Surviving the Growing Civil Unrest in the U.S.: A Guide
It’s been nearly two weeks since Palestinian militants executed a surprise attack against Israel, plunging the globe into a state of frenzy. During this time, the world has waited with baited breath to see if other Arab nations will answer a former Hamas chief’s call to join the fight against Israel.
The U.S. government, for its part, has vowed support for Israel, prompting dinner table and water cooler discussions across America to become further polarized–if you can believe it. What was once a taboo topic, relegated to 4Chan message boards and your estranged uncle’s Facebook wall, has become thrust upon us via social media and TV news.
But, unlike your uncle’s unhinged rants about Facebook’s content policy, the topic we’re going to delve into today is unavoidable–and unblockable.
Whether you’re pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, you’ve undoubtedly become aware of the emerging civil unrest in the U.S. From college demonstrations devolving into heated shouting matches to sparks of violence–tempers are beginning to flare.
Indeed, the grass on either side of the American zeitgeist isn’t looking especially green at the moment. So let’s take a deeper look at the American response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and decipher the potential threats an already divided country may face.
Table of Contents
The Right to Assemble
A History of Violence
The Rest of the Arsenal
Those in Attendance
Counter the Threat
Frequently Asked Questions
The U.S. isn’t hungry for war. (Kanig Designs, courtesy of fineartamerica.com)
With the U.S. just beginning to lick its wounds and regroup following the ending of the Global War on Terror, many Americans are wishing for a period of prolonged peace. Though America has a penchant for conflict, our latest expedition has left us with a hefty debt–financial, and spiritual.
In 2020, 65% of Americans said they’d prefer a more defensive approach to warfighting, as opposed to an offensive agenda. Considering the GWOT’s $6 trillion price tag and the innumerable invisible scars of war left on our fighting men and women, distaste for war makes sense.
With that fresh in our minds, it’s not hard to see why many citizens are immediately disturbed by any notion of returning to conflict. In fact, nearly 80% of polled Americans said they are fearful of returning to heightened combat operations in the middle east. Seven in ten Americans claim they find themselves glued to the news–closely following every development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
With twenty-seven Americans confirmed dead and fourteen more missing, a “very concerned” nation asked, “How are we going to respond?”
We didn’t have to wait long for the answer, as U.S. Navy warships intercepted missiles from fired Yemen headed towards Israel.
The U.S., as it were, has chosen violence.
As we digest the enormity of this moment, we dread the next–when the first shots begin coming towards our military. We find ourselves gripped, watching in suspense as President Joe Biden requests a $105 billion aid package for Israel.
While the uncertainty ahead may seem overwhelming, a savvy survivalist knows that now is the moment to begin triage. After all, we may not be able to predict the level of military involvement we’ll see, but we can begin to identify the most pressing threats here and now.
Civil unrest across America has begun to metastasize in the form of protests and discourse. Before we inundate ourselves with the anxieties of another war abroad, we must first secure our safety at home. As we saw with various social movements, America is not immune to riots and the ensuing chaos they bring.
As demonstrations ramp up across colleges and cities, now is the time to begin inspecting your bug-out bag. Double-check the expiration dates on your veggie omelet MREs, and make sure you’ve got enough Twinkies to weather any potential supply chain disruption.
So, from peaceful demonstrations to eruptions of violence, let’s take a look at how prior political crises may help us predict future threats. We’ll also identify others vectors from ongoing protests and how you can prepare to weather the potential fallout from them.
Protestors demonstrating in the wake of George Floyd’s death, 2020. (Getty Images)
The Right to Assemble
In May of 2020, Officer Derek Chauvin attempted to arrest 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis for allegedly attempting to make a purchase at a local convenience store with a counterfeit $20 bill.
In the ensuing struggle with Mr. Floyd, Officer Chauvin murdered Mr. Floyd by kneeling on his neck, cutting off his airway. Mr. Floyd desperately pleaded with the officers: “I can’t breathe.”
This refrain, “I can’t breathe” would ignite a movement across America.
