How to Survive Riots and Civil Unrest
by Daisy Luther
As the world seems to be on fire in countries across the planet, the threat of civil unrest and riots certainly feels like it’s increasing. People are responding with rage to perceived injustices, and whether that rage is warranted or not isn’t the point of this article.
Often when I write about surviving events like mass shootings or riots, people scoff and say, “That was a false flag perpetrated by government operatives” or “Those people got paid by [insert evil billionaire here.]” The simple fact you must understand is that it doesn’t matter who started it, who paid for it, who instigated it, or who is taking part in it. If you find your city or town under siege by irate protesters, none of those things matter at the moment. These are things to be sorted out later.
What matters is how to survive and how to keep your loved ones safe. What we witnessed via social media of the riots in Chile should be enough to make anyone want to be prepared.
The idea of an angry mob appearing in your neighborhood is a frightening one but understanding more about the patterns of civil unrest can make it feel a bit more manageable.
It happens fast
It’s extremely important to understand how speedily riots can occur. In his newsletter, Simon Black of Sovereign Man wrote of his ties to Chile. He shared an eyewitness account.
…this past Friday was a particularly beautiful day. By lunchtime, people were out in the parks enjoying the weather. It was calm, peaceful, and joyful.
Within a matter of hours the city had turned into a war zone. Hours.
One of my team members told me on the phone yesterday, “If you had said on Friday afternoon that Santiago would be in chaos by nightfall, I would have laughed… And then it happened.” (source)
Never underestimate the power, rage, and motivation of a mob. Never think it can’t happen where you are.
There’s a distinct pattern to civil unrest.
Civil unrest can be predicted to some degree. Jose shared some of the warning signs he has observed and they all share their part in this pattern.
Here’s how a protest turns into a riot:
- A perceived outrage occurs.
- Good people react and protest the outrage.
- Sometimes there are not-so-good people in the group, those who want to see violence.
- Those perpetrating the outrage try to quell the protest because they don’t think that the outrage was actually outrageous.
- Others react to the quelling and join the protest.
- A mob mentality erupts. Thugs say, “Hey, it’s a free for all. I’m gonna get some Doritos and while I’m at it, beat the crap out of some folks for fun.”
- All hell breaks loose.
- The police and military get called in.
- The city burns, and neighborhoods get destroyed, and no one in the area is safe.
- Cops act preemptively, out of fear, and for a time, there is no rule of law.
- If you happen to be stuck there, know this: you’re completely on your own.
Tess Pennington wrote about societal breakdowns in more detail – read her excellent article for more information on these predictable scenarios.
The mob mentality and Freud
Some people are just waiting for the opportunity to behave in this fashion. They’d love to act like that every single day, but they don’t want to spend the rest of their lives in jail. But when a verdict gets rolled out, when a storm takes out the power, when a disaster strikes, they delight in the chance to rob, pillage, loot, and burn. Who can forget the day before Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, when thugs were coordinating looting rampages via Twitter?
I remember learning about “sublimation” in a high school psychology class.
Sublimation is a defense mechanism that allows us to act out unacceptable impulses by converting these behaviors into a more acceptable form. For example, a person experiencing extreme anger might take up kickboxing as a means of venting frustration. Freud believed that sublimation was a sign of maturity that allows people to function normally in socially acceptable ways. (source)
If you believe Freud’s theory, then it’s easy to see that many people look for an excuse to revert to their true natures. In a situation where “everyone” is doing something, they are able to cast off the normal control of their impulses without much fear of reprisal. The number of looters and thugs far outstrip the number of arrests in most situations, so there’s a very good chance that someone swept up in that mentality can go burn somebody else’s home or business and completely get away with it.
In his course, One Year in Hell, Selco recounts how quickly and shockingly the SHTF in his Bosnian city. He explains that any time a group of people becomes violent, it’s possible for it to turn into a longer-term event than just a few rough days.
Never think “it can’t happen here.”
