“Urban guerrillas could shoot down the streets, drop fire bombs, and not even need mortars,” he wrote. Hostages could be taken. The Communists might even try to fuel the flames of insurgency. And while social, economic, or political reforms might succeed in staving off such rebellions, he reasoned, they might not; thus his call for “an effective system of intelligence in the ghettos,” including deep penetration by undercover cops and military intelligence, along with Army preparations to fight pitched urban battles here in America.
His conclusion included this chilling suggestion:
Army units must be oriented and trained to know the cement-and-asphalt jungle of every American city. Possibly the sight of such maneuvers in several cities could prove a deterrent to urban insurrection.
* * *
Rigg’s article coincided with a massive loss of faith in American cities, fueled by riots, rising crime, and racism––and also by federal policies like investment in highways and subsidized home loans for World War II veterans that made suburban existence more viable for people and businesses alike, causing many to relocate away from dense cores to where land or labor were cheaper.
His arguments circulated widely.
U.S. News and World Report republished the article in its January 15, 1968, issue. A week later, The New Republic ran a piece summarizing the article at greater length than I offered above, appending a small amount of analysis at the end:
Is Rigg having a nightmare?
Richard Nixon warned in New York on January 9 that this summer there will be war, not just riots, in the city streets. He said “radicals” were planning “the bringing of great cities to their knees.” Gov. George Romney said this month that in Michigan whites and blacks are busy arming against each other.
Is this just Republican scare talk?
On January 15, a series of police conferences, closed to the public, began on the prevention and control of civil disorder at six locations around the nation. They were inaugurated by the United States attorney general and attended by 400 police officials and many city mayors.
Americans would only later discover that abusive COINTELPRO surveillance of Black Power activists, anti-Vietnam protesters, and suspected Communists was, in fact, already operational, in part because the establishment feared insurrection.
Even today, many remain unaware of what the Army was planning.
* * *
In September 1968, months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and ensuing riots, the U.S. Army published a then-classified plan called Garden Plot, noting “dissatisfaction with the environmental conditions contributing to racial unrest and civil disturbances and dissatisfaction with national policy as manifested in the anti-draft and anti-Vietnam demonstrations.”
Those grievances “might provide a preconditioned base for a steadily deteriorating situation leading to demonstrations and violent attacks on the social order,” the plan stated. “Should external subversive forces develop successful control,” it continued, “federal military intervention may be required to preserve life and property and maintain normal processes of governments.”