Between May 26 and August 22 2020, 10,600 demonstrations would be held across the country. Of these, fewer than 5% involved any violence. Driven by the Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens rose up to make their voices heard.
Should you wish to organize a protest, the ACLU recommends doing so in “traditional public forums” which are streets, sidewalks, and parks. This also includes public property like government buildings, so long as interfering with or blocking access to the operations of the property are not infringed.
Another common misconception is that protestors require a permit, or are not allowed to photograph law enforcement executing their duties. This is false, as you have every right to photograph and video whatever you please. If a protest is occurring on private property, however, these rules may not apply.
The right to assemble is protected by the First Amendment, which states that citizens have the right to join in a protest or peaceful assembly. Such action is considered critical to, and in the spirit thereof, of a functioning democracy.
The keyword, a savvy reader will note, in the First Amendment is “peaceful” assembly.
Unfortunately, while the summer 2020 protests were 95% peaceful, 2020 still saw its fair share of notable violence. 570 protests, after all, were marred by looting, rioting, and bodily injury.
Map of political violence in 2020. (ACLE Data)
A History of Violence
In the wake of the George Floyd murder, Portland Oregon made headlines with its shocking response to protests. Operation Diligent Valor saw the deployment of federal authorities to Portland, allegedly using excessive force and abusing non-violent deterrents against protestors.
Protesters reported being bombarded by tear gas and rubber bullets.
“We came out here dressed in T-shirts and twirling Hula-Hoops and stuff, and they started gassing us, so we came back with respirators, and they started shooting us, so we came back with vests, and they started aiming for the head, so we started wearing helmets, and now they call us terrorists. Who’s escalating this? It’s not us.”
– Mac Smiff, Portland journalist
Prior to the deployment of federal authorities, 83% of demonstrations in Portland were categorized as non-violent. After initiating Operation Diligent Valor, this number would fall rapidly. At its height, the Portland protests would erupt to over 42% of all protests devolving into violence.
These numbers correlate with authorities' escalation of force, an increase to 40% from 24%. In late July, officials began to reduce their presence in Portland, diffusing tensions. In the wake of the Portland protests, 90% of local businesses were left reeling.
Accordingly, owners reported $23 million in damages and lost sales directly related to the civil unrest. While the immediate downtown area struggled to recover, so too did the citizens of Portland.
Donavan Labella, a peaceful protester in Portland, was the victim of an “non-lethal” round fired by federal authorities. Labella stated that he was present at the Portland protests, participating in a non-violent capacity.
Per his lawsuit, Labella states that on July 11th 2020 he was peacefully protesting at the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. A video of the incident portrays Mr. Labella holding a speaker over his head. Moments later, Mr. Labella was struck by a “less-lethal” round directly between his eyes.
Donavan Labella suffered damage to his brain’s frontal lobe from the ensuing skull fracture–incurring a traumatic brain injury from the less-lethal round. Unfortunately, he never recovered his full cognitive abilities.
Mike Hastie, another protestor and Vietnam war veteran, fell victim to another abuse and misuse of a non-lethal deterrent. Mr. Hastie was peacefully protesting, as captured in a now-viral recording by Andrew Kimmel.
In the video, Mr. Hastie can be seen speaking with officers, passionately pleading his case. The officers then, emotionlessly, spray Mr. Hastie directly in the eyes with a pepper spray weapon. Mr. Hastie is then left to retreat and tend to his eyes as officers walk away.
Notably, pepper spray weapons are intended to subdue or deter a violent subject–not to silence an opinion. This flagrant escalation of force did not match the threat.
If you should find yourself spurned by the call to action of a political event like the Portland protests or the Israeli-Palestine conflict, it is your god-given right to make your voice heard. But as we’ve just discussed, doing so presents itself with a myriad of threats (both from weapons, and other protestors).
Potentially, you may even be subjected to these threat vectors by merely living in an area that is experiencing a state of civil unrest as well. Though many survivalists know better than to stay in a protest that is burgeoning on unrest, what if you’re caught in a crowd, or caught in the crossfire?
These questions raise further questions. For example: What is a rubber bullet, really? And how do pepper-spray weapons work?
