If you have followed Forward Observer for a long time, you’ve heard founder Mike Shelby talk about intelligence and the “area study” a lot. You may have dismissed his consistent calls to the audience to increase one’s local situational awareness and his mantra “Do your area study.” I must admit that for an embarrassingly long time I didn’t understand what an “area study” is despite intuitively doing all the right things.
For those of us who have lived our whole lives or for a very long time in one area, it is easy to assume that we know everything about our home regions. After all, we experience it day after day. The reality is the vast majority of people don’t have a highly-detailed knowledge of where they live. Rather, they feel that they comfortably understand the details and dynamics. Familiarity in this case has bred overconfidence. Overconfidence gets people killed.
Intelligence being critical to survival is the central tenant of Shelby’s message and without it, and an area study, you stand a much greater chance of dying when SHTF. This is because you may have planned for the wrong threats. For example, in spring of 2020, how many people suddenly found themselves in the midst of looting because they lived proximate to a retail center? Without intelligence you are completely blind to the threat until it confronts you without warning.
Most people may struggle with basic tasks like reading maps, researching natural and industrial hazards in their area, or keeping up with demographic and criminal trends. These individuals who refer to themselves as potential warlords in the event of SHTF may think of themselves as generals, but their mindset and approach is that of a private.
A private wants stuff that can help him perform his mission better, but wars are not won through acquisitions of stuff; they are won through strategy. Strategy is developed through intelligence. The private is responsible only for following orders; a general is responsible for identifying and planning the mission. For an individual, there is not going to be a general or S-2 shop doing the work for you.
What is an area study?
An area study is zone reconnaissance; as more critical points or places of interest are identified, more detailed information collection becomes area reconnaissance. It is truly a “study,” not just a document. Ultimately, an area study goes beyond collection of data and becomes a thought exercise.
What is an “area study”? In a grossly oversimplified nutshell:
Intelligence is information analyzed to answer questions. Without a baseline understanding of a problem, a threat, or an environment, there is an insufficient level of knowledge to even begin asking questions. In the context of history, I always explain my fascination with learning about the past (and the world) as turning on the lights in a dark building, revealing rooms and details that would have gone totally unnoticed in the darkness. An area study is about identifying and filling intelligence gaps—you don’t know what you don’t know.
I made the mistake of thinking an area study was collating documents and information. It is, but rather than being just a file, it's recording what you are learning for offline use when you need a reference. If an area study was just writing down what you know about your home that may be useful when SHTF, it might rightly be regarded as just a gimmick. No, an area study is more of the process of learning than it is the final product.
This is where I have to add a personal apology: I blew off Mike because I failed to understand what he was getting at. If you are mistaking an area study as “just” a document, you aren’t alone. I literally wrote a section of a book describing “knowing where you live” without understanding that this actually was an area study in practice for like over a year.
If you think that Shelby is overemphasizing the importance of intelligence your observation is not surprising, but it is incorrect. Much of the book is spent trying to convince the reader to conduct their study and explain why. It is easy to overlook the importance of intelligence. For most people, they are operating under a veil of benign ignorance. I will admit that for too long I simply didn’t understand what he was getting at, which may seem astounding coming from an author like me.
Cops know their areas really well; it’s called beat familiarization and you get it out of books (binders in the briefing room if we’re talking analog) and firsthand. When relocating, many people look for “the good schools” and flood hazards. Generally, we do not perform a multi-hazard threat analysis that includes political and social factors, nor do we consider ordinal effects on the area due to a catastrophe (“ordinal effects”: second, third order, etc.).
My advice in one of my books was to “know about where you live” and I described what I did naturally all my life out of simple curiosity. Most people do not spend hours pouring over maps or Google Earth. They do not look up demographic data or ethnic distribution in the racial dot maps (based on census data). Knowledge of crime patterns and gang behaviors are total unknowns to the average American. The general population’s understanding of their neighborhoods and regions are based almost entirely on experiential data; that which they live every day.
One day Mike put some thing out on YouTube or something and it suddenly dawns on me what an “area study” is. It also dawned on me that in addition to being very dense, I don’t think like other people. What came naturally to me as basic curiosity or “fun” (I’m sure you have a different definition) is like pulling teeth to other people, hence Shelby’s aggressive exhortations. It blew me away to realize that this wasn’t something everybody did, which is why I thought Mike’s mantra was so unnecessary.
It was a true light-bulb going off in my head moment; I am not like normal people. Normal people don’t play around on Google Earth, collect maps, or wonder what the demographic distribution of certain groups are in their place of residence. Normal kids don’t say “Gee, I’m bored. Let me thumb through the phone book.” That’s why it’s so imperative that you actually sit down and deliberately do this stuff.
Part of the reason I was so oblivious was because I didn’t understand other people don’t have the same level of curiosity. Examining the psychology behind this tells us that even smart people are subject to cognitive blind spots. Most people know about where they live through direct experiential learning, that is, in their day-to-day lives. Very few people look at maps, satellite photos, or demographic data. They do not look at trends in crime.
I’m sure it seems bizarre that a guy like me would fail to “get it” on why an area study is necessary or why it is imperative for a prepared citizen to do one. It’s almost laughable now that I did do area studies and think about the bigger picture but failed to connect what came naturally to me with what Shelby was talking about. It’s really embarrassing to admit because in hindsight it’s so obvious.
Why you need to do an area study
In writing my post-apocalyptic novels, I have to consider more than just the inciting event itself. For instance, what challenges would real people in a similar situation, set in an alternate reality, face? In my case, I looked at the dominant power structures in my area which are: law enforcement, agricultural interests, and Mexican drug cartels. I had to wargame how these elements would react and interplay in order to develop a plot.