Remember in 2015 when Baltimore, Maryland was a war zone? It may have given you a sense of deja vu, flashing back to the fall when Ferguson, Missouri was under siege. We’ve seen riots in Sacramento, California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin (which the media lied about); Charlottesville, Virginia; Portland, Oregon; and all over the nation after the presidential election in 2016.
And it didn’t slow down after the election. Portland has been the site of numerous protests that were really just all-out street fights and the police were ordered to stand down.
Some of the following information appears in my book, Be Ready for Anything, which has an entire chapter dedicated to surviving civil unrest.
How to survive a riot or unrest event
When you understand the patterns discussed above, you can make your plan with a bit more authority. But remember that no plan is engraved in stone in the survival world. You’ve got to be ready to pivot to Plan B in the blink of an eye if information arises that makes Plan A no longer the safest.
This article is about the safest ways to survive civil unrest. It’s not about making a stand or teaching those punks a lesson. There’s always someone who chimes in with a snide remark about how cowardly it is to lockdown with your family in order to stay safe.
Blah, blah, blah. If you want to go get involved in a battle to make a political point, that’s certainly your prerogative. If you want to fight the police enforcing martial law, it’s your call.
However, if your priority is your own safety and the safety of your family, the goal should be to avoid engaging altogether. This article is about surviving, not about How Things Should Be.
Get everyone together
If your area is beginning to devolve, the first thing you’re going to want to do is to get everyone in the family home or to a safer secondary location.)
In a perfect world, we’d all be home, watching the chaos erupt on TV from the safety of our living rooms. The reality is, family members are likely to be at work or school when things start to break down. You need to have a plan laid out in advance to get everyone together and you need to be flexible enough to know when to move on to Plan B.
- Devise an efficient route for picking up the kids from school. Be sure that anyone who might be picking up the children already has permission to do so in the school office.
- Find multiple routes home. Map out alternative backroad ways to get home as well as directions if you must go home on foot.
- Find places to lay low along the way. If you work or go to school a substantial distance from your home, figure out some places to lay low now, before a crisis situation. Sometimes staying out of sight is the best way to stay safe.
- Avoid groups of people – it doesn’t take much to turn a peaceful protest into a riot.
- Keep in mind that in many civil disorder situations the authorities are to be avoided every bit as diligently as the angry mobs of looters. The police won’t stop to ask you questions nicely in a tense situation. You’ll be treated as a threat.
Know when to abandon the plan to get home. Sometimes, you just can’t get there. Going through a war zone is not worth it. Find a different place to shelter. Pay attention to your instincts.
Don’t be there.
The number one piece of advice regarding survival in a civil unrest event is, “Don’t be there.” During the survival course, I took with Selco and Toby in Croatia, Toby repeated one thing over and over, and it’s truly the key to surviving many different situations.
Don’t be there.
If you aren’t part of the crowd in a protest, you can’t get swept up in it. If you see outside your window that a group is gathering, it might be a good time to grab the kids and visit grandma.
A lot depends on where you live. If you’re in a small town or remote area, far away from riots and protests, your lockdown area could be much greater than your own home. It could encompass your immediate community, too, and life might go on as it always has for you, aside from the need to stay just a little closer to home than before.
However, if you live in a city or suburb, you may need to make a speedy decision. Do you lock your doors and stay home? Or do you get out of Dodge? It is a question only you can answer, but generally speaking, leaving will always be the safest course of action under one very important condition.
You’ve got to leave on time. Do NOT miss your window of opportunity to leave safely.
If the entire city is facing a breakdown, a lot of others will also be leaving and you’ll most likely be stuck in traffic and trapped in your car. Protesters have shut down the highways more than once in recent years, and you’ll be far safer behind the brick and mortar of your home than you will be in your car. As well, police will often enforce curfews and respond with extreme violence, as you saw in the Chile videos.
If you think that you’ve waited too long to leave, you need to stay home.
If you are stuck there, go into lockdown.
Once you make your way home or to your bug-out location… STAY THERE.