Let’s delve into the threats presented by non-lethal deterrents to protests and bystanders.
A protester in Seattle attempts first aid, 2020. (Amanda Snyder, courtesy of The Seattle Times)
Tear gas, also known as mace, is an aerosolized irritant used to disperse crowds or discourage access to areas. It can be employed as a direct spray, burned, or deployed in a canister ammunition. Most commonly, we see tear gas used as “pepper spray balls” and smoking canisters.
Tear gas’ mechanism of action is irritation of the mucous membranes. Both tear gas and pepper spray operate essentially the same way: by causing a burning sensation in the areas they are applied to. While tear gas is typically fired into crowds, pepper spray is normally deployed to disable a smaller group or individual.
In most cases, the eyes and nose are critical responders to the irritant, causing limited blindness and disorientation. These weapons cause our bodies to respond with a flood of mucus, potentially occluding airways and introducing a respiratory hazard if not immediately dealt with.
This writer was involved in a tear gas exercise during his military service, and has also been pepper sprayed during his security officer training.
Tear gas inhalation is akin to breathing in fire. It tastes and feels hot, spicy. As such, you feel an immediate urge to run, followed by an inability to breathe. You find yourself coughing violently–convinced that you will never feel cool air in your chest ever again.
After that, you begin to feel dizzy from lack of oxygen. Coupled with being unable to open your eyes, it is extremely difficult to orient yourself to direction or situation.
Your eyes water and itch, stinging like the worst hornet sting you can imagine–in your eyes. Your sinuses pour out of every orifice in a cascade of mucus that feels never-ending. The effects are long lasting, and can take upwards of three to four minutes to subside enough for you to reorient.
While that may sound mild, three to four minutes of those effects could prove lethal to the respiratory compromised or elderly. It could also be extremely dangerous in a stampeding crowd or in a fight with other protesters as well.
Luckily, for this writer, this was a controlled exercise and he was able to flounder outside of the gas chamber during recovery safely.
Pepper spray, or “OC spray,” was a similar experience for this writer, but with unique differences. The commanding officer conducting the training smeared a small amount above our eyes, and left us to suffer the ensuing effects.
While OC spray comes in varying formulations, the OC spray we used was a bit like a thicker, viscous syrup. When wiped above our eyes, it caused the same effects as tear gas, but it felt more concentrated to the facial area: burning eyes, choking, and mucus production.
The critical difference is in the delivery medium. Thick pepper spray directly into the eyes is much more difficult to flush, and can cause longer-lasting blindness and discomfort.
The purpose of these exercises was to understand the effects of the weapons, so as to not be unfamiliar with them in a combat or security situation. The hope is to respond quicker, regroup, and continue in your duties faster than if you had never encountered the weapon.
While tear gas and pepper spray are the most commonly used non-lethal deterrents, law enforcement has other non-lethal solutions worthy of discussion at their disposal.
Palestinian protesters react to stun grenades deployed by Israeli Forces. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler via Activestills)
The Rest of the Arsenal
The key issue with non-lethals is their inability to always hit their intended target. Each one of the following non-lethal solutions presents a hazard to our lives, contradicting the claim of “non-lethal.” All of the following can present a cross-fire hazard.
- Water Cannons: These can be high or low velocity weapons, most commonly presented as fire hoses being directed at crowds. Significantly, these were notoriously used during the 1930s and 1960s during the civil rights protests of the times. The force of the water stream can cause internal damage to internal organs and the eyes. They also create a slip hazard, as well as injuries from being knocked over.
- Kinetic Weapons: Rubber bullets, bean bags, and pellets fall into this category. Simply put, these are blunt weapons meant to be fired into a crowd and not penetrate skin. However, they can easily miss an intended target, and when fired at close range can cause intense blunt trauma. As such, a hit to the heart, or the eyes would spell disaster.
- Acoustic Weapons: Less commonly employed acoustic weapons operate on the principle of assaulting our hearing. These modulating frequency weapons can cause dizziness, nausea, and deafness. Loud and painful, deployment of these weapons can quickly disperse a crowd.