It would be easy to mistake Mike’s constant exhortations as marketing his own products and services; it is not. When he harangues his audience to do their area study, he is begging them to critically evaluate their physical and social environment. Many of us assume that since we have lived in an area forever or a long time that we know all there is to know about it. Indeed you might, but there are reasons for conducting a formalized study and recording the results.
First, an area study serves as a validation for our experiential knowledge against hard sources. Second, though it may feel like we are retreading the same ground, it is a valuable gap analysis process. Assuming you know everything can be a fatal mistake. Due diligence:
Third, it creates a permanent record to make this information permanent and accessible. Recording the information allows you to access things you may not recall immediately, preserve the results of your work for others, and have access to research materials offline. In my professional and personal education, I rarely relied upon note taking because if I couldn’t remember it for a test, how was I going to remember it in life? In real life, many instances have cheat sheets for complicated information which is what your recorded study becomes.
I have had countless binders full of information that I read once or twice or referenced on the rarest of occasions. The point of collating this information is to serve as a quick reference and preserve it for others’ use. For instance, I can be a human encyclopedia about my AO but if I’m dead, my family or my partners can’t plug my brain into a USB port and run a file recovery program.
The problems with the modern survivalist paradigm in Shelby’s view is that the average prepper does not understand the environment in which he lives and suffers from a critically small human network. Without gathering information to comprehend the nature and risk of various first, second, and third order threats survival planning can be done wrong. The consequences may range from the inconvenient to deadly.
Furthermore to the second point, in a dramatically altered society, smaller human networks—individual relationships—will be vital for not only security, but commerce and social capitol. What Shelby is offering is, in his words, “second layer solutions” that increase survivability beyond the mere logistics of sustainment. This goes beyond just having backup in a fight or someone to barter with. Mutual cooperation reduces the ability for malign forces to exert control.
Successful people get that way because they look for and exploit opportunities. Your weakness is a bad guy’s opportunity. If your plans are general in nature and you have no clear idea of who might be coming to get you, you are not prepared. Intelligence is planning for the guy down the street who constantly gets arrested getting out of jail, terrorizing the neighborhood, and one day becoming the capo for your local Mexican cartel. It’s not some general idea that people might try to steal your freeze dried food and having a vague idea of using your AR-15 to fight them off.
You know what the reality is going to be for most people when SHTF? They will flock to whoever seems to have it together and either become slaves for safety or follow orders for survival/success. The strong man with a plan and the means to effect his plan will be the one who takes control. This is how bad guys like the mafia take over; they fill a power vacuum, offer safety, and vital services needed for survival.
In some of my novels the battle for control centers around wells; water is life. Police struggle to maintain them as public resources and gangs want to control the wells so they can profit. European rivers and roads were controlled by bandit barons who extorted tolls on travelers, which harmed commerce, but absent a powerful central authority, they got away with it. Have you considered how bad actors may exploit resources in your area, including who these people might be, what those resources are, and how you can counter it?
The book itself
Army intelligence field manuals are very obtuse, and it is very difficult to apply the information in them to the civilian survivalist context. FM 2-0 and 34-3 made my brain hurt. Shelby parses the good information for you. He not only explains what information to look for, but why it is important. It is far more than a series of forms to fill out, though the book concludes with the outline for your own study.
Some things I liked or noted:
Book discusses basic concepts to intelligence analysis like the intelligence cycle. While many of us can do this process intuitively, it helps to understand the doctrinal aspects that can streamline and improve the efficiency and accuracy of the process.
One problem Shelby discusses is the scope of the area study; a common problem he finds among some of his students is determining the size of the area to be studied. In effect, the area and borders are indeterminate, but the limitations on imagination are another matter.
The study is the narrow to the broad, tactical to operational: Define the threat > define the mission. These two are reciprocal but not interdependent. A threat can be identified if falls within one’s mission (i.e. “hunkering down”) or a mission may evolve out of threat identification, or vise versa.
Threat categories: Conventional, Irregular, Catastrophic, and Disruptive.
The nature of the threat, not the situation. Disruptive threats are things or people that compound existing problems. What degree of trouble do they pose? I took this as the perspective of situations, rather than their effect. Specificity is important—without specificity and research threats become “yeah, I know, people are dangerous.” Broad assumptions create blind spots.
I really like that he quotes Fritz and Mathewson’s five categories of problem people; even the recap of their work in this book beats my own grouping of people who will complicate life post-SHTF.
While documenting your area study is important, what Shelby is asking people to do is learn and think abstractly about their community. The Area Intelligence Handbook is a guide on how to do that research and what to consider.
This book is a necessary part of the prepper/patriot crowd’s bookshelf. For those just starting off, I would recommend it be the starting point because it articulates why studying the geographic and human factors are important. It’s a book about identifying what exactly you’re facing, which will guide your defensive preparations, your gear acquisitions, and the skills you learn.
The Area Intelligence Handbook
Gray Zone Activity
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The following is an excerpt from a draft of my upcoming novel, The Dad with a Flamethrower.
“Don’t ever be afraid, son. Cautious, apprehensive, even wary; those are okay. But never afraid. I didn’t raise you to be fearful.” Words my dad told me on another cold, autumn day came back to me unbidden.
