Estimated reading time: 15 minutes
Disclaimer: Although this article talks a lot about riots and what causes them, I want to make it clear that I am not endorsing violence of any kind. Whether your intention is to fight the National Guard or assist the National Guard, more violence will only make the situation worse. If there is a riot in your city, you should either stay home or bug out.
Riots and Looting are Nothing New, but This Time May Be Different.
In the midst of a global pandemic, riots and looting have returned to the streets of the United States. In some areas, they’re becoming the norm. Once again, the trigger for the civil unrest was racially driven, but other factors simmering beneath the surface come into play.
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Currently, the presidential election is probably the biggest factor. America often becomes very tense in election years, but this election is unprecedented. We’re in a situation where both sides view a loss as the end of democracy as we know it. People on the left think Trump will become a full-fledged dictator if he’s reelected, and people on the right think the deep state or radical left will take over the government if he isn’t reelected.
But on top of that, we have a situation where Trump could look like the clear winner on election night, but as the mail-in ballots are counted in the following days, it could look like Biden is the actual winner. They’re calling it a red mirage, and it could happen because there will be far more mail-in voting than usual due to the pandemic, and Democrats are more likely to use mail-in ballots.
But can the mail-in ballots be trusted? Will there be widespread voter fraud? Both sides are worried about these issues and suspicious of the other side. If Democrats or Republicans feel like the election is being stolen from them, the powderkeg that is America could ignite.
So how likely are we to see riots and violence in the coming months? In order to understand the current situation, we need to look at what sorts of things have caused riots in the past.
Five Factors That Have Led To Riots In The Past
In a number of studies, the underlying factors that move peaceful protests to the violence of a riot have come to light.
1. Economic Factors
In the past, poverty and unemployment contributed to many instances of civil unrest. This simmering anger driven by economic disparity is what has made looting a part of most riots. People living in poverty are often desperate, and when groups take to the streets to protest, they join because they’re filled with anger and resentment at a society that seems to have left them behind.
The second great blackout hit New York City in 1977 when the grid went down. The first blackout to hit the east coast was peaceful. The second led to a night of arson and looting resulting in 4,500 arrests and $300 million in damage.
2. Political Factors
Extremists on both sides of the political spectrum often take advantage of civil unrest to further promote their agendas. In these instances, the motivation for the civil unrest is immaterial and the unrest simply provides a backdrop to demonstrate extreme and unrelated ideas and feelings.
The Seattle riots of 1999 were the result of anti-globalization activists protesting the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference. It resulted in 157 people arrests and $20 million in property damage.
3. Criminal Factors
Where there’s chaos, there’s money to be made, and criminals take full advantage of times when police are overwhelmed. When that happens, the rule of law seems to break down.
Looting is the primary activity, but crimes generally rise during times of civil unrest for the simple reason that there are fewer police officers available to respond. Just look at what happened when the police in Montreal went on strike.
4. Radical Factors
Anarchists step into periods of civil unrest and often aggravate the situation to further their agenda of disruption. Arson is often the result, as well as an escalation of violence.
It’s believed by some that a fake hand grenade thrown at National Guard troops at Kent State University in Ohio in 1970 is what triggered the Ohio National Guard to open fire.
5. The Mob Mentality
Even everyday people behave differently in a mob. The actions of a mob are erratic and unpredictable. Anonymity allows people to engage in activities they would normally never pursue. Leadership within mobs shifts quickly and to the loudest voice.
Here again, deep-seated resentments, long-term frustrations, and long-standing disappointment galvanize some to lash out and immerse themselves in the rage of the growing mob.
As you can see, all of these factors are playing a part in the current riots and protests. It’s creating a situation where peaceful protests could quickly turn violent. And these aren’t even the only factors at play.
Four New Factors That Could Lead To Riots
1. The COVID-19 Economic Depression
The official unemployment rate as a result of the pandemic is about 8.4 percent as of September 2020. However, many people believe that the real unemployment rate is even higher than it was during The Great Depression at about 28%.
People out of work have nothing else to do and are free to join protests or riots. Unemployment and economic disparity have been a hallmark of past periods of civil unrest. The current economic downturn is unprecedented, and the question is to what degree further civil disturbances will result.
2. The New Anonymity
“Everyone must wear a mask.” It’s ironic, but the masks that have become so common to prevent transmission of COVID-19 are the traditional mark of a rioter around the world.
In the past, someone with a mask was looked upon with fear and suspicion. The new normal of wearing masks in public makes it easy for anyone to feel anonymous and has no doubt motivated some of the looting and violence in recent months.