By staying home, you are minimizing your risk of being caught in the midst of an angry mob or of sitting in stalled traffic while looters run amok. In most scenarios, you will be far safer at home than you will be in any type of shelter or refugee situation. (Obviously, if there is some type of chemical or natural threat in your immediate neighborhood, like a toxic leak, a flood, or a forest fire, the whole situation changes – you must use common sense before hunkering down.)
This is when your preparedness supplies will really pay off. If you are ready for minor medical emergencies and illnesses, a grid-down scenario, and a no-comm situation, you will be able to stay safely at home with your family and ride out the crisis in moderate comfort.
(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you’ll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)
Here’s a quick checklist:
- Check your pantry and fill any gaps in your food preps.
- Order emergency food buckets
- Get your water preps in order
- Get cash in small denominations out of the bank.
- Make sure you have enough garbage bags, pet supplies, and toiletries.
- Pick up a copy of a comprehensive preparedness guide like The Prepper’s Blueprint
- Check your supply of candles, matches, and lighters. (This article has more information)
- Flashlight and spare batteries and/or dynamo wind up flashlights.
- Make sure all electronics are fully charged and keep them charged during the lead-up to an event
- Make sure any cell phone battery packs are fully charged.
- Fill up your gas tank up to the max.
- If your vehicle isn’t in a garage park it trunk end in as close to a wall as you can. This makes it harder to get to the tank to either steal the fuel or set fire to it.
- Check your home security – walk around looking at your property as if you were a burglar and take appropriate action to improve security if required.
- Have something on hand for the kids to do in case of school closures.
- Make sure you have a fully stocked first aid kit and enough OTC medications to last the family for at least a couple of weeks
- Make sure you have enough of any needed prescription medications to last a few weeks
If you find yourself in an area under siege, the odds will be further on your side for every interaction in which you avoid taking part. Every single time you leave the house, you increase your chances of an unpleasant encounter. Nothing will be accomplished by going out during a chaotic situation.
Try to stay under the radar.
Your best defense is avoiding the fight altogether. You want to stay under the radar and not draw attention to yourself. The extent to which you strive to do this should be based on the severity of the unrest in your area. Some of the following recommendations are not necessary in an everyday grid-down scenario, but could save your life in a more extreme civil unrest scenario.
- Keep all the doors and windows locked. Secure sliding doors with a metal bar. Consider installing decorative gridwork over a door with a large window so that it becomes difficult for someone to smash the glass and reach in to unlock the door.
- Keep pets indoors. Sometimes criminals use an animal in distress to get a homeowner to open the door for them. Sometimes people are just mean and hurt animals for “fun”. Either way, it’s safer for your furry friends to be inside with you.
- Don’t answer the door. Many home invasions start with an innocent-seeming knock at the door to gain access to your house.
- Keep the family together. It’s really best to hang out in one room. Make it a movie night, go into a darkened room at the back of the house, and stay together. This way, if someone does try to breach your door, you know where everyone is who is supposed to be there. As well, you don’t risk one of the kids unknowingly causing a vulnerability with a brightly lit room or an open window.
- Remember, first responders may be tied up. If the disorder is widespread, don’t depend on a call to 911 to save you. You must be prepared to save yourself. Also keep in mind, as mentioned earlier in the article – the cops are not always your friends in these situations. This isn’t a denouncement of all police officers but a realistic assessment of a heightened state.
Be ready for the potential of fire.
Fires are very common during incidents of civil unrest. Generally, vehicles and commercial properties are where fires are set but in some incidents, homes have been burned too.
Fire is a cowardly attack that doesn’t require any interaction on the part of the arsonist. It flushes out the family inside, leaving you vulnerable to physical assaults.
- Have fire extinguishers mounted throughout your home. You can buy them in 4-packs from Amazon.
- Be sure to test them frequently and maintain them properly. (Allstate has a page about fire extinguisher maintenance.)
- Have fire escape ladders that can be attached to a windowsill in all upper story rooms. Drill with them so that your kids know how to use them if necessary.