Before I even went into middle school I was convinced I was going to die. Well, worse than that: trapped in a wilderness purgatory. No one knew where we were. Dad and I had diverted off the beaten path on our drive to visit Grandma and Grandpa so I could shoot some jackrabbits before the first snowfall. The day had been a total washout for seeing any jacks so Dad let me take a few shots with my .22 at a Coke can.
Despite the wasted day and no mound of dead bunnies to pose next to with my trusty rifle from Kmart, it had been a good day. What boy wouldn’t like to spend the day in the ruins of the Western frontier with his father? I was thinking about the nice warm dinner we’d have at the diner and wondering if they would still have any of the pie I saw at breakfast left over. Dad was listening to a tape of Buck Owens when it happened.
A jagged tooth of steel stuck up from a cattleguard and dug itself into the tire. It immediately deflated, but Dad proclaimed it safe to drive on until we got back to the road. Dinner would be after dark, though. Even in the 2020s that place had zero cell reception, let alone in the 1980s.
Not even halfway to the road the flat tire split completely and departed the wheel in the worst place possible. Overconfidently, I recalled the one time a few months earlier I changed a tire in the garage under close supervision (and lifting assistance) and thought this would be no problem.
Half an hour later my dad tossed the pieces of a broken tool box back into truck. “That didn’t work. We need to find ourselves a piece of wood, like a plank. Even something with one flat side, like a split log, will do.”
“How about a rock?”
I looked around as if I was going to find something on the side of the road. We were an hour outside Austin, Nevada, on Highway 50, America’s Loneliest Road, and far off the paved highway. What remained of daylight underneath the low, overcast sky was fading fast. Snow flurries were falling on the distant peaks. Not a single tree was in sight. The only vegetation was low cheatgrass and sagebrush, not the kind of stuff you could use to support a jack.
To my juvenile mind all we had to do was drive to where the road was more solid. Soft mud or not, the back wheels were mired and we needed the shredded tire replaced to crawl free. There wasn’t any wood around. Earlier in the day I marveled at all the godforsaken wilderness that Nevada had to offer and how its sparse flora gave the steppe a mystique the Mojave Desert didn’t have. Near sunset, it was like being trapped in a nightmare.
I used to have these night terrors as a kid. They were different but all had a similar theme. I was confronted by a problem of such magnitude that I was helpless to even understand the scope. My arms couldn’t wrap around a cylinder the size of a municipal water tank, the million gallon size, or I had to dribble a basketball the size of the Moon. If I didn’t, I would die. Or like now, in one of the dreams I was trapped in a vast, empty space with no hope of ever getting out.
At nine years old I didn’t have the perspective to know that there was always some kind of solution. Even laying down and dying was a solution but not a satisfactory one to my dad. So like in my dreams, I wandered around aimlessly. I listened to the harsh scratch of sagebrush limbs on my parka. That hopeless crushing feeling wrapped itself around my chest. Was I dreaming? Except for the details it sure seemed like it.
As I got older and computers went from something my mom used at work for typing to an interesting toy, the game Hover that came with early versions of Windows reminded me of the desert that afternoon. Distant, cold mountains and a dark, foreboding sky. Wandering around aimlessly on some sort of quest through a maze that looked the same at every turn. Funny how one unrelated thing can trigger your mind like that.
All I could think to do was wander. That’s what I did in the dreams when I was trapped in that awful place of beige walls and silence. Rocks. I stopped and stared at this child’s knee high mound of 50lb rocks. They were too heavy for me to carry but if I got my dad and brought him back here…
It clicked in my brain. Rocks stacked like that were done by a human. Peering around a sagebrush, I saw that the rocks made up the foundation for a headframe above a mine shaft. Dad’s stories about the mining history of Nevada on the drive all came rushing back to me. In the grass lay the timbers of the headframe itself. They were far too stout to be useful without a chainsaw, but enough debris lay scattered around.
Someone had torn open the cover of the shaft to go inside. There were parts of a rickety ladder, shoring, and more lying in the grass. The wood was still strong after all this time too! I gathered up the biggest armload I could and drug it through the brush.
I appeared on the road a few yards south of the Bronco, huffing and puffing, with long green streaks on my jacket. Dad walked over from where he was searching for suitable rocks in a washout gully and looked me over. “Your grandma is going to just love scrubbing that out.”
I just gestured at the wood. “Will this work?”
Half an hour later the spare tire was on and we were a mile down the road where the gravel resumed. “I was kinda scared back there,” I confessed. It was an understatement. Coyotes had been howling in my mind. Mom and Grandma would never have known what happened to us if we hadn’t figured it out. I though we were so far away from civilization that someone like us in thirty years would find the rusted out Bronco. My dad had to know what I had been thinking.
Dad was a fighter pilot, tough as nails. He flew two tours in Vietnam and spent his whole adult career in the air. He’d look at me with a sad, disappointed look in his eye and wonder aloud why I sitting in silence afraid. “Fear is God’s way of warning, boy,” he said. “You get up on a roof and look down to see that the ground is spinning. You got a few choices right then. Stop and figure out how do whatever it is you’re doing safely. Two, square your head away and get it done.” He bent over to look under his Ford Bronco.
“That’s only a couple.”
“You said ‘a few.’ You only said two. A couple is two.”
He smiled. “That’s right. The third is that perhaps you never belonged up there on the roof in the first place.” A pause. “Don’t ever be afraid, son. Cautious, apprehensive, even wary; those are okay. But never afraid. I didn’t raise you to be fearful.”
I must have fallen asleep on the ride back. The rest of the day is a blur. A brief snatch of being told to shower quickly so we could eat before the diner closed. Even the quick visit with my grandparents is lost now. That piece of advice is where the vivid memory ended.
