I wrote the post below a few years ago but considering the state of things today, I think it is worth revisiting these lessons. As each state starts opening back up or refuses to move towards opening back up, the potential for unrest is high. No matter what you believe about COVID-19, it is impossible to not feel the economic and societal impacts of the situation.
Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. Civil unrest and protests are becoming increasingly more likely as things spin out of control in the USA. I want to tell you how to stay safe and keep going when things start deteriorating. One thing I would add is that you might consider wearing a mask and gloves when you go out for at least a little while.
This article is not intended to be a manifesto of how to riot or participate in causing civil unrest. I am sure it could be used for that, but I am trying to tell you about these things from the perspective of it being inevitable that some areas within the USA will experience these things and you might need to deal with them on some level or another.
I have learned a lot and did a lot of thinking about the yellow shirt protests. Watching We Are Change live has given me a lot of food for thought. I think it is worthwhile to consider what one can do if they find themselves in an area that erupts in civil unrest and possible violence.
Civil unrest can last a long time, so there may come a time when you absolutely have to get from point A to point B. This means you need to be ready for what may happen. No matter how careful you are, there are a lot of things that are simply beyond your control when things start heading in an SHTF direction. During the Paris protests, it was clear to me that there were a good number of people that were simply trying to keep a low profile and get where they were going. It was so easy to see how they could get in a bad situation the minute someone involved in the protests did something that crossed the lines and boundaries drawn by the protesters or law enforcement. When you go into an area with major civil unrest, there are no set rules; You need to be on constant guard and practicing situational awareness on a whole different level. There are so many different things going on, and everything is out of your control beyond your situational awareness and your ability to adapt to a situation quickly and react in a responsible manner.
I truly feel that civil unrest will be more common in the future. There are simply too many issues that are affecting people from all walks of life. The division between people is vast, and it is an intentional thing. If you and I have differing opinions but can still come together on common issues, that is not seen as a good thing by some. The Orwellian times we live in necessitate the division if they are to get the best of us and keep the status quo fully functional and operating to our long term detriment. By not looking at both sides of an issue and showing compassion, you are letting them have all the power through your sacrifices as well as that of others. It is a good gig to get others to do the footwork for you.
Myth #1 I live in a small town or suburb, so protests and riots are not going to happen
Fact: The last two major riot situations that have made national headlines in the USA did not happen in major cities. Ferguson, MO experienced major riots in 2014 and had a population of just over 21,000 in 2010. Charlottesville, VA was home to riots in 2017 and had a population of just over 48,000. That is hardly the millions of people that so many expect when something on this level occurs.
Riots do not just happen in urban centers or bad neighborhoods. Never fool yourself into believing that.
You need to be prepared if you live in areas with any type of “town” infrastructure.
I live in a rural area. There is not much incentive for protest, but 20 miles down the road it is a different story. There are plenty of protests nearby me when any major election or similar is happening. A lot of historical places have been vandalized, and regardless of what side someone is on, it doesn’t appear there have been any real winners. This is often the case when there is a divide and conquer philosophy that is so prevalent.
Movement and appearance
Here are some tips for moving as safely as possible during times of civil unrest:
- Go places with someone else so you can watch out for each other. A big group together may draw attention but two or three people will not so much.
- Have a good map and plan out alternative routes to the places you need to go the most.
- Try to mix up your routes a bit. One way to do this is to never come back the same way you went.
- Allow extra time so that you will move smartly and not fast or clumsy. During times of civil unrest, it is best to go ahead and get used to the idea that things will take longer.
- Only move around when absolutely necessary. If things are getting dangerous in your area, consider what trips and obligations you can cut out of your routine.
- Make sure to have an everyday carry bag that has some essentials in it just in case you get delayed.
- Don’t open carry weapons. Being armed is one thing but displaying how armed you are can just invite trouble.
- Keep kids and the elderly at home if possible. I know that sounds somewhat awful but things can happen really fast when there is civil unrest and kids and those that cannot move fast are going to be in even greater danger. A child can become frightened and make it hard to get away fast. If your family has people of all ages, then the younger ones may need to take on some greater responsibility to do what must be done.
Items to have on hand during protests and civil unrest
Some of this may seem a little extreme but sometimes things happen that you would never expect. If you are forced to go out during a time of major unrest then having some protective gear and first aid supplies can be helpful. Some of these items may also be useful if you find yourself in an extended SHTF situation such as war.
