Control within Chaos – Surviving the Riots

updated 05/04/2019 by Charles Yor

We live in trying times.  Between climate change, terrorism, economic collapse, and civil unrest there is a potential for riots every day.  In addition, any of these issues could cause the government to impose martial law at any point.  This would likely eliminate your legal rights, implement curfews, and even require citizen roundup in military camps.

The riots could cause looting, vandalism, fires, angry mobs, and police violence.  Yet the government response could give complete control of you, your family, and your resources to someone else.  For many people, this scenario is even scarier.  In this article we will discuss best practices to help you survive these situations.

Bedlam, Hell-Raising and Mayhem: Riot Dynamics

A riot is a generally disorganized public spasm of violence perpetrated by a group against other people and their property. Typical symptoms of riots include burning and destruction of cars, storefronts and buildings, vandalism, looting, assault and battery of persons. Riots may target people or institutions specifically related to opposition or are untargeted and wild.

Riots are often started for well-founded if poorly thought out reasons, like perceived abuse of government power, police use of force (justified or not) or what is thought to be mistreatment owing to a lack of entitlements.

Riots also might start for depressingly inane reasons like fans suffering the loss of a hometown favorite sports team. Consider that multiple instances of the latter have occurred in North America in the 21st century alone, and many more in Europe (soccer hooligans, anyone?) and whatever faith you have remaining in humanity may very well be snuffed out.

Riots at their most fundamental are a reaction to anger that has built up steam over time. You might think of a riot as the flash of igniting kindling; it is itself symptomatic to underlying issues, and like that dry bed of kindling, once it sparks it will readily spread and self-perpetuate. Some riots are planned, but the majority simply occur spontaneously when conditions are right, just like a wildfire.

Once simmering resentment has broken open into full-blown rioting it can take a long time to quell it. Contrary to popular belief, most riots don’t have a leadership element, at least anything beyond an especially visible agitator or demagogue.

This is important because police cannot simply cut the head off the snake and expect everyone participating in the riot to go “shucks” and head home.

Riots can rage on for hours, even days, and you cannot expect police to contain them. Looking at several riots at home and abroad in the 21st century, police have often quenched the violence totally in one area only to have the riot brew up blocks away as if they had done nothing at all.

This pervasive nature means that riots are difficult to contain and can spring up with little or no warning.

Worst of all is the sheer mindlessness of riots. Excepting the few “gray bag” riots where “professional” agitators have been paid to muckrack for political gain, rioters generally live in the area they are rioting in. This does nothing to quell their violent and destructive tendencies.

They will happily burn down business, institutions and churches where they live, and then go right to bitching about it the next day. Is it insane? Yes. Does it still happen? Yes. Do the rioters learn anything from the experience? Not really, save that they may get their way if the government is weak-kneed…

Key Lessons

Below are a few crucial concepts to understand before you start making your riot survival plan.

  • Riots are Mostly Spontaneous and Unplanned: You will do well to avoid any and all planned political demonstrations and protests these days as many of them devolve into rioting (although you and I both know people get what they came for when attending such things) but most riots will touch off in any area where anger and resentment among a large group or class has been building for a period of time. This means you will not always have proper warning to steer clear of a location.
  • Riots are Self-Sustaining: A riot will only ignite in response to an event, but once begun they are almost always self-fueling. Violence for the sake of violence becomes the order of the day. Mayhem is its own reward. The riot becomes the reason to riot. This means you cannot in any way predict the end of one.
  • Riots are Permeable and “Durable”: Riots can be quelled by government or police forces only to break-out again after the cops have left and the barricades have been taken down. Police containment can do nothing to stop the sentiment of the riot from spontaneously taking root blocks or even cities away. Riots will only end when every single rioter decides it is over. A rioter may cease their behavior, move elsewhere, and start tearing stuff up again.
  • Riots and Rioters are Totally Irrational: You must never think you can reason with a mob, or anyone deranged enough to participate in one! By nature, totally, riots and rioters cannot be reasoned with. If violence is about to be visited upon you have exactly zero chance of deflecting or defusing a mob. Ask any survivor of such an event and they will tell you as much. Escape or defense is often your only option, and defense against a mass of people may be impossible. Anger and nihilistic rage is the only thing running through the minds of those so entranced.

Despite the seemingly incorrigible and inscrutable nature of riots, there is plenty you can do to stay safe should you find yourself swept up in or overtaken by one.