George Washington married widow Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759, following the death of her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, in 1757. Washington adopted her surviving children John and Martha. As eveyone knows, Washington (known as George Rex Americanus), after winning the Revolutionary War, accepted the offer of the American crown, ruling as a benevolent king who held the nation together through its tulmutuous early years.
Washington's stepson John died in 1781, which made his step-grandson George Washington Parke Custis king. George II Americanus (to differentiate him from the late English king of a similar name) reigned until his death in 1857.
Mary Custis was the sole surviving (white) heir of George II. Legally, upon the death of her father, she acceeded to the throne automatically under English common law. However, due to the anti-monarchy controversy, it was decided that until the matter was decided in Congress she would not be referred to as the queen. No coronation occured and Mary did not engage in any royal duties, nor did she leave her residence at Arlington House for the White House.
In 1860, amidst the Constitution Crisis, the Supreme Court ruled in Myers v. Crown, that Mary de facto abdicated the throne. The abdication remained a very divisive point between Americans. Southern states were broadly Royalist while northern states were broadly Republican. Exacerbating the divide was the South's demand that abolition be phased in with compensation and economic assistance. Northern hardliners came to prominance following the soft abdication or "declination."
It was over these issues that the Civil War began in April of 1861. After the Union Army's defeat at Gettysburg in 1863, General Robert E. Lee, the uncrowned king consort, offered peace to the Union. Lee knew that a bloody war would ensue and he could not guarantee a swift victory even with the help of the United Kingdom. The terms were to revive the throne, under a mutually agreeable formal constitution, similar to the one ultimately rejected in 1789.
Reconciliation, rather than destruction, was the talk of the day. Prime Minister Abraham Lincoln famously said "I have no objection to a queen, nor even a king. I don't even object to Southerners." It is believed that Lincoln and the Republicans agreed to the terms to preserve the integrity of the nation, rather than seeing it split and the North potentially falling victim to reconquering by Britain from Canada.
The Constitution of the United States was signed on December 14, 1863, taking effect on the first of January 1864. Robert and Mary were crowned in a small ceremony in the White House. They reigned together as co-monarchs to overcome objections to a female monarch. Sadly in April 1865, a disgruntled actor from Maryland, John Wilkes Booth, who was upset that the South reconciled with the North, shot King Robert and Prime Minister Lincoln. The former died instantly while the latter expired early the next morning. Queen Mary was stabbed, but physically recovered. She entered mourning and was rarely seen publically up to her death in 1873.
In 1873, George Washington Custis Lee, who took the regnal name Custis, became king. Never having children, upon his death without issue Custis was succeeded by his younger brother Robert E. Lee Jr., Robert II (male preference primogeniture would not permit his elder sister Mary to acceed as long as a surviving male son of the deceased king lived). 20 months later in 1914, Robert II died. Having no sons, Robert's heir was his daughter Anne Carter Lee. Queen Anne died in 1978. As she was preceeded in death by her son Hanson Edward Ely, his son Robert Lee Ely became King Robert IV.* With the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment to pass, absolute primogeniture, which would have placed Anne's daughter, Anne Carter—as she was known—did not affect the traditional passing of the throne.
*Robert IV, despite being only the third King Robert, took his number out of respect for his elder cousin, Robert E. Lee III, son of William, the second son of Robert I. The current king of the United States is Robert E. Lee V (Robert V).
And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?... The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin's thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If… if…We didn't love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward. —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: Volume 1
What is Solzhenitsyn's choice? It is a personal decision to either go unresistingly when arrested by a tyrannical government or violently resist, probably at the risk of your life. In other words, do you love freedom so much that you are willing to die rather than surrender it?
The chapter that the quote comes from explains that people did not resist, detailing their psychology behind compliance. The initial reaction was one of disbelief. “Me? What for?...It’s a mistake! They’ll set things right!” Emotions on arrest were mainly were confusion, fear, and denial assuming there had been some mistake or failed to grasp the gravity of the situation. Others were asked to simply turn themselves in and many obediently did so.
Having the benefit of hindsight, the reader can’t understand why compliance was so widespread. This behavior is not limited to Soviet dissidents. Countless criminals have condemned themselves because they thought they could talk their way out of trouble. The innocent or those undeserving of harsh punishments often shoot themselves in the foot by assuming they can just “clear things up” by talking. The stupid and naïve having faith in the system is not a new phenomenon.
Compounding this is the sincere belief by the arrestee that they have done nothing wrong.
"But as for you, you are obviously innocent! You still believe that the Organs are humanly logical institutions: they will set things straight and let you out. Why, then, should you run away? And how can you resist right then? After all, you'll only make your situation worse; you'll make it more difficult for them to sort out the mistake."
In ordinary circumstances, this is typically correct. Shut your mouth and get a good lawyer. Criminals choose to shoot it out with the police and die. That those who do this are almost universally scumbags who are guilty, we don’t see this as a viable response to the criminal justice system. Good men either do their time or are vindicated, or so goes the theory.
Yet for those who are of marginal guilt, perhaps by the State’s interpretation and selective enforcement, trusting that the system will be faithful is increasingly proving not to the be case. In high-profile cases involving leftist prosecutors and the political/social unrest of 2020, arguably innocent citizens from police officers to a 17-year old boy were prosecuted on the basis of outrage, not the law. Even those who have been vindicated did not receive fully fair trials.
