiers to re-enact a civil order that they see as better for them and their families."

In her studies of militias and political extremists, Cooter has observed a movement of groups similar to those who joined in on the January 6th riots who feel disconnected from the current political moment, or perhaps want to return to a previous version of society, that they feel served them better.

And while Cooter doesn't think a civil war will be happening anytime soon, she does say this:

"I think we are at a moment of extreme political division that may get worse before it gets better."

This episode was produced by Marc Rivers. It was edited by Jeanette Woods, Jonaki Mehta and Courtney Dorning. Our executive producer is Sami Yenigun.