- Disorienting Devices: Disorienting devices like flash bangs, stun grenades, and concussion grenades have four modes of injury:
Primary: Pressure wave shock, potentially rupturing ears and damaging internal organs.
Secondary: High speed fragments can cause penetrating and blunt trauma.
Tertiary: These effects deal with air displacement and resulting disorientation like falling.
Quaternary: Burns, crush injuries, and psychological trauma fall into this category.
While we may be wary of federal officials and their deployment of non or “less” lethal weaponry, in a civil unrest situation, sometimes the biggest threat vector can quickly become the protesters themselves.
Battling protesters clash in Portland, 2021. (David Ryder, via Reuters)
Those in Attendance
Something to consider about other protestors is that they are likely in attendance due to a closely held belief. When people are passionate about a belief, tempers are quick to flare. In this way, a simple protest can turn into a riot in the flash of an instant.
As we saw in the Portland riots, for example, some of those in attendance are there to conduct violence as a priority. Whether it be through looting, setting fires, or causing direct bodily harm to their detractors, the threat is all too real.
Today, we are living in a time where civil unrest is beginning to creep into not only major cities but small towns and colleges as well. Accordingly, no one is immune to the potential of a peaceful protest going awry.
Turning back to current events, the Israeli-Palestine conflict has given rise to expansive protests for and against both belligerents. As such, major U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. have raised their security alert levels in response to protests.
Law enforcement has stepped up their presence, especially around synagogues, embassies, and schools. It should come as no surprise that a hotly debated event, involving decades of violence and bloodshed would beget further potential violence in not only protests, but in other manifestations of civil unrest as well.
Police in New York are reporting three separate incidents of violence aimed at Palestinians and Jews within the city. They claim they are becoming quickly inundated with threats of violence, prompting them to begin operating in a “high alert” status.
In southern Brooklyn, an eighteen-year-old man was attacked by pro-Israeli supporters. Then men recounted anti-Palestinian messages, before beating the man. Another incident echoes the same sentiment, as two men disarmed Palestinian supporters of their Palestinian flags, and assaulted them with them.
In Gravesend, Brooklyn, two juveniles were given court summonses for pointing fake weapons at the B’Nai Yoself synagogue. It is disheartening to realize that this situation is not only permeating adult consciousness, but is also harming the minds of our youth as well.
Meanwhile, a protest held at Columbia University began as a peaceful pro-Palestine assembly. The students rallied to show support, and practice their rights. Amongst the ongoing protests, a twenty-four-year-old Israeli student was attacked by a detractor with a stick. The suspect was arrested and charged with a hate crime, according to authorities.
Protesters at Harvard University have made the news recently for a “Day of Resistance,” held by the group “Students for Justice in Palestine.” Students are reporting extreme tension, and worries about a flashpoint conflict occurring.
The University of Florida reports that a vigil held for fallen Israeli civilians turned into a stampede. However, this was not the result of any attack, but rather an interesting example of riot mentality.
Reports state that an individual attending the vigil fainted, prompting nearby attendees to assume they were under duress. This resulted in a mass stampede of attendees frantically trying to evacuate the area. All said, five attendees were treated for minor injuries and released.
This writer has also experienced this effect during a parade in Washington, D.C. He was attending with friends when an individual entered the restaurant he was in, screaming about gunshots. He evacuated his friends quickly to the street, when a news crew nearby began running towards the parade route.
In an instant, almost in slow-motion, thousands of people quickly surged towards him and his friends. He quickly decided to egress himself and others into a nearby ally, and stowed his compatriots behind a parked vehicle. When it was safe, they attempted to exit the area.
The riot reengaged multiple times, unprompted–with people simply scared and panicked. Three or four times, the streets erupted in fear, and people fled for their lives–leaving others behind to fall and be trampled. The group strategically used alleyways and back-streets to make their way out of the parade area.
There were no gunshots. It was just an example of other bystanders panicking and assuming the worst. This writer credits his safe extradition with his training, calmness, and preparedness.
NYC protests, 2020. (Irynka Hromotska via the New York Times)
Counter the Threat
Whether the threat of civil unrest presents itself in a random act of violence, protests, or panicked rioting, a savvy survivalist has to be ready to respond.