We are seeing this now with the January 6th defendants being hunted, treated, and sentenced with grossly disproportionately to Antifa rioters. An Internet troll was just found guilty of an election-related civil rights violation posting a meme. President Trump himself has been indicted and arrested for dubious crimes. Surely we are through the looking glass.
Lawlessness is beginning to prevail in the United States. While we are not in a widespread without-the-rule-of-law (WROL) situation, we are in the starting phases of the gray zone that is anarcho-tyranny. Anarcho-tyranny is where the state has the power and desire to persecute dissidents but does not equally enforce the law. “Justice for me, but not for thee.”
If you will be politically prosecuted—persecuted that is—and certainly convicted, why would you subject yourself to a process that is so prejudiced against you it would take a miracle to succeed? A time will come when gambling on the chance that the trial will be fair, the jury unbiased, or that the appeals process will work out is non-viable. This isn’t to say that every arrest or punishment will justify making such a decision; ordinary criminals do it all the time, however.
What I am asking is that if the conditions are such that good men, who have been wickedly accused in order to make an example out of, stand little to no chance of being exonerated, or if they do, they do it at the cost of being emotionally, reputationally, and financially broken, why would they willing submit to the process?
But when to act and what to do becomes the dilemma when the average dissident no longer trusts the system. “At what exact point, then, should one resist?” Solzhenitsyn asked. It is a two-part question. The first is more of a political one and speaks to self-awareness of both the individual and political bands as a whole.
The debate rages endlessly online on the right. Conservatives insist that the high ground must always be taken, even if that means losing battles to the left. The left has already begun to resist, but they and their cronies hold the reigns of power, so they can engage in the notorious acts of rioting, vandalism, terrorism, and intimidation we have seen. The right can’t have a rally without being attacked, infiltrated, or subject to partisan in-fight playing a game of “who’s the fed?”
Even so, as much as men might chafe under “absolute Despotism,” they do not act. Self-preservation is a powerful instinct so it is natural to put aside these uncomfortable thoughts and make excuses. “Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself.” Objectively, there are good reasons not to become a one-man revolutionary but individually, it is dishonest to the self to make up lies rather than admit you are too scared to resist. On the contrary, it is foolish to look for excuses to engage in violence.
To the second half of the question of “when,” Solzhenitsyn asks about the point where resistance should begin: "When one's belt is taken away? When one is ordered to face into a corner? When one crosses the threshold of one's home?" There are no clear markers or indicators for the last chance to take action. Usually resistance to arrest has been someone acting impulsively in the moment; that’s usually how criminals act. The dissident citizen probably has never seriously considered that they may be targeted by the State for political persecution, so the thought of what will they do and when never crosses their mind.
After all, if you are innocent, and in America no one would ever be prosecuted for freedom of speech issues or subjected to unfair treatment because of political persuasion, why would you consider such things? Contemplating resistance is like thinking about robbing a bank; good people don’t do it. In any case, resistance is felonious, is murder, or is treasonous. Probably from 1865 to very recently nearly all Americans would laugh at the thought of not allowing the judicial process to play out.
Criminals engage in high-risk behavior because they think they will never be caught. Guileless dissidents think that It’ll never come to that or It won’t happen to me. Denial and normalcy bias has so warped the dissident’s perception that they do not see the signs all around them. A crook knows the game and either has decided what he’ll do (I’m not back to prison) or he knows it at an impulsive level.
Solzhenitsyn tells us “A person who is not inwardly prepared for the use of violence against him is always weaker than the person committing the violence.” The dissidents were not mentally prepared for the possibility of being arrested, let alone fighting back! The NKVD took advantage of this by seizing people in the middle of night when they were tired, confused, and unprepared to resist. There would be no time to think, to summon up courage, or to seek help. The whole thing would be over before the individual fully understood what is happening to them.
By contrast, many criminals have no such debate but start shooting the moment they think they may be apprehended, even if their crime is trivial. A violent criminal doesn’t even have the moral high ground!
Solzhenitsyn’s choice, therefore, is a decision that must be made ahead of time. How will you react when you are arrested for badthink? Will you run? Will you fight? Will you comply? Even understanding your own reluctance to resist ahead of time is better than regretting bewilderment and inaction later. If you do believe that you will resist, it is better to determine your feelings and commitment now. The consequences of resistance will be damn ugly. Decide now, because you will not have a chance to think or plan when the moment comes.
Poor Man's Air Force: A guide to how small drones might be used in domestic unrest or low intensity conflicts
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Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are changing the tactical landscape of warfare. The use of drones in conflicts has the potential to alter centuries of ground warfare in the same way as disruptive technologies like smokeless powder, the repeating firearm, tanks, and radios did in the past. Not just a rhetorical discussion of drone warfare, this book looks at practical usage by the prepared citizen, partisan, and soldier.
In 2022, Ukrainian use of modified consumer-grade drones for attack surprised the world who had only really seen them used in intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance roles. Lurid videos of grenades being dropped on unaware troops heralds a terrifying new reality in warfare: the poor man’s air force. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are bringing an aerial observation and attack capacity to forces, large and small, that have never had such an advantage before. From warfare, to terrorism, and even self-defense, we have only seen the cusp of what drones can do.
Quadcopters have taken aerial hunting and attacks out of the domain of scout helicopters and delivered it to the squad and individual level. In future conflicts, be they full-scale international wars, civil wars, or domestic unrest, use of drones will be commonplace. Their ease of use will make killing easier, enabling those who cannot or would not be soldiers or insurgents to participate in violence. Drones are a new threat as IEDs were and will be used in similar ways to both sniper attacks and bombings against civilian, military, and government targets.
