I always thought the only civil war I would know about in this country would be the one I read about in the pages of my American history book — that War Between the States which set white citizens of the north and south against each other in brutal battles that left more than 600,000 dead. The political fights about slavery and the other attendant issues, such as states’ rights and the economy, are eerie echoes of today’s sharp partisan divide.

But while the American Civil War raged on for four bloody years, until recently, the nation’s battling partisans only engaged in a war of words.

Shockingly, that changed in recent weeks as the cities of Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wis., became 2020 battlegrounds for vigilante forces of the right and left. To be clear, these groups are divorced from the righteous protests which spontaneously sprang up in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. The peaceful protestors have made a concerted effort to stop the derailment of their message. Witness the multiple video clips of Black Lives Matter protestors yelling at the looters and property defacers, many angrily pointing out they will be blamed for the looters’ crimes. BLM protestors’ calls for racial justice have been drowned out as the focus shifts to scenes of burning cars and flying rubber bullets. Worse, the peaceful protestors have also been caught in the literal crosshairs of gun-toting members of violent organizations. Slate online magazine recently pointed to evidence reported by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. As Slate’s Fred Kaplan wrote, “20 violent groups — left and right — have taken part in more than 100 protests related to the George Floyd killing.” Though researchers point out right-wing groups are more likely to be armed.

It was the on the ground presence of these groups which escalated tensions and sparked a lethal response by 17-year-old self-described radical right-winger Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha and by Army veteran and self-described Antifa volunteer Michael F. Reinoehl in Portland. Rittenhouse allegedly shot three people, killing two BLM protestors. Reinoehl shot and killed Aaron Jay Danielson, a pro-Trump counter-protestor from the group Patriot Prayer.

It’s frightening enough to see these incidents from afar, but even scarier to see that these domestic armed insurgents — particularly the right-wing ones — enjoying warm support. Fox News Host Tucker Carlson praised the teenage Rittenhouse, saying he had to “maintain order when no one else would.” President Donald Trump defended Rittenhouse’s actions, saying, “the protestors attacked him” and he “probably would have been killed.” He’s also reminded American voters that suburban housewives should be very afraid and that he is “the law and order President” unafraid to deploy the National Guard and any other forces to control the cities governed by Democrats. Democratic nominee Joe Biden denounced the violence “unequivocally” but warned that “we must not become a nation at war with ourselves.”

Trump is moving to downgrade the number of troops in Iraq, where there is a real war going on, while pushing to increase police officers and National Guard reservists in American cities — and refusing to denounce armed vigilante groups. Maybe I could appreciate the irony if I weren’t so scared.