Stay Safe When Order Breaks Down
October 31, 2011 by David Morris
So far, the Occupy events around the country have been relatively benign. Don’t get me wrong: They’ve been horrible for local businesses, a pain in the butt for sanitation workers, irritating for law enforcement and expensive for cities, but they haven’t been anything like what we saw in the Mideast earlier this year.
The people organizing the Occupy events are using advanced psychology and manipulation practices.
People might be dying in their cars in random accidents on their way to or from the protests or dying of drug overdoses after leaving the protests, but none have died at the protests that I know of so far. (Lest you think that the overdose comment is an unfounded low blow, there are about 100 Occupy events across the country, and cases of overdose have been reported at Occupy Wall Street.)
This week, things got a little more interesting. Until this week, for the most part, the worst “violence” has been when sanitation workers have tried to clean up the places where the protesters have been squatting.
Protesters in Oakland upped the ante this week, mostly vandalizing and throwing rocks, glass and paint cans at law enforcement — all the while blaming the police for their actions. The end result is that one protester — whose status I won’t mention out of respect to his 203,000 “brothers” — got a skull fracture because he was hit in the head with what the protesters claim was a tear gas canister but that could have just as easily been something thrown by the protesters.
After more than a month of putting up with the smells, sounds and expense of the Occupy events around the country, cities are getting tired of it and starting to be more active in arresting protesters who are breaking the law. This is causing an increase in arrests, but very little real violence.
Even so, the media love this. They are throwing around words like “riots,” “mobs,” “clash with police” and “violence erupts.” In Atlanta, news crews couldn’t get enough of one protester who walked around with a loaded AK-47. He thought it was his duty to be ready to protect the protesters from police.
But this brings to mind a serious question: How do you protect yourself in a true riot or mob situation? Mob mentality has been causing riotous behavior for thousands of years. Although it’s chaotic, there are things about mob mentality that we can recognize and use in order to keep ourselves safe. One of the most direct ways to do so is to look at and dissect mob behavior. Here’s a quick example that I shared last Christmas and want to share again:
In this video, we have some great examples of mob behavior. I wouldn’t really call this a “riot,” but it is a good example of a minor breakdown in civil order. I’ve set the video to start 40 seconds in… it’s 44 seconds of “boring and peaceful.” But a few seconds after that, you see someone reach in from the left hand side and take a box before he is supposed to. What happens next is that everyone starts grabbing at boxes. And this is important.
In a riot/mob/breakdown in civil order, there are some key components:
An agitator: Someone who’s increasing the intensity of emotions in the crowd. In this case, both the Wal-Mart employee is agitating the crowd and the crowd is agitating itself with pushing, facial expressions and talking. With the Occupy crowds, it’s usually some of the more intense participants.
An instigator: This is the person who takes the first non-civil action. It could be breaking a window, knocking over a barricade, damaging police property, hitting police, throwing something at police, shooting a weapon, picking out an “outsider” to attack or any other “kinetic” action that affects visual/physical antisocial change on the environment around him.
A trigger: If the crowd isn’t sufficiently worked up, the instigator will be a loner and looked at as an oddball by the crowd. If the crowd is sufficiently worked up, the actions of the instigator will trigger a common response by the parts of the crowd that are most worked up. It’s important to note that the trigger won’t do much unless it’s attached to a bomb. In the case of mobs, that bomb is primal tension, pain and/or rage. In Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria this past spring, people were worked up because of a lack of affordable food. We don’t have that with the Occupy movement at this time.
Aggressive follower: These are the people who won’t start the trouble, but are looking for any opportunity to cause trouble once they think they have immunity for their actions by being part of a mass of people who are breaking the law. This is the antisocial version of several cars speeding together on the interstate in the hopes of not getting stopped. Another example is when a group of pedestrians refuses to cross an empty street when the light is red; yet when a single person starts walking, the crowd quickly follows.
Sheep/Lemmings: These are the people who, once they see the instigator and aggressive followers breaking the rules/laws, will jump in because “everyone else was doing it.” This is when the unacceptable quickly becomes seen as acceptable, and people get caught up in the moment. People who normally obey authority figures suddenly ignore them with reckless abandon.
One example of this occurred at an intense outdoor concert I attended. There was lots of alcohol, a couple of mosh pits, stage diving and crowd surfing, fights, loud bass, screaming guitars, intense singing, etc. It was fun in the way that being on the edge of a little danger can be fun; it gets the adrenaline going. Two aspects of this concert weren’t so fun and are applicable to this conversation.