Thanks to their inherent intelligence gathering nature and developing attack capabilities, drones have the ability to level the playing field or dramatically tilt in favor of the side with aerial assets. In a civil conflict or during the aftermath of a major destabilizing event, drones will play a huge part in both self-defense and any violence. Proliferation of small unmanned aerial systems will occur rapidly, so their potential impact and use in small paramilitary, irregular, and civilian hands deserves examination.
Part I: Small Unmanned Aerial Systems
How Policing May Collapse
Note: This is an adapted excerpt from my book Suburban Warfare: A cop's guide to surviving a civil war, SHTF, or modern urban combat.
Earlier, we looked at what effect the Christopher Dorner (the ex-LAPD officer who went on an anti-law enforcement rampage) manhunt had on Southern California police. The conclusion I made there is that targeted killing of police, even on a small scale, will have a huge effect on how police operate from day to day. In a SHTF-future, citizens assassinating police will have deep repercussions.
In the assassination scenario, cops de-police and don't show up for work. Disasters can have the same effect. During Hurricane Katrina, pretty much all of New Orleans PD deserted or was non-mission capable and looked what happened. "Inner city" Chicago is another live example.
However it does shake out, the future is one without police. You will be on your own and you and your neighbors will have to figure out how the peace was kept ages ago. For those unable or unwilling to defend themselves, things will be very bad as they are at the mercy of the bad guys. Prepare for an interim period of street terrorism, rampant crime, and just enough police to catch you.
Police officers can go to work in jurisdictions distant from their homes because those officers know that their local cops will be watching over their families. Not personally, of course, but cops just as dedicated will be proactively patrolling and responding to calls. That’s how a cop living in Staten Island can police the Bronx. If local law enforcement is not present at the officer’s home, the odds are greatly reduced that he will be willing to leave his family to give his protection to strangers.
This system of trust is what makes modern policing work. Even officers who work for an agency that has within its jurisdiction the officer’s home might not be assigned so as to watch over their own neighborhood. Even then the officer might be too busy to protect his family. So all cops rely on other cops to provide that coverage for their neighborhood.
In an emergency that’s so bad that officers cannot trust their local cops to police their neighborhood, officers will not come in to work. Why should a guy from the suburbs commute an hour to risk his life protecting the ghetto while no one from the suburban PD is on the street or answering 9-1-1?
Most cops don’t want to live in bad neighborhoods or big cities where they work. They can afford to live in the suburbs or nicer neighborhoods and often do. The areas that are impoverished, have a lot of violence, are outright ghettos, etc. will probably have no policing. If its that bad, no cop is going to risk his life for low-class people in an area infested with gangs, drugs, and crime. Inner cities will become war zones and that disorder will spill over into the lower-middle class and middle-class bordering areas.
High-income residential areas will likely be able to purchase police or other protection, whether that is a straight monetary transaction or involves politics. Officers might no-show in a violent precinct but show up for work in a wealthy area.
So what does this mean for the average citizen? Areas home to a lot of cops will have a lot of off-duty cops available for neighborhood defense. Their participation will vary. Off-duty officers who don’t work for the local agency will probably not be acting in a public capacity. My suggestion to agencies would be to re-deploy staff to patrol the areas where they live and absorb any non-local officers into the agency structure.
If you don’t have a lot of cops where you live, you will need to handle the policing, if your officers are staying home. Here is one example close to me. LAPD officers living in Simi Valley can go to work protecting Los Angeles because they know Simi PD and Ventura deputies will (figuratively) watch over their homes and families when they are gone.
This is hugely important because safety in many communities relies on officers that don’t necessarily live there. In large cities or counties, officers who live within their agency’s jurisdiction might not live on the beat they patrol. I’ve been assigned to the beat with my home in it and also worked in an entirely different patrol division across the county. But I knew that if there was a big earthquake or some other Really Bad Thing, even if I was across the county, dudes I could count on were keeping the streets safe at home.
Going back to 1992, when the Rodney King riots erupted, this trust in the cops back at home was a big deal. Simi Valley was where the LAPD officers were tried due to a change-in-venue from LA County. I worked with deputies who were present at the courthouse when the acquittal came down and the situation was tense. There were scuffles and a lot of angry people who had to be dealt with, but being 1992 and not 2020, no one burned down the courthouse.
Today, Simi Valley would have been ground zero for the riots. Major disruptive protests probably would have already been happening. As it was, Simi Valley and the Ventura County residents that acquitted the officers were accused of being racists. A real worry was that rioters would come up the freeways into Ventura County and cause problems there. LA basin cops had their concerns, but for us in Ventura, no one worried about rioting at home.
Rioting began in South Central LA and was generally confined to that area (for various reasons). We did not see opportunistic looting in upscale areas across the LA basin or into other cities as we did in 2020. While there was sympathetic rioting and unrest in other cities across the nation, none of it was to the scale of the George Floyd riots. The relatively confined nature of 1992 meant that local law enforcement could be concentrated on the riots and mutual aid requests could be fulfilled from other California agencies.
In 2020, while the rioting went national, mutual aid was still able to be utilized. Most residential areas were safe, as were the suburbs. So while society hadn’t totally collapsed, we did see bad actors exploiting the unrest to loot malls and stores with relative impunity as many major police agencies effectively “stood down.” Using Ventura County again, the Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks and the Camarillo Outlet Mall (both 40-60 miles west of Downtown LA on US 101) were closed and guarded by deputies. Nothing happened at either, but most cities in Ventura County during that period experienced some form of protest.
What I’m getting at is that police resources were not totally strained to the point that areas went without police coverage. A lot of cops in Southern California personally increased their own personal readiness posture at home just in case, but no one called in sick to guard their families. Law enforcement across the country was strained but did not collapse. Officers had trust in their brothers and sisters.
In a breakdown of law enforcement this trust goes away. Individual officers are too fearful for their families to leave them undefended. If the world ends, no way is an LAPD cop going to leave his family if he doesn’t absolutely know that a Simi PD black and white will be there for his loved ones.
Our own families and our tribe—be that our neighbors, friends, or just our small part of the world—are more important than strangers. Asking a cop to prioritize strangers all the way across town to the actual or potential detriment of his family and tribe is a losing proposition. Without someone keeping the peace in his neighborhood, an officer will struggle to remain attentive and effective at his duties on his beat. Put another way, why does an LAPD officer care about stopping a riot in the ghetto when rioters are driving up to Simi Valley and invading homes without police intervention?
Again, a collapse of policing hasn’t really been seen in America. During the George Floyd riots, police, usually for political means, didn’t intervene to stop the thefts and vandalism. Yet riots were somewhat contained (usually) and ordinary law enforcement and police protection went on elsewhere. 9-1-1 was still working. During Hurricane Katrina, we did see officers totally desert or abrogate their duties. In the latter situation, could one fault an officer staying home to protect his house and family knowing that there was a very low chance other cops would respond?
Major factors in police desertion will be conservation/gathering of resources and personal/family safety. A cop is not going to want to burn 10 gallons of fuel he may not get back driving forty miles from the high desert to downtown LA. Likewise, someone who is struggling to find enough food to keep his family from starving isn’t going to want to divert the hours necessary for that to perform a job that isn’t guaranteed to put food on the table.
Public employees in the emergency services or critical public works should be relocated to staff facilities and stations as near their homes as possible. This will reduce transportation expense and time should fuel sources, etc. be constrained. Employees will also feel that their efforts are more related to the survival of their families, friends, and themselves if they are working in or near where they live.
Police will not want to leave their loved ones to fend for themselves while he provides security for strangers; the officer would rather stay home and provide direct protection than trust some other officer who might or might not be there for him. The officer might not be guarding his house, but if he’s not far away, he can respond home and also provide area protection that benefits him, his family, and his community. Simply said public servants care more if they feel they’re working for their neighborhood.
First responders will not put their or their family’s survival behind that of the public. The safety and survival of families are as vital of that as the officers, medics, and fire fighters for an agency to continue to be viable post-catastrophe.
If you want an overly-optimistic idea of what post-SHTF (EMP, in this case) policing might look like in a worst-case scenario, I wrote two novels on the topic.
Problem: Jesus-is-my-boyfriend theology; thinking God is different in the OT/NT; thinking Jesus is a wimp; thinking that Christianity isn’t masculine.
It has to be understood that the God of the Bible is consistent through the entire story. The Old Testament God, be it the Father in Heaven or the Theophany (Jesus’ pre-Incarnation appearance in the OT), is the same God in the New Testament. Yaweh (I am who I am), is a righteous and honorable god who is also merciful.
A oft-made complaint is that Jesus is some weak pusillanimous hippie and not at all like the OT God; that the Bible doesn’t speak to masculinity and manliness, etc. Um, have you read it? Probably not if that was your takeaway. Maybe you did but you were hopelessly biased or have poor reading comprehension skills.
What people fail to understand is that multiple things can be true at once. God can be vengeful, judgmental, and forgiving as well. Christian theology teaches that God is the originator of all things; his personal nature is as real as physics. This means that things like honor and justice derive from God. God also plays by his rules, which creates some interesting cases.
You’ve got this righteous, omnipotent being who is so honorable he will not break his own rules. Yet his favorite creation sinned, condemning them to death and eternal separation from him. Nothing these humans can do will redeem themselves. So what does he do? He decides to become a man in order to bear all the sins of the world in sacrifice. I doubt we can really understand it this side of eternity.
This attitude of forgiveness and a peaceful God in the form of Jesus is not inconsistent with the OT. All throughout the Bible, both testaments, forgiveness is clear. Does this prayer of David seem like someone who doesn’t believe in grace? “But the Law of Moses…”
It’s not contradictory for God to think homosexuals deserve the death penalty, for example, but that they can repent and perhaps spare themselves. Lots of people repented in the OT and God did not strike them down. David was an adulterer and murderer yet he repented and did great things for God, in spite of his sin. (Heck, in the New Testament the greatest persecutor of Christians was redeemed to become the greatest evangelizer of all time.)
In the OT, God does offer forgiveness and the whole Jewish theological doctrine of salvation is the hope that God will offer grace—that is an unmerited pardon from the guilt of their sins. But to condemn them, he had to make the law as well. And yes, this loving, forgiving God in the OT does have to do some really nasty stuff, even to the people he loves. “After all, he’s not a tame Lion,” C. S. Lewis might say.
Whatifalthist said to the effect that the reason the OT God is so harsh is because that’s how gods in the Middle East had to be back then. A part of this is secular historians’ making the argument that a passive god wouldn’t be an attractive figure to the Israelites contemporaries, so humans constructing a religion would give their god characteristics of a tough guy. A certain element of fear would also required to keep people in line.
Since I accept the Bible as true, I do believe that God did have to be tough with the Israelites because people back then literally needed a vengeful god to keep them in line. If you are familiar with the OT, you know that the Israelites are a “stiff necked people,” rebelled against God multiple times, and got themselves into trouble a lot. God literally asks Moses “Hey, do you want me to kill all these losers and start over with you?”
