How to Survive the Growing Wave of Civil Unrest

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civil unrest, how to prepare for civil unrestI’ve been on both sides of a protest — a peaceful protest of citizens carrying hand-made posters, appealing to passersby in a friendly voice and as part of a large group of young people, angry at the school admissions process. That event resulted in shoving, yelling, and creating dangerous crowd crush with me in the middle! It was terrifying.

Like you, I’ve also watched crowds on TV erupt in fury, breaking windows, burning cars, and creating violence and havoc that no law enforcement force could control. In the past couple of years events like these have increased and it’s no wonder average citizens are wanting to learn more about riots, mobs, and civil unrest.

Here in the United States, a citizens protest is protected by our Bill of Right’s First Amendment — freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the government of our grievances. Every day, somewhere in the country, people join together to voice their beliefs, their displeasure, and even their anger, and almost always, these groups remain calm and then disband and go home.

Unfortunately, though, there are many cases where the opposite happens, and the transformation is fascinating — when watched from a distance. Even an innocuous family reunion or wedding can end up with fists flying and intervention by law enforcement!

The controversy of civil unrest

Everyone involved in a peaceful protest or the worst possible riot believes they are on the “right” side. Whether a person is simply carrying a sign or throwing Molotov cocktails, they are convinced of the righteousness of their cause.

The cause could be free speech, women’s rights, racial issues, or a court verdict, no matter. Each person involved can justify their actions.

“The uproar of the late ’60s – the antiwar movement, black riots, angry women. It was a wonderful time.” ~Molly Ivins

“When a police officer shoots a young, unarmed black man in the streets, then does not face indictment, anger in the community is inevitable. It’s what we do with that anger that counts. In such a case, is rioting so wrong?” ~Darlena Cunha

“‘Occupy’ is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.” ~Frank Miller

Each of these issues obviously stirs deep emotions and, in fact, you might even be having an emotional reaction yourself just reading these quotes!

To study the phenomena of civil unrest and mob behavior, though, it’s important to disengage emotions and personal opinions and focus on the bigger picture — how to stay safe if and when your safety is in danger from a throng of people, each believing their words and actions are justified.

The sticky wicket of law enforcement and mobs

We train our youngest children to dial 911 if they are ever in fear for their lives, and we do the same. In the case of a crowd of people becoming more violent by the minute, sooner or later the police will be called in. When they arrive, it’s possible that a trained group of “riot police” will be among them.

Do these people look like they are there to help you and your family?

This group of police is highly trained to respond to violent civil unrest. Before reading on, what do you notice about their appearance?

They are trained to work as a group, in sync, showing no emotion or changing their facial expressions. When they advance toward rioters, they take small steps in unison, and in fact, their formation has a specific purpose.

In the front line are the officers who will directly confront individuals when that becomes necessary. Armed with multiple weapons, they’re prepared to use batons, tear gas, bullets made of rubber, plastic, and wood, and rounds of bean bags. However, their main purpose isn’t to attack but to move the protesters to another location. Protesters who take violent action against the officers will be met by the second line who will begin arrests.

The front line is trained to move to both sides in order to let the most unruly charge forward, right into the hands of the officers trained in crowd arrests.

Going back to the appearance of riot control police, you probably noticed these things:

  • Their appearance is dehumanizing with each officer looking identical to the next
  • They are protected head to toe
  • They are armed but their weapons blend in with the black color of their protective uniforms and other gear
  • Face masks and shields provide both physical protection and a psychological advantage

The most important thing to know is that these officers are not there to shield you or lead you to safety. They are there to get the riot under control. Even a mother caught in the middle of this chaos with her young children may or may not receive assistance from law enforcement.

It’s up to you to know what to do in order to stay safe.

What happens when law enforcement does nothing?

In the past couple of years, we have seen a number of instances in which law enforcement officers do nothing to stop violent protests, even when bystanders are being threatened and injured. Recently in Portland, clashes between opposing groups resulted in fights, violence, and a few arrests, but the police department made the decision to step aside and observe.

Some protests become riots and those can last for hours or even days. Do you remember the London riots in 2011? They lasted for 6 days and spread to towns across England, leaving deaths, injuries, massive looting and property damage in the wake. So many people were arrested that courts had to stay open through the night to process them all. In the case of these riots, there was a police presence, but violent protesters were able to stay one step ahead of police through the use of Twitter and other social media.

Moving forward, if you find yourself in a part of town where a protest has become violent, the only option is to escape. If riot police are present and actively involved, they are there to control the rioters, not to protect a mom and her children. Look for routes out of the area. If it’s unfamiliar to you, then use a phone app like Waze to get to a safer location. A call to Uber can get you a quick ride home. Have a plan in mind if you will be in an area with a scheduled protest or an area that attracts protests, such as government buildings and courthouses. You’ll find more ideas for making a plan here.

What to watch out for

If you pay attention to the news on a regular basis, you’ll notice that some issues attract a higher level of emotional response than others. Compare the response to, say, a Presidential Executive Order to combat wildlife tracking with one that requires a government ID to vote in federal elections. The former is a real snoozer for most people but among some groups, the voter ID issue generates anger and resentment. A protest against a voter ID policy is more likely to trigger higher levels of emotion, which in turn can ignite violent reactions.

Rule of thumb — The likelihood of a protest turning violent is in direct proportion to the emotional level of the issue at hand. If you feel you must be a part of a protest, as it’s your constitutional right, then watch for signs of increased, maybe even irrational emotion. Look for people who seem to be the leaders and watch their words and actions. As well, look around the crowd for people who seem to be instigators. It may be the first person to throw a punch or a brick, or you may suddenly notice a handful of people brandishing makeshift weapons, like a length of rebar or a bike lock.

If you’re an active participant, just be aware if the emotional level around you rises, voices become louder, and people actively begin to act out in violent ways. Voicing your concerns is one thing. Ending up at the ER because a rioter slammed you to the ground isn’t exactly the result any citizen wants to experience.

Finally, watch out for counter-protests. This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon but it has become a lot more common. With angry people on both sides, why would anyone be surprised when fists start flying?

Be aware and have a plan

Learning about civil unrest is the first step toward being able to protect yourself and your loved ones should you unexpectedly end up in or near a group of people on the verge of becoming violent or already there. You’ll find more tips about civil unrest here.

Be aware of your surroundings. Learn to identify the groups most active in violent riots, such as Antifa. Get to know how they’re dressed, their slogans, and their banners. A lot of these groups make their plans public on social media, Facebook and Twitter, in particular. Do a quick search for names like New York City Antifa and Atlanta Antifascists on Twitter and Rose City Antifa on Facebook. These groups also have very enlightening websites where you can learn about their plans, tactics, and worldview.

When you’re aware and have a plan, you’ll be able to stay safe from the growing wave of civil unrest in our country.

survive civil unrest, survive riots, survive mobs, civil unrest survival

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

20 thoughts on “How to Survive the Growing Wave of Civil Unrest”

  1. Richard Steven Hack

    I guess no one is old enough to remember the ’60’s. LOL This is nothing – so far. When they start “domestic terrorism” and blowing stuff up like the Weathermen (although those idiots blew themselves up more than anything else), then maybe I might be slightly worried.

    I live in San Francisco. I’ve seen riots here before and neatly evaded them by simply crossing the street and going up another street before the mob reached me. Most of these riots are limited to locations where they can get TV coverage and rarely spread outside of a narrow area.

    The simplest way to avoid this sort of thing is simply to be aware when people start marching around. Then leave. If you get caught in the crowd or within a police containment deployment, that’s your mistake. Use situational awareness.

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  3. Something stuck out in your blog post, that I feel needs qualification or perhaps clarification.
    “Each person involved can justify their actions.”
    I believe this is mostly true in years gone by… even the “Weathermen” mentioned above had a cause that they were part of.