The best strategy for surviving riots is simple avoidance. If you use common sense, you can predict areas where they may take place. If you stay informed and avoid these areas, you have already won the battle; however, there are times you plain get caught out.  If chaos ensues, here are some ways to get to safety:

  • Stay calm. The worst thing you can do in a riot is to panic.  By keeping a cool head, you give yourself the best chance of survival.  Think about the situation and comprise a plan to get you and your family to safety.
  • Get Out While the Getting is Good! If you notice a mob or major police presence forming, especially ones that are masked, chanting or clad in “battle rattle” (helmets, hoods, masks, clubs, etc.) get away immediately!
  • Know Where to Go! It is easy to flee from a mob directly into a worse situation or more violent part of the riot. Pay attention, look ahead, think ahead. Do not commit the classic frying pan-fire blunder.
  • Blend in. This technique is sometimes called becoming the “gray man”.  When in a riot, the worst thing you can do is to draw attention to yourself.  To blend in, walk the same direction as the crowd.  Appear angry, and if the crowd is shouting you must shout along with them. But…
  • Don’t mingle longer than you must! Blending in with the mob to avoid their violence against you should be a last ditch effort; police will be heavy handed in dealing with anyone seen as part of the riot, and your fellow rioters may be using the event as cover to dole out violence on anyone in range for the sheer joy of it. Don’t allow yourself to become an undeserving target of batons, clubs, gas and bullets. Get clear of the mob as soon as you can.
  • Avoid confrontation. If somebody gets in your face and you have the option, back down.  The most dangerous action you can take is to physically resist the mob.  Also avoid confrontation with the police or military.  You will not win these battles.
  • If you find yourself in a building during a riot, stay away from windows and doors. These are where rioters will strike first.  Find an interior room and stay there until you have a chance for escape.
  • Do not take sides. Many times a riot will consist of two groups of people with opposing views.  Staying neutral is the best way to avoid confrontation.
  • Avoid “kill zones”. These are also known as bottlenecks. Any area where the crowd is funneled into a narrow passage is dangerous, especially if it allows a high ground position.  These are areas where mobs, military, and police will try to affect the riot.
  • If you are in a car, stay in the car. The vehicle gives you some level of protection, so staying inside can help your situation.  Try to keep moving and assume people will get out of your way.  Avoid driving towards the police or military as they will see this as a threat and will use force.
  • Slowly and carefully move away from the riot area. You cannot make a spectacle of yourself, but move away from the flow in a diagonal direction.  Take your time and move towards safety.
  • Go to the edges. Attempting to go against the movement of the mob, should you find yourself caught within it, is foolhardy. Instead, treat the mass of rioters as you would a riptide. Keep pace within it, follow its direction of movement as you make your way to the sides, hopefully allowing you to duck into an alley or side street and make haste away from it. Attempting to hold fast within it, or go against it, will draw attention at best or see you trampled at worst.
  • If you fall, ball up and protect yourself. Often times, deaths in riots are caused by trampling. Cover your head and protect your vital organs until you can safely get up.
  • If you are with family, keep them close. One of the biggest issues with riots is getting separated.  If your family is pulled away from you, their chances of survival are greatly reduced.  Lock arms as you work your way through the crowd.
  • Do not make eye contact. As with any animal, direct eye contact tells people that you want them to acknowledge you and possibly engage with you.  Keep your eyes down and get to safety.
  • If you see smoke, keep away from it. In a riot there are only two sources of smoke, fire and tear gas. Both are bad.  Stay away at all costs.
  • Ask yourself if this is the start of a larger issue. If you stay informed, you often know if this will be an isolated incident or if it will spread and continue.  If you think it will be an ongoing issue, you may want to leave the area completely.
  • Avoid any authority figures. This may seem counterintuitive, but being around police or military is dangerous in these scenarios.  They assume that all civilians are dangerous and will act in a violent nature.
  • Keep your head on a swivel. My football coach used to preach this when looking for the ball carrier.  In this case you are trying to spot threats.  Keep looking and adjust your plan as needed.
  • Go with the flow. If the whole crowd is moving in one direction, it is important that you move in that same direction.  You can still work your way towards safety, but do it in a diagonal direction.  Do not move against the crowd or perpendicular to their flow.
  • Do not pull a weapon unless your life is in danger. One of the easiest ways to get a mob to turn on you is to pull out a gun or knife in the middle of the crowd.  Weapons should be a last resort.
  • Do not use pepper spray. Even a slight breeze could blow it back in your face. In addition, there is a good chance that you will only irritate the attackers.
  • Be selfish. Protect only your family and yourself.  You will see plenty of strangers that need help, but helping them jeopardizes you and your family.  Focus on what is most important.
  • Stay away from stores. Often people will use riots as an excuse to loot.  Stores are where they will attack.  Try to stay away from these building.
  • If you are at home and decide to defend your home, be ready to bail. Sometimes hunkering down and fighting off the mob is a good idea, but if they breach your security you have to be ready to run.  Always have an exit.
  • Know your area. Always know the gravel roads and back alleys that will get you to safety without funneling into the traffic jam.  Buy a map and find routes that nobody else would think of.
  • Fortify your home. If you are going to stay home, board up the windows and the doors.  Often rioters will go after these weak points first.
  • Create a safe room. If you can find a room in your house with no windows, you can create a safe room to protect you from violent intruders.  Install a metal door and keep it stocked with food, water, and firearms.  A safe room is rarely 100% secure, but it’s much better than sitting on your front porch.
  • Make sure you have more than one passport. If large scale riots break out, leaving the country may be a good option.  However, authorities may confiscate passports on their sweep through your area.  Having a backup would allow you to leave the country if you felt it was the best option.
  • Avoid public transportation. Buses and taxis are easy targets for an angry mob. Try to avoid public transportation if possible.
  • Have a plan. For any emergency situation, you should develop a plan to get your family together and get them to safety. Consider both situation where you have the ability to travel by vehicle and scenarios where you have to travel on foot.
  • Get your back against a wall. If you find yourself stuck in a riot, you need to protect yourself as much as possible. Putting yourself against a wall allows you to defend yourself from the front while not worrying about somebody approaching you from behind.
  • Wear baggy clothes. This is often the best defense against sharp objects.  When a riot breaks out, knives and glass are a major threat.
  • Get a fire extinguisher and learn how to use it. One of the biggest dangers with riots is fire.  Having a fire extinguisher will help you control the blaze knowing that your local fire department will likely not come to your rescue.
  • Get a large video camera. For some reason, angry mobs rarely attack the press.  If you can look like a member of the press, you may be able to move through the crowd unharmed.
  • Network with other preppers. If a riot breaks out, having a large group of like-minded people may deter the crowd.  Make sure you get together with other people that are prepared for civil unrest.
  • Neutralize tear gas if possible. You can move to higher ground to avoid these gasses.  They normally settle in low areas.  You can also soak a cloth with lemon juice or vinegar and place it over your mouth to help with your breathing.

