It seems like the headlines are becoming filled with even more accounts of riots, insurrections, mobs and of course terrorist attacks. While I do believe there has been an increase in violent attacks of all manner, it is important to keep in mind that even in the 21st Century the media still has to sell "copy" (or "hits" to the website). The best way to do that is of course to show violent incidents.
Still, it seems like it's time for us to review our own strategies in advance for dealing with violence, especially if we are in a crowd. Most self-defense classes focus in on a single attacker, rarely multiple attackers, never mobs. Mobs are how Reginald Denny was attacked which began the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Mobs attacked and raped reporter Lara Logan in 2011. Mobs are a particular danger since the mass numbers nullify most martial arts and shooting techniques. They also can form quite rapidly out of thin air.
In 1993, my unit was in eastern Turkey for an exercise. A group of about 25 of us from the different units participating in the exercise had gone into town for dinner. The group I was with, about five of us, were walking back to get a taxi. Ahead were four women from another unit also walking to get a taxi. Once we got to the taxi stand, the women became surrounded by locals (where no one had been just a few moments ago).
After first, the group of men were a few and seemed like they were just flirting with the nice American women. Then the group multiplied to 20-30 in the blink of an eye. You could sense the women were getting scared the group of men surrounding them were becoming more emboldened.
My group plus bother group of men from the base were standing next to the women but this didn't dissuade the Turkish men, in fact it seemed to make them even more belligerent. An interpreter standing next me suddenly turns to me and says, "We've got to get the women out of here".
A taxi pulls up right then and I shove the women into the taxi. At first, the now mob didn't realize that the women had left. Once they did, they started to argue with the rest of us (there were now easily 50 Turks to about 15 US troops). I got my group into the first taxi we could and got out of there!
As far as I know, there was no violence but that was just timing. The whole thing probably took less than 10 minutes to go from calm to near riot.
I hadn't thought about that incident for many years but the way things are going today, we all need to learn from the attacks in mobs. Here are some points to remember;
1. Avoid crowds whenever possible, especially crowds that are ingesting alcohol or drugs. This includes nightclubs, concerts and major sporting events. These venues elicit strong emotions at the best of times which can quickly spill over into violence at the worst of times. All of those events are also loud making it especially hard to pick subtle changes in the crowd's behavior. Political events are another opportunity for violence to erupt. Stay home and watch it on TV.
2. Have an exit strategy. Know where the exits are in advance, however keep in mind that sometimes that might be part of the trap. In the 2012 shooting in Aurora, the shooter used the aisles to his advantage pinning the audience in and preventing them from exiting. You may have to climb out, break through a window or find a place to hide. Remember, your plan has to continually update as you move around.
3. Whenever possible, don't go out alone. This goes for men as well as women. A partner is another set of eyes that can help spot trouble or call for help if the situation deteriorates. The details are still unknown but I'm guessing ABC producer Anne Sweeney was alone when she was murdered in Belize.
4. Pay attention to your surroundings. I know, this seems obvious but we get wrapped up in our own thoughts and block out the environment. People fail to notice when someone is getting agitated or is showing signs that they may be suffering from mental health issues. A confrontation between two people, even if it's not with you, can escalate into a riot in seconds. If you decide to go to a club or concert, pay particular attention to the mood. An altercation between security and some drunken patrons is all it may take to ignite a riot.
5. Mobs are anonymous. There is safety in anonymity which causes people in a mob to act differently than if there were alone. Just think about how people act attending a sporting event. Screaming and shouting is perfectly but it is also now part of the mob. If the mob suddenly becomes violent, people who were not violent previously will often just go along.
6. Don't stand around and watch! If things start to get ugly, GET OUT! Don't wait to see what happens next. Two drunks throwing wild punches at one another may seem hilarious but that's only because they have pulled out any guns yet. Also be aware that the fight may be a distraction from the real attack. While you are laughing at the drunks fighting, someone else has pulled out a gun.
7. Remember your goal is to get away. Too often people who have received self-defense training of one kind or another think its time to stand toe-to-toe with their attacker. Wrong! Use what you know to get away. Don't care if you know have mastered dim mak, a mob can and will run over the top of you. Don't care if you carry a Glock 17 with 5 spare mags, you can still only shoot one attacker at a time! A bum-rush can put any shooter on the ground. Use your training to create space between you and the nearest attacker to GET THE FUCK AWAY.
8. Mobs are fluid and predatory. Just because no one is around, doesn't mean a mob can't form. Look at the "flash-mob" phenomena from a few years ago. A pre-coordinated meeting can have dozens of people in an area quickly where previously there were none. It seems the attacks in Germany are following this pattern. Muslim immigrants are randomly moving around and only attack when the find a solitary victim. Keep that in mind the next time you go out or your morning walk or jog. It also means that just because the mob is focused on someone else, it won't suddenly turn on you.
9. But if necessary, bring overwhelming violence. You goal is to get away, however if you have to become violent don't hold back! You increase your chances of getting away and may actually diffuse a situation from becoming a mob event. Just don't wait around to receive your championship belt!
10. Keep moving! If you all else fails and you do find yourself enveloped by a mob, keep moving! Stopping is a fast way to get captured, that's what happened to Reginald Denny. Once you are captured, you are now at the whim of the mob. Don't let yourself get pinned against a wall or on the ground. Stay on your feet and keep moving!
11. Put the cellphone down already! The next time you go to the store, look at how many people are texting or otherwise looking at their phones. If you eyes are on your phone, that means they aren't on the environment. Look up! You might be surprised at what is about to happen.
12. Remain calm! This is the most basic yet hardest part. If you have never been in a mob situation, there is an adrenalin, panic-inducing energy running through everyone. It is easy to become overwhelmed by it and you will panic. If that happens, remember to say to yourself "I know what to do" because hopefully you've read this or other articles on mob-violence and have learned what to do. Just like when we were in elementary school and we learned during fire drills to "Stand up, walk out single file, quietly". The teachers were teaching us not just where to go but how to survive a fire by remaining calm. Surviving a mob incident means above all else, we need to remain calm!