    There is a fundamental difference between protests, civil unrest and mobs.

    While protests and civil unrest most certainly can and usually do happen for the same reason… a stance against a perceived wrong… Mob participants, most notably in the last decade, do not necessarily need to believe in anything.

    The defense behind my reasoning is this…
    When you have people participating in mobs that act violently against their own interests (IE: burning down a Walgreens where they get their prescriptions filled) just because they can, or to loot, there is no “cause” that they support to justify attacking something totally unrelated to whatever cause the protesters are protesting.
    When people in a mob are asked what they are protesting and cannot even answer the question, they most certainly are not part of a protest.

    Mobs are, by definition, not by purpose a protest. A protest can turn into a mob… but rarely will you see the opposite happen. There simply is no justification to be had for much of the mob behavior occurring in the US today.

    Most of the people involved in mobs simply want to do damage to something, steal something, or in some cases are hired to participate.

  4. one comment – to my eyes, those pictures are not of law enforcement/police officers. I see military. And they do not belong on the streets of America. All you said is true regarding their method, equipage, training. But those are not peace officers who serve the public. They serve the powers that be and that’s all they serve.

    1. They’re not peace officers any longer. They are ‘law enforcement officers. The change in attitude, along with the changes in uniform, go a long way to tell you what they are and what they see as their role.

    2. I disagree. The riot police in uniform are much better protected than our military in battle gear. They also are trained differently. Military are trained to kill, because in battle situations they will almost certainly have to do so to stay alive. Riot police are trained to subdue, and if necessary to arrest. To do that properly they have to be padded up like hockey goalies. Of course I grew up with the military so I have a different perspective than some.

    3. I disagree – those police absolutely DO belong on the streets of America these days. Certain groups of people promote violence just because they want their way. The First Amendment is very clear – the people have a right to PEACEABLY assemble to protest. People these days are violent and that is NOT covered by the First Amendment. We need this officers to balance civility, personal safety of citizens and make sure property doesn’t get damaged. Those who violently protest need to be in jail and prosecuted. I understand peaceful protests – if you are violent – I have no sympathy for you when you get whacked with a baton – that’s your own stupidity. People have choices to make – consequences good or bad always follow.

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  7. Interesting, very interesting. Unfortunately, the whole premise is ruined by its counterfactual examples & discussion of only left-wing civil unrest. In fact, based upon US DOJ, FBI, and many other reputable sources, in the USA, today and for many years past, you are much more likely to be killed or injured from right- wing violence and hate groups. Remember. Charlottesville , the Las Vegas Shooting, etc., etc. We should always stick to the facts when we discuss such politically charged issues. However, I join in the condemnation of violence.

    1. There’s no evidence at all that the Las Vegas shooting was civil unrest, and at that point in your comment, I knew you weren’t coming from a point of being well informed.

      I mention Antifa specifically because they are widespread and well organized. There are many groups that identify themselves as “Antifa” in their own social media accounts and websites. Since there are so many groups and they are spread from coast to coast, they deserve watching and their actions deserve condemnation.

      There are other groups on the opposing side but as of this writing, they have far fewer members and are smaller, isolated groups. I disagree completely that “right wing violence and hate groups” are more dangerous and based on my research, it’s impossible to support that argument when it comes to actual civil unrest, e.g. riots, mobs, attacks on random citizens.

      1. I do find it interesting that you cited dailymail vs. BBC, The Guardian, or The Independent. Or other international sources like Deutsche Welle or Reuters

      2. Your major points, however, about riot safety do hold true. You offer a lot of rational practical advice about prepping. So much so that I have bought your Evacuation book as a Christmas gift for my sister who lives in California.

  8. One thing you can do is to stop taking in so much media. Go for a walk. Meditate. Listen to music. They are attempting to manipulate you by whipping up your fears. Don’t let them. And make sure you get your news from multiple sources, so that you’re not in a news vacuum, where you’re only exposed to one opinion. Prep without letting fear and paranoia rule you.

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