Fires can easily spread from one building to the next, especially if firefighters can’t respond safely or can’t get their fire truck through the mob. Be on the watch for fires in your vicinity.
Fire can also be used as a weapon. Here’s an article about dealing with firebombs and Molotov cocktails should such an event arise.
Be prepared for defensive action.
If, despite your best efforts, your property draws the attention of people with ill intent, you must be ready to defend your family. Sometimes despite our best intentions, the fight comes to us. (Have you seen the movie The Purge?)
Many preppers stockpile weapons and ammunition for just such an event. Firearms are an equalizer. A small woman can defend herself from multiple large intruders with a firearm if she’s had some training and knows how to use it properly. But put a kitchen knife in her hand against those same intruders, and her odds decrease exponentially.
When the door of your home is breached, you can be pretty sure the people coming in are not there to make friendly conversation or borrow a cup of sugar. Make a plan to greet them with a deterring amount of force.
- Don’t rely on 911. If the disorder is widespread, don’t depend on a call to 911 to save you – you must be prepared to save yourself. First responders may be tied up, and in some cases, the cops are not always your friends. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, some officers joined in the crime sprees, and others stomped all over the 2nd Amendment and confiscated people’s legal firearms at a time when they needed them the most.
- Be armed and keep your firearm on your person. When the door of your home is breached, you can be pretty sure the people coming in are not there to make friendly conversation over a nice cup of tea. Make a plan to greet them with a deterring amount of force. Be sure to keep your firearm on your person during this type of situation, because there won’t be time to go get it from your gun safe. Don’t even go to the kitchen to get a snack without it. Home invasions go down in seconds, and you have to be constantly ready.
- Know how to use your firearm. Whatever your choice of weapon, practice, practice, practice. A weapon you don’t know how to use is more dangerous than having no weapon at all. Here’s some advice from someone who knows a lot more about weapons than I do.
- Make sure your children are familiar with the rules of gun safety. Of course, it should go without saying that you will have pre-emptively taught your children the rules of gun safety so that no horrifying accidents occur. In fact, it’s my fervent hope that any child old enough to do so has been taught to safely and effectively use a firearm themselves. Knowledge is safety.
- Have a safe room established for children or other vulnerable family members. If the worst happens and your home is breached, you need to have a room into which family members can escape. This room needs to have a heavy exterior door instead of a regular hollow core interior door. There should be communications devices in the room so that the person can call for help, as well as a reliable weapon to be used in the unlikely event that the safe room is breached. The family members should be instructed not to come out of that room FOR ANY REASON until you give them the all-clear or help has arrived. You can learn more about building a safe room HERE. Focus the tips for creating a safe room in an apartment to put it together more quickly.
Always have another plan.
Forget simply having a Plan B. If you find yourself in a chaotic situation, you must constantly think of the next plan. You must constantly think, “What will I do if …… happens?”
Even if your plan is to bug in, you must be ready to change that plan in the blink of an eye.
Plan an escape route. If the odds are against you, if your house catches on fire, if thugs are kicking in your front door… devise a way to get your family to safety. Your property is not worth your life. Be wise enough to accept that the situation has changed and move rapidly to the next plan.
We all want to think it could never happen to us.
There’s a normalcy bias among human beings that will make you cling to an incorrect notion for a long time. And one of the most prevalent is, “It could never happen here.”
This family in Ferguson never thought it could happen to them. But it did. And Ferguson is a town with a population of fewer than 25,000 people.
When we had the survival month challenge, not many people wanted to consider how extreme a long-term situation could get. Again, normalcy bias made them believe it couldn’t happen, and when the idea was pressed, it made them extremely uncomfortable. But extreme scenarios can happen anywhere. The idea that it can’t is the most dangerous misconception in survival.
Will it happen today? Tomorrow? Next year? It’s impossible to put a date on it.
But the thing that is certain is that tempers have been rising since the last election and the vitriol has become so extreme and so normal that widespread unrest in America is no longer a matter of if, but when.
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
About the Author
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and lives in the mountains of Virginia with her two daughters and an ever-growing menagerie. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.