My current novel project, Vultures at the Edge of Midnight (working title, probably won’t be the final title), was originally conceived in the summer of 2014. The kernel that serves as the basis is what if an ISIS style fundamentalist religious uprising took place in the United States. Not so much an Islamic attack by ISIS sleeper cells in the US, but rather focusing on Christian nationalists.
The idea originally hatched while I conducted research on ISIS that year. ISIS had just begun its blitz in Northern Iraq and declared itself a caliphate after taking a few large cities there. I had started researching ISIS because my reconnaissance aircrew was on standby to deploy to the Gulf if theater commanders needed more intelligence gathering assets. During my research I came across a video of a group of ISIS militants beating a man on the ground prior to beheading him. What stood out to me the most in that video (besides the obvious gore…) was how these militants were seemingly mocking and belittling this man in condescending tones so universal that I didn’t need to know Arabic to understand what was happening in this scene.
It reminded me of the tone bullies use when mocking their victims—a scene I’m all too familiar with as both a perpetrator and victim of at various points in my childhood—and that’s when it hit me that these ISIS militants were likely men who had been bullied and abused as children. Now they seemed to be exercising power for the first time and exacting revenge on a society that didn’t adequately support them in their childhood struggles. It made me think of those who may be considered at the fringes of our society who have suffered bullying in childhood and adolescence: incels, proud boys, neo nazis, etc. Angry white dudes who seek some kind of community where their anger grows exponentially in a pressure cooker instead of working together to heal with each other from some common hurt they’ve had earlier in life.
Christian nationalists came to mind at the same time one, because of the fundamentalist element of ISIS, and two, because there seems to be a Christian nationalist undercurrent in the Republican Party that wishes to see the human rights removed from anyone who looks, acts, believes, or speaks differently than them (so, anybody who isn’t a straight, able bodied, cisgender white male born in the US). We can see this undercurrent based on the policies and legislation they wish to pass, even if they don’t openly say they are Christian nationalists.
The last element to be included in this who’s who of white supremacists are police. Witnessing the atrocities of police brutality in the mid-2010’s that led to the creation of Black Lives Matter and the subsequent white-lash All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter groups displayed an uncanny connection between angry alt-right white supremacists and Christian nationalists. That is, there is a connection strong connection between police, Christian nationalists, and angry alt-right white men. A trifecta mired so deep within white supremacy they are actively working against progress despite all universal moral truths their movement works contrary of.
In late May and June of this year, proof of this trifecta is only growing stronger, and this is frightening because it has ramifications for everyone in this country. Ramifications that will be explored in my novel.
The story that revolves around this kernel follows Robbie Burton, a white 20 year old male who has been tasked by his father to cross the boundary from the Allied States of America (ASA) into the Kingdom of Christ Republic (KCR) to retrieve his mother and sister (both of whom weren’t able to flee before the war started). Robbie starts his journey with the Black run Subterranean-Transit (Sub-T) underground movement where he learns the struggles facing the Black community under the KCR. When Robbie returns to his hometown, he witnesses atrocities inflicted on women and anyone who identifies as gay or transgender. Even for him, a straight cisgender white male, his movements within the KCR are heavily scrutinized and monitored by the Guardsmen Knights, the nationalized police force. In order for him to find his mother and sister and return safely to the ASA, Robbie must not only overcome his prejudices and ego to work together with these oppressed communities but also the power and privileges that the KCR offers him along his journey.
An extra note on this premise: this isn’t exactly a story about a second US civil war but rather a story about people fighting for human rights under a totalitarian government that sprang up from a civil war. It’s a story driven by characters and their experiences, not as much by plot or a dystopian setting (though those are important elements, too).