Ski goggles or something that totally seals and provides clear vision can protect against impacts, sharp objects, and tear gas to some degree. Any type of goggle or safety glasses is better than nothing but something that totally protects the eye is really best. If I wear just basic wrap-around style safety glasses when I am out weed-eating, sometimes objects and small debris still find their way around or in my eye.
A helmet can protect your head from impacts from thrown objects, batons, billy clubs, or being thrown to the ground. In big crowds, trampling is a concern. Protecting your head and neck as much as possible can make all the difference in extreme situations. While any helmet is better than nothing, a full face motorcycle helmet or a helmet designed for extreme sports that covers that base of your skull, is ideal. The Protec skateboard helmet from my teen years at the skateboard park has a lot of advantages, and it is comfortable to wear for long periods of strenuous activity.
Okay, I know that you cannot carry everything under the sun on you, but a simple small kit for lacerations can be very helpful and even save someone’s life.
- Blood stop powder
- Zip Stitch
Respirator or gas mask
This is essential for any major event. The one thing I want to stress is the importance of using the right type of cartridge for your respirator. I know a bit about this. When I am not writing, I am working a farm and vineyard which means spraying things. It doesn’t matter if sprays are organic or not; you have to use something to protect your breathing. A particulate cartridge respirator like you use for sawing on wood or putting up fiberglass insulation will not cut it during any tear gas incident. You need a proper respirator rated for VOC (volatile organic compounds). I recommend having an extra set of cartridges too. They are inexpensive, and you do not want to be breathing through old or clogged up cartridges. You can actually pass out and even die if you have a respirator on that is clogged enough that you are not getting enough oxygen.
An excellent pair of gloves that fit good enough for you do the tasks that you need to do at the time.
It can be hard to find gloves that fit well enough to do the tasks that you need to do. This means that you should probably shop around and maybe even try a few pairs on. You are looking for gloves that will protect from sharp objects but could also be used to climb over things if needed.
Matt and I have a few of these for spraying grapes and they are great. You can get heavier duty versions too if you want more impact protection. If you are wearing goggles as well, you will be pretty well protected from minor projectiles and liquids. Wearing a face shield with a respirator and goggles feels a bit strange at first but you get used to it. If you are really claustrophobic you may want to practice wearing some of this gear so you have an easier time if you actually really need it.
Multiple pairs of good ear plugs
It is easy to drop earplugs. You can get them that are attached to a cord, so it is harder. Even these are really inexpensive. Between yelling, flash bangs, fireworks, etc., there will be a lot of noise and you should do what you can to protect your hearing as much as possible.
Cut-proof clothing is ideal. You at least want reasonably thick clothing like that made by Carhartt.
Kevlar based clothing like chainsaw pants and chaps can be a big help against sharp objects or any attacks made with them. They are a bit heavy during the summer, but I would rather be a little bit warmer than risk lacerations and abuse due to civil unrest.
Raingear is great for water cannons but if fire and Molotovs are a major concern it can be problematic to have raingear on that is made from synthetics. A lot of synthetic fabrics will quickly melt and adhere to the skin when exposed to heat. This means more severe burns or even worse if you get exposed to fire or even an indirect hit from a Molotov Cocktail.
Here is a shortlist of hazards to be aware of during civil unrest or riots.
- From Molotovs to breaking windows and simple bottles, there will be glass fragments, and that can be extremely harmful.
These are pretty awful and have led to many terrible injuries at the Yellow Vest Protests in France. Do not underestimate the power of what is considered to be nonlethal crowd control.
Tear gas is going to be the reality during a major case of civil unrest. While it is going to be pretty awful if you are really exposed to tear gas, there are things you can do to help prevent some of the pain.
How to make tear gas neutralizer
Here are a few recipes for homemade remedies to neutralize if you are exposed to tear gas.
- Spray bottle of water with 1-2 Tablespoons of Baking Soda.
- Spray bottle of water with 2 parts water, 1 part liquid milk of magnesia
Of course, it is important to flush skin that is exposed to cool or cold water. Hot water should never be used because it can actually make the effects of the tear gas worse! No baths either. A cold shower is the way to go.
People that have breathing conditions that require inhalers should make sure to have them with them at all times if they are concerned about tear gas. The gas can trigger a reaction and you do not want to be without your medication.
These are extremely powerful and very effective against crowds in cold weather. They are annoying and hurt during hot weather, but riot control teams know that if it is cold and people get wet, they are going to have to do something to get warm and dry. This is where having some easy to put on raingear may be useful if you do have to travel through areas where these are a possibility.