As such, you’ll want to have the latest MIRA Safety products on hand to ensure you and yours can practice your god-given rights, or protect yourself from a crowd that has spiraled out of control in your city or neighborhood.
The Mira Safety CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask
First on our list of essentials is the Mira Safety CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask. Trusted worldwide by multiple police and government agencies, arm yourself with the best tactical gas mask money can buy. A full frontal panoramic view ensures you’ll be aware of any and all threats in your purview. Whether participating, or providing protest security, your helmet-compatible CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask provides you with substantial impact protection so you can keep your head on a swivel if the situation calls for physical action.
The Mira Safety Level IV Body Armor Plate
The MIRA Safety Tactical Level 4 Body Armor Plate offers extensive protection for your vital organs. This level four plate is cut with a single-curve shooter’s cut to ensure deployability in a variety of plate carriers or a backpack.
Whether facing a rogue gunman wielding a small handgun or battle rifle, or attempting to evacuate an area from a hail of non-lethal kinetic weapons, you’ll be protected by our robust ceramic plate. Don’t wait until you find yourself in a cross-fire of beanbags to pick this up!
The Mira Safety NBC-77 SOF Gas Mask Filter
Last but certainly not least, the MIRA Safety NBC-77 SOF Gas Mask Filter guarantees you’ll be breathing easy in any heated situation. Ready for any and all CBRN threats, the NBC-77 SOF Filter will keep you in the fight and ready to get out of dodge.
When the tear gas comes out, you’ll want to know you have the best filter available in your kit. 40mm NATO threats make this filter compatible with a wide variety of accompanying gas masks.
Protesters in Washington, D.C., 2021. (Nour, courtesy of Znetwork)
With tensions only continuing to escalate in America over the Israel-Hamas war, we’ve got to stay informed and ready to respond. As Israel and Hamas launch offensive and defensive volleys back and forth, we may feel a certain sense of complacency.
It’s often said that “that area of the world has been warring for a millenia,” as if to undercut and downplay the seriousness of the situation. Accordingly, it’s very easy to feel as though the conflict is “over there” and not here. What many fail to account for is the connection the U.S. has to both Israel and Palestine.
Not only a diplomatic connection, but also in its people. The U.S. has hundreds of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian citizens living within its borders, and hundreds of thousands more who have family in affected areas in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an unavoidable element of today’s society. With such a hotly debated situation permeating into the majority of America's consciousness, one would be right to be on high alert. The American zeitgeist has already been divided for the better part of a decade–we’re continuing to drift as well.
Yes, civil unrest is a frightening and growing issue in America today. With that said, we must remind ourselves that in order to tackle the challenge of providing safety for our families we must remain calm and take bite-size pieces out of the problem.
With the right mindset, you–the well-informed reader–can remain abreast of all current events, threats, and the solutions to counter them. In this vein, MIRA Safety is committed to bringing you the most up-to-date information and equipment to keep you and yours safe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Civil unrest refers to a state of public discontent and agitation within a society, often stemming from various grievances such as political, social, or economic issues. It involves protests, demonstrations, and sometimes even acts of civil disobedience, as people express their dissatisfaction and demand change. Civil unrest can vary in scale, from peaceful marches and rallies to more intense forms of protest that may lead to disruptions in daily life.
Riots during periods of civil unrest can be triggered by a variety of factors, including deep-seated social inequalities, racial tensions, economic disparities, and political turmoil. Often, they serve as an intense expression of public frustration when peaceful means of protest have failed to bring about change, ultimately leading to violent outbursts.
Riots distinguish themselves from peaceful forms of civil unrest by involving violent and destructive actions, like vandalism, looting, and clashes with law enforcement. These events are typically marked by chaos, property damage, and sometimes injuries or fatalities.
Activism is often driven by a deep commitment to a cause or issue, whether it's civil rights, environmental conservation, or economic equality. It empowers individuals to voice their concerns, raise awareness, and mobilize for change, fostering a sense of responsibility for the betterment of society.