First, a girl was crowd surfing, having fun, and the crowd was being respectful with how they were passing her around. Then, when she was about 10 feet away from me, a turd-punk who might have been 18 started violating her. Some other people saw it, but nobody did anything. I pushed through the crowd, grabbed his arm and twisted it violently and was getting ready to strike him. At that minute, one of the biggest humans I’ve ever seen grabbed my hand, shook his head at me, grabbed the punk and threw him through the air like a kid’s rag doll. The kid never would have done something like that in a crowd at a mall or a football game. It was only because he thought he had cover for his actions that he acted so antisocially. The other point to note is that I was lucky that the big guy agreed with my actions and wasn’t a friend of the punk, coming to his aid. The fact is that you never know who’s alone and who’s got friends in a mob.
Second, a while later, I was at the front of the concert with the crowd behind me and a 4-foot-tall wooden “fence” in front of me. As the main band came on stage, the crowd started surging forward, but there wasn’t anywhere to go and people on the front row were getting crushed — screaming and passing out crushed. I had my arms outstretched against the fence to give my body some room, and the force of the crowd broke the wood in my hands and slammed me against the fence. People were getting pulled over the fence by security, and I eventually went over the fence to get some air, too.
The thing to keep in mind about these two instances is that they were from a fun event. People paid to go to dance, hear bands they liked and get a little crazy. It wasn’t a “protest,” “occupation” or “riot.” It was a concert. The punk-turd-kid was an anomaly and the surging crowd wasn’t malicious, but the results are the same if you happen to be on the wrong end of mob behavior, regardless of what the general intent of the crowd is. A crowd of friends trying to escape a fire in a church can trample you just as quickly as a mob gone crazy.
This next video gets a little more ridiculous, with a headbutt 20 seconds in by a guy in a striped shirt and pushing/pulling that escalates to punching after 30 more seconds:
So, we’ve seen how Americans treat each other when luxury items are up for grabs. How does it look when survival is really on the line?
This next video is a perfect example of why decentralized solutions, in the form of individual preparedness, are the only effective ways to survive disasters.
And one more food riot. This one occurred in Somalia when merchants suddenly stopped taking the country’s official currency. Residents holding Somali shilins that had value the day before were just stuck not being able to buy food for their families. Could this be what things look like here if the dollar collapses?
How do you avoid getting caught up in riots and mobs of people trying to get food after a disaster? One of the core fundamentals is to do everything you can now to make sure that you never have to become a refugee and depend on governments or aid organizations to provide food, water, shelter and protection. In short, you want to have the ability to hunker down wherever you happen to be and Survive In Place when disaster strikes. This will give you the luxury of being able to choose to time your escape to a retreat location, or ride out the disaster right where you are when it happens.
And if you do get caught up on the wrong side of a mob/riot?
First, breathe. Take a series of three to five or more deep breaths, belly breaths where your gut extends and your diaphragm gets to expand fully to get as much oxygen in your body as possible. It will calm you down, keep your vision wide and help you make better decisions.
Second, to the extent that you can, join the crowd. I’m not saying to hurt people, but join in their yelling and pumping your fist in the air as you move out of the crowd. It’s similar to what you’d do if you got thrown from a boat in a rapid river: swim with and perpendicular to the current, because a single person going against it doesn’t have a chance.
Third, look for natural seams in the crowd that you can slip through. If you have to push, push with the back of your hand/arm rather than the palm of your hand (it’s seen as being less offensive). If you’ve got someone with you, grab onto them tightly and say something like “We’ve got a bathroom emergency” or “We need to find medical!” to buy some grace as you’re pushing through the crowd.
Fourth, stay on your feet and keep moving. Don’t roll up in a ball on the ground or try to stop. Again, it’s like fighting a raging river. If you’re with other people from whom you don’t want to get separated, hold on hard and tight. If possible, have both people hold onto each other.
The biggest thing to remember is to keep your cool, keep moving and to make a safe exit as quickly as possible.
Do you have any experiences with mobs, riots, etc.? How about with the Occupy events? If you’ve been to them, what different groups did you see represented? (I’ve been to a few, and it’s amazing how drastically the makeup of the crowd changes from city to city, hour to hour and day to day.) If you have, please share your thoughts by commenting below: