Crowds frighten me.
There was a time, a long time ago, when I enjoyed the excitement of a crowd: concerts, packed movies, huge parties (my 18th birthday party had over 400 participants, a band, and enough drugs and alcohol to fund a mid-size cartel….) and even the odd political event before I grew disillusioned.
But not any more.
It was actually a concert that broke my enjoyment. Back in the 70s, I attended a benefit concert in San Jose CA for Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Union. It was a great concert: Santana, Taj Mahal, a ton of minor acts. And because it was a political fund-raiser, no police for security. Only the Brown Berets of La Familia providing volunteer security. This was the era of Altamont, where the Hells Angels provided security for the Rolling Stones, and there was violence there; there was violence here, too.
I was about three bleacher rows away from the first major fight. It was hot, people had been drinking and getting high all day in the sun, and several La Familia security were called over to intervene in an argument between a huge unaffiliated biker and a patch-holder from one of the smaller CA MCs. When it kicked off, it kicked off big.
I remember watching the fight flow like a ripple in a pond, getting bigger and bigger till it was a tidal wave: first two guys fighting, then four or five, then knives and chain belts (outlaw bikers used to wear the drive chains of bikes for belts as they made handy flails in melee combat along with the obligatory Buck Folding Hunters and fixed blades) and then easily one third of the bleachers that held over 45,000 people erupted into violence. Gun shots, knife fights, fist fights, people screaming…and the crowd and the fight nosing one way and then the next like a gigantic animal.
Me and my buddy couldn’t fight our way through and down, so we turned and did the opposite – we fought our way up the bleachers, and then climbed over the safety rail and made a precarious descent down the support structure behind and beneath the bleachers, and then climbed a high barbed wire topped fence to escape.
As I recall there were several hundred hospitalized after the mass riot, and the police couldn’t even get into the stadium.
I will never forget how fast the violence grew, how fast it turned, and how fast people got ate up in it. I’ve seen similar violence elsewhere since then, but that first impression has never left me.
So I avoid crowds.
But sometimes you can’t.
I am no longer an instructor. I’m a coach for instructors and a designer of training programs. I do get asked from time to time to lend my experience and opinion to problems. Like the problem in this video, posed by a woman who is a fine martial arts instructor who asked: “What can I possibly teach or say that would have helped this woman?”
Ugly. Raped and beaten so savagely she required surgery. Easy enough to say, don’t be there, or don’t dress a certain way if you’re going to be in a place like that. But sometimes we don’t get to choose, as Lara Logan, who was similarly attacked while doing her job, describes in this interview:
Some of the hard men who go in harm’s way talk about the shooting solution. While there are times that may be the solution, even the best trained and reasonably armed can be overcome and killed by the fast moving crowd. In this video, notice what happens when the shots go off…and what happens when the fire is ineffective and doesn’t continue…and when the shooter has the gun beaten out of his hands….
Other skilled people talk about driving away or through. Great in principle but sometimes fails in practice, as Reginald Denny can testify:
And sometimes the crowd isn’t spontaneous, but planned:
What might an instructor want to convey to a woman (or a man) who might have to consider a mass attack like these? I don’t have any hard and fast answers. I have some general principles. The crowd is a dangerous beast, and the crowd mass attack is the most dangerous beast of all.
My random thoughts on principles:
• Don’t be there if at all possible. Avoid crowds, especially crowds of young men, and especially of young drunken men.
• If you’re in a crowd by choice, pay attention to your intuition and your feelings (the atmospherics or situational awareness) of the energy/mood of the crowd. When I was young and getting my first professional fighting chops as a doorman, I could literally feel the energy in the bar shift when things were about to go bad. Everyone feels it; and most can recall it after the fact if they survive. This presupposes, of course, that you are sober enough to notice.
• If you’re in a crowd by choice, have a partner or several friends. Don’t be alone and don’t allow yourself to be isolated in the crowd, especially as a woman surrounded by men. Look for other women or men who will stand with you or stand up for you and ask for help.
• If the crowd gets ugly, get out as fast as you can. The earlier you sense the change and the faster you move, the less likely you are to get caught up in it.
• If you become a target, keep moving. Move away, don’t stop and don’t let yourself be stopped.
• If you are grabbed, you must have previously made a decision about what to do and act instantly on it. A fast decisive attack may dissuade, distract, or delay others for you to get away…or it may incite even more violence. If you are fighting bare handed against a mob focused on beating and or raping you, it’s like fighting a tidal wave. Look at those videos above.
* The greatest challenge(s) are:
a. Knowing the spectrum of violence and recognizing when attention turns into the intention to harm you – the earlier you sense that the more effective any pre-emptive action (escape or preemptive strikes) will be.
b. Being violent enough early enough to stop the first key individuals moving on you to create space to escape.
c. Being able to ride out the panic of being overwhelmed by a crowd bent on hurting you, which is one of the most terrifying experiences any human can feel, and work a plan or improvise one. Which presupposes that you have a plan for such an event, which presupposes you’ve thought about it, and that you can improvise a different plan if your first one fails contact.
For the shooters in the crowd, notice what happens in the IRA mob killing video. The initial shots scatter the crowd…except for a few key individuals who continue their attack focused on disarming the operators. Then the crowd returns. Shots fired, most of the crowd retreats…except for the hard core. Have you thought about what you might do in such a circumstance? Would you fire warning shots and hope to scatter the crowd? Would you shoot to kill the main players in the mob?
As for driving away or through, notice what happens both in the IRA video…what happens when you stop? Even you stop and are blocked in, you are faced with the decision to either run over or through a crowd – have you thought that through and decided in advance about what you might do in that instance? Reginald Denny stopped…
In the Lara Logan interview, pay attention to what she says about the change and the escalation in the language and atmospherics in the crowd. Can you pick up on a point where she might have left? Can you see it or feel it?
The only hard and fast solution to this problem is not to be there. The principle of staying away from crowds works (unless you’re hunted by one, as in the gloating trophy video) but dealing solo with a mob attack gone violent is like swimming with a hungry great white shark. The mob usually wins.