3. Increased Stress
The pandemic lockdowns and the threat of coronavirus have created a new type of stress that is affecting almost everyone. It has led many to behave irrationally in a variety of ways.
The choice to become a part of a demonstration or even a potential riot can be motivated by high stress levels. Worse, high stress affecting a mob can motivate it to take actions that are increasingly confrontational.
4. The Presidential Election
I already covered the election in the intro, but something I didn’t mention is the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Since Republicans refused Obama his final Supreme Court pick, Democrats feel it’s only fair to deny Trump his (potentially) final Supreme Court pick.
I’m not taking sides here. I’m just pointing out that no matter what happens, one side is going to feel cheated, and some of them are going to take action. You don’t want to be around when that happens.
The Perfect Storm
With a total of nine factors that could lead to civil unrest, we really are in the perfect storm. At this point, I would be surprised if there wasn’t violence and civil unrest. So now, let’s talk more about what to expect and how to prepare.
How Long Do Riots Last?
Past precedents indicate that most riots last a day or two, although some extend to a week. A lot depends on the motivation for the riot.
Many riots have been motivated by (of all things) sports. From Vancouver to San Francisco to Denver, when sports teams win or lose a major championship, riots often result. All of these riots proved to be one-night occurrences and things soon returned to normal the following day.
Riots motivated by injustice similar to the situation surrounding the death of George Floyd have usually lasted for longer durations.
- The Cincinnati riots of 2001 lasted 4 days.
- The Detroit riots of 1967 lasted 5 days.
- The Watts riots of 1965 lasted 6 days.
- The Los Angels riots of 1992 lasted 6 days.
In most instances, the appearance of the National Guard finally quelled the riots.
Will This Time Be Different?
The National Guard has already been called up in 23 states this year, including Washington D.C. The question is whether the coming riots will subside after a short period of time or continue for weeks or even months.
Hopefully, the presence of the National Guard will eventually quell any civil unrest, but time will tell. In the meantime, you need to think about how to keep yourself and your family safe given the pattern of current events.
7 Ways to Prepare for Civil Unrest
Some of the steps we’ll outline below are common sense. Others are a bit extreme—like bugging out—but a lot depends on where you live. People living in a large metropolitan area are most at risk while suburban and especially rural locations are typically far removed from the threat of riots and looting.
These recommendations assume a worst-case scenario for someone living or working in a city where rioting, arson, and looting can potentially occur.
1. Stay Home
Again, the irony of the lockdowns for the Coronavirus pandemic makes this a fact of life in many parts of the country. However, as the country reopens and people return to work, many may find themselves confronted by a demonstration that devolves into a riot.
If you live in an area where demonstrations or riots are taking place, you should only leave home when absolutely necessary. This is already the pattern for many people due to pandemic precautions, but the potential to walk or drive into a violent situation should give you added pause.
Related: 25 Things NOT To Do If You Bug In
2. Stay Informed
Local news broadcasts on TV, radio, and the Internet give daily updates not only on the circumstances surrounding rioting but on the locations.
As hard as it is to listen or watch the news these days, it’s important to know what’s going on in your area. If any demonstration or protest is planned for your immediate vicinity, lockdown and don’t go out.
3. Stock Up
Many are already doing this, but the addition of civil unrest to a pandemic makes it all the more important to reduce your need to travel to any destination for groceries, medical supplies, or other necessary items.
Order online as much as possible and, when you do go out to make purchases, try to think long-term. There are limits on many items these days, but if your neighborhood is a hot spot, buy the maximum allowed of any items you need to reduce your overall travel.
Related: The Beginner’s Guide to Emergency Food Storage
4. Lock Up
It’s one thing to lock up at night, but if you live in an apartment or neighborhood in close proximity to potential demonstrations or protests, keep your doors and windows locked at all times. Most rioters and looters tend to focus on businesses rather than individual homes or apartments, but as civil unrest grows, the direct threat can increase overall.
Some people choose to re-enforce their doors and windows and even go so far as to put up barricades on all entrances. That depends on the situation and the individual. If you have to resort to that level of security, don’t forget to make sure you can make a quick exit in the event that arson causes a fire to reach your location.
Related: 11 Home Security Tips for Life After SHTF
5. Keep a Low Profile
That’s easy to do if you stay home, but think twice about any signs in your front lawn expounding a political belief or opinion, and maybe it’s time to get rid of those bumper stickers spouting similar sentiments. It also helps to keep your opinions to yourself. At a time of high stress and violence in the streets, some people are looking for trouble. Don’t give them a reason to find it with you.