So many things can be thrown. Basically, anything is fair game during civil unrest. Even if it is not something that is hard or sharp, you could be facing getting something gross or rotten hurled at you.
One reason I really do not like being in close quarters with a lot of people indoors for concerts or movies at theatres is that it is very hard to control your distance from strangers. A knife is silent and deadly, and in a big crowd it can be impossible for
If you choose to be a participant in civil unrest
Remember that anger is easy but seeing things in perspective is not.
They are trying to divide us. Who are they?
In short “they” are those that refuse to acknowledge differences and learn to work together for the common good while allowing for the right towards personal expression and ways of living. In short, there are some who benefit from everyone being divided and thinking that we are all out to “get each other.” There are always those that want to tell others how to live and believe to keep the status quo as it is.
Looting and violence towards the innocent and private citizens makes you the jerk
Most protests are against a large infrastructure or policy; Damaging or looting businesses makes you look like nothing more than a common thug. It is detrimental to your cause and principals unless you are really out there to damage and hurt the common person or gain personal wealth.
Don’t think the Molotovs won’t fly if people get angry or desperate enough, no matter how nice it is now where you live.
History has proven that we people will find a way to hurt each other if we really want to. The Molotov is popular because it doesn’t take much to make one and they have been successfully used by protesters to do a lot of damage. For example, the protestors in Kiev hurled a large number of Molotovs at a Russian built BMP and took it out. It was horrible but I think it is worth it to stress just how much damage a common homemade weapon can do during a time of civil unrest or the beginning stages of SHTF.
The video of the BMP being destroyed by Molotovs is shown below. It is very graphic, but I think that sometimes you need to get out of your safe zone a bit so that you can understand the power of people that have very little specialized equipment if they get angry enough.
On staying safe and out of trouble
If you really want to stay out of trouble then stay away from any areas of possible civil unrest. This article is intended to give some tips to help you if you must, but again I have to stress the importance of not going towards the trouble is you really want to stay safe. At the same time, I realize that you may feel passionate about something and want to show your support. It is also very possible to find yourself being forced to deal with working around civil unrest if you want to be able to do anything basically because the unrest continues for an extended period.
Being able to stay in place or hunker down a bit can get you through a few days of unrest. Be smart and pick the times you go out or stay somewhere safe if at all possible until the danger passes.
In severe situations, you may also need to consider evacuating indefinitely to a safer location until conditions improve. It can be hard to impossible to get out after a certain point.
Curiosity can be a killer. Watching history unfold may be fascinating, but it is not worth losing your life or getting permanently disabled or disfigured
Avoid the temptation to be curious about what is going on. It is very easy to get into trouble just because you are curious. Be aware but cautious. Gather information when you can do so safely. There is a lot of info that can be gleaned from social media, radio, and news reports if electricity and internet are available. Paying attention can make it possible to make better decisions as to when it may be time to bug out.
The danger of riots is that people get angry and direct that towards things around them. Your home, car, or anything you own that is vulnerable is fair game to an angry and volatile crowd. While you may think you can defend it, there is a point where you may not be able to. If you retaliate too much and too fast, you may actually make the situation worse.
I get it.
I would be really angry if someone busted my window but at the same time would I stop and assess the situation before retaliation. Stand guard to see what the next move is? Perhaps the crowd will keep moving, and all I have to worry about is a broke window rather than running out and retaliating and causing further rage and possibly attracting the attention and anger of others resulting in a burned down house or physical harm due to my reaction to something minor in the big scheme of things?
These are tough questions, and each situation is different. I just wanted to give an example so that when you face a riot or unrest, you react in a manner that is not just panic and rage. Acting on just feelings has got a lot of people severely injured or killed.
Here are a few things you can do to protect your home and your safety in tough times
- Window film to prevent easy looting and shards of glass. Here is a post I did on window films.
- Chicken wire stretched tight over windows to prevent damage from objects or a Molotov Cocktail coming through your window if things are getting really bad.
- Remove any ornaments or furniture from your lawn or porch that could be used as a weapon or projectile. Easy access to things can help escalate a situation.
- Don’t spend time in rooms that are more exposed. It is common practice for people to concentrate on the safer rooms of a building during SHTF. Having an extra wall or two between you and anything dangerous is a positive thing.
Have you been in an area with civil unrest? Are there any readers out there that have been in areas where there was little to no law enforcement? Do you have any tips for traveling through areas of unrest safely?
Samantha Biggers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.