God says plenty of times the only reason he hasn’t abandoned Israel is because he made an eternal covenant with them that they will be his chosen people. He lets them dig themselves into a hole and then, after they’ve suffered the consequences and repent, he bails them out. It will happen one last time before they finally open their eyes.
So we get to the New Testament and have hippie-Jesus-is-my-boyfriend guy. This attitude is wrongly taught by too many “warehouse churches” today giving people the wrong impression that God is weak and Christianity isn’t masculine or tough. I think the Crusaders would beg to differ. Throughout history, Christianity has been as “chad” as Islam has, but those are the political sides of religion, not the “real” side.
The whole point of the Incarnation as Jesus was a mission of forgiveness and redemption. Jesus was to come as a Lamb the first time in order to be the sacrifice of sin. The Gospel is good news because the provision for man’s sin and the reconciling of mankind to God had arrived. But that didn’t mean Jesus was just some wimp.
Probably the best example of Dark Jesus is the cleansing of the Temple when he whips the moneychangers and merchants ripping people off. One of you on Twitter posted that Jesus had to sit there making a whip, which was not a quick process, probably giving a death stare to these guys before he went on his rampage. Can you imagine the terror if they knew who he was? Peter walks up to a moneychanger: “Um yeah hi, YHWH is over there making a whip and when he’s finished he’s going to beat your ass. You might wanna think about refunds and packing up your table.”
The kind of guys who think Jesus is a pussy are like the women who see their “tough” husband cry at his mom’s funeral and suddenly want a divorce because they think he’s weak. Jesus told the Pharisees off to their face—that’s like calling out Antifa in the middle of a Portland riot. Many times the Apostles got chased out of towns.
Now to modern churches. Yes, a lot of modern churches teach the Jesus-is-my-boyfriend gospel because it’s popular right now. On modern Earth, people want to hear what makes them feel good right now. Joel Osteen, anyone? It’s beyond Christianity too; you can’t criticize [redacted] or point out the hypocrisy in the LGBTQAH47 community. No one wants to hear the harsh truth, especially the Federal Reserve and Congress, let alone some IQ 90 people who feel like crap because they made bad decisions in life.
The forgiveness message takes over in a lot of modern American Christianity because it attracts a lot of broken people. If you are so burdened down by having lead an objectively bad life, supernatural forgiveness is the only way to make amends for that. Hence Jesus’ mission and Christianity. That’s why it attracts ex-porn stars, single moms, addicts, and criminals. Jesus for the sinners.
The problem with that is too many churches get stuck in the “it’s all okay” message so people don’t ever have to feel bad. Stupid preachers are one problem and the other is a business decision. These less-sincere preachers don’t want to turn people off, see attendance decline, and lose tithe money with a message of “Hey, living with your girlfriend and having threesomes on the weekend isn’t what God intended.” I exaggerate but that’s it.
Boyfriend-Jesus is popular with the single mom crowd and keeps everybody who can’t bear a strong message happy. That doesn’t work for a lot of men and does little for spiritual development. Sin has to be called out. Forgiveness is great and all but sin has consequences. Look at it this way: if you pig out once in a while, you can work off that weight and eat better, but if you just give into gluttony you’ll weight 600lbs. The western church is the 600lb woman now.
One Iranian Christian woman went back to Iran because she felt the churches here were dead and she didn’t want to backslide. Christianity isn’t for wimps. Jesus said the fate of Christians was to be persecuted and killed. He promised hardship and suffering, not prosperity. The latter is nice and all but not a guarantee. Our society right now is an aberration in world history.
So as I conclude this rant, please, sit down and read the Bible. Get a good, modern translation but not anything “woke.” The NLT is okay and so is NIV84, but also try the legion of American English translations published since the late 19th century. Once you’ve gotten the gist of it, you can have translations wars later. Read the Bible and understand the picture in full; don’t take it piecemeal from the Internet, TV preachers, or the couple times you’ve been to church.
Specifically to those warrior types who think the world is gonna end soon (it probably is), I suggest my friend Joe Dolio’s Tactical Wisdom series. It’s basically non-boring field manuals on how to basically be a Marine (or solider) but he also discusses the badass portions of the Bible like where Gideon leads a guerilla raid and uses psyops. Seriously.
I shit on a lot of neo-pagans on Twitter recently and frankly, I’m not sorry, but I did say I would explain myself and I will do that. I had a much longer version of this but it basically got into an argument that couldn’t escape the “first causes” trap.
I argue that pagans choose their religion because it tickles their fancy and not because they actually believe that Valkyries are going to usher them into Odin’s hall. It is not a reality to them in the same way devout Muslim fears Allah or a Christian endeavors to see Jesus return again, but a superstition based entirely on personal preference.
One fellow believes in a nebulous “higher power” but I ask don’t you want to know who this higher power is? By what principles it works? I must admit that I see people who believe in a “higher power” as someone who believes in gravity but denies the laws of physics are real.
2 Timothy 3:5 sums up my thoughts on this spirituality “…having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” I refer to a belief in religious customs—with or without an organization, scripts, or pantheon—ungrounded in any sincere confidence that the theology is indeed reality. All religions are subjective to the outsider, but I fail to see how you can take comfort in something that doesn’t have a firm underpinning in at least it’s own reality.
Many new-age or neo-pagan devotees have admitted they adopted their beliefs for superficial reasons that appeal to an aesthetic they