If these riots occur, martial law or state of emergency could be implemented.  Here are a few suggestions specific to martial law that could help you survive:

  • “Loose lips sink ships”. I’m sure you have heard this saying before. In a martial law scenario, information is the most effective tool the government has.  The right information can help them seize your food, water, vehicles, and possible yourself.
  • Avoid the roundup. In many martial law scenarios, the government will try to gather citizens in military camps.  Since the constitution has been nullified, you may spend a very long time in these camps.  If you see a roundup, get as far away as possible.
  • Reprogram your family. Most families tell their children that you need to trust police and be scared of bad guys. The opposite may be true in this situation.  Be sure they know how to be safe.
  • Try to pull your cash. When the government takes over, they may try to confiscate your funds or shut down banks entirely. Try to withdraw it early and if not possible, try to transfer it to another account.
  • Stop using your cell phone. If cellular service is still operational, the government will likely tap in to conversations and use this information to gain more control.  Anything you say on a cell phone puts you at greater risk.

No matter what the scenario, chaos can break out at any time.  If you do what is needed, you can get through the situation.  Your strategy is to simply live to fight another day.  Dealing with an angry mob is a bit like dealing with a raging river.  The crowd has a lot more power behind it than you would think. Don’t underestimate the danger.

While I would like to think that these situations will not happen, history says otherwise.  If you look at both US and world history, it is littered with accounts of riots and martial law.  The nature of modern society is that it will only take so much abuse before something snaps.  It may only be a matter of time, so be prepared.

About Ryan Dotson

Ryan Dotson
My name is Ryan Dotson and I am a survivalist, prepper, writer, and photographer. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. My interest in survival started when I was in Boy Scouts and continued as my father, uncle, and grandfather taught me to hunt and fish. In the last few years I have started taking on survival challenges and have started writing about my experiences. I currently live in Mid-Missouri with my wife Lauren and three year old son Andrew.

One comment

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    How do you obtain multiple passports? I’ve read Emergency by Neil Strauss and am unwilling to pay other nations for citizenship?

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