Rebelling Against Rebellion: Comparing Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Recruitment

Rebellion—its causes, dynamics, and effects—has received considerable attention across several social science disciplines. Rebel recruitment, in particular, has attracted substantial effort. However, the question of why people “rebel against rebellion” has seldom been asked systematically: why is it that individuals join armed groups located outside the formal boundaries of the state to fight against the rebels? We use existing theoretical conjectures to derive hypotheses about how joiners in these two types of groups differ and test them using novel survey data from the ongoing Colombian civil war. We find that, compared to their rebel counterparts, individuals who join counterinsurgent organizations are equally poor, yet more motivated by materialistic concerns; though less rural, they are equally likely to have lived in areas of low state capacity and equally likely to have lived in areas ruled by the group they eventually joined. The importance of territorial control revealed by our data points to the crucial role of
“endogenous” dynamics in civil war.

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