The same is true when walking through an area of demonstrations, protests, and especially civil unrest. Don’t take sides because there’s a good chance that both sides will be in the vicinity and you rarely know who you’ll encounter.
If confronted by someone asking you whose side you’re on, tell them you’re on their side and slip away as calmly and quickly as possible. You may also want to think twice about any clothing that makes specific or polarizing statements about controversial ideas or positions. Here again, the best way to stay out of trouble is to not ask for it. If you do, you may as well join the protest, but this is about preparing for and avoiding a riot—not starting one.
Related: 8 Tips On How To Survive A Riot
6. Don’t Get Caught in the Middle
If you find yourself in an unfolding situation of violence or civil unrest, calmly walk away and out of the situation. Keep a low profile. Don’t intervene with looters or take direct exception to what someone is saying or doing. Find a way to get out of the area and away from the violence.
And don’t give the police or the National Guard any reason to see you as a threat. They are not there to protect you. They are there to disperse the crowd and break up the riot. If they see you as part of the problem, they will act accordingly. Don’t run but move quickly.
If you’re driving and find yourself in a riot, stop if you must. Drive slowly and carefully. Don’t say or demonstrate aggressive or provocative behavior. If you must, lock and abandon your car. You want to blend in and not stand out from the crowd while you get out.
Related: What To Do If You’re Caught In A Riot While Driving
7. Have a Plan
It’s uncomfortable, but it’s worth discussing the overall situation with your immediate family. How should you individually and collectively respond to a variety of possibilities? It’s probably best to not include small children in all of these conversations, but they should be aware of the fact that you may have to act quickly.
- What do we do if we hear gunshots?
- What do we do if there’s a knock at the door and who should answer it and how?
- What do we do if the neighbor’s house or the apartment building we live in catches on fire due to arson?
- Should we tell any friends or neighbors about our plans and emergency supplies?
- What other things are you worried about and what else should we discuss and plan for?
Having a plan for events will give you some degree of peace-of-mind, and the last thing you want to do is panic at the moment something unexpected occurs. Take the time to stop, think, and anticipate so you can form a plan for events.
This is always easier said than done. If you’re one of the few who have an established bug out location like a vacation home or farm in a rural area, your biggest challenge is getting to your location safely.
If you don’t have an established bug out location and the situation in your area becomes so desperate that you feel compelled to leave, you still have a few options.
- Consider staying with a relative or friend who lives in an area safe from civil unrest.
- Consider an extended stay motel or hotel. People are hesitant to occupy a motel or hotel space during the pandemic, but if you stay put and sanitize the rooms, it will be safer than staying in a hot spot of civil unrest.
- Go camping. If the weather and location permits, you can always set up camp in a remote area and hope the duration of any civil unrest winds down.
- Other options for bug out locations include national forests, mines, ghost towns, and abandoned factories. (Learn more here.)
Before you bug out, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Don’t tell anyone you are bugging out and try to make your house or apartment appear to be occupied. A house or apartment that is obviously deserted at a time of civil unrest is a quick target for looters and vandalism.
- Lock up and barricade your house as much as possible and take any items of value to your bug out location. The rule in that regard is simple. If you don’t want to lose it, then take it or hide it.
- Don’t assume your bug out location is an automatic safe haven. Continue to practice due diligence and anticipate events that could occur there.
Related: The Beginner’s Guide to Bugging Out and Bug Out Bags
What About Weapons?
At home, arming yourself to defend yourself and your family is a good idea. In your car, that depends on where you’re going. If you’re bugging out, definitely. There are two in particular you should take with you.
On your person? That’s a really big question. Even if you have an open-carry permit or live in an open-carry state, you may want to think twice about displaying a weapon in any way. The police and especially the National Guard will not see you as a wise and prepared person acting to simply defend yourself in an emergency. There’s a good possibility they will see you as a threat and at times of civil unrest, they rarely stop to ask any questions.
Wearing a pistol on your belt can be provocative, and while it may give you a sense of confidence, if shots ring out anywhere in your vicinity, it won’t take much for law enforcement to assume you may have been the shooter. The last thing you want is to become the reason for the next round of riots.
I wish I had some inspirational words or reasons for optimism, but I don’t. This is a dark time in American history. My only hope is that when it’s all over, we’ll find a way to become the United States again. In the meantime, take care of yourself and your family.
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