Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 September 2020
Under conditions of guerrilla conflict, mass indiscriminate violence has been shown to effectively starve a guerrilla of its support. Consequently, counter-guerrilla mass violence is concentrated within territories where a guerrilla is dominant. However, in roughly 40 percent of mass violence episodes (e.g., Rwanda and Cambodia), the violence was aimed at populations within areas of secure territorial control. These episodes have therefore been explained by attributing ideological preferences to leaders or as unique cases only. I argue that leaders adopt mass indiscriminate violence against outgroups to consolidate power under conditions of elite rivalry. The violence serves two main goals. First, it helps build coalitions with constituencies that gain from violence; and second, it targets rival factions indirectly by forcing local security officials to facilitate or oppose the violence. The violence thereby provides rival supporters with an exit option, provides the regime with information on rival supporters’ private loyalties, and undermines rivals’ abilities to mount an effective resistance. These rivals can ultimately be purged from the regime. Based on newly collected original data on elite purges and on the type of mass indiscriminate violence for the years 1950 to 2004, I show that this type of mass violence, which I call “genocidal consolidation,” is intimately connected to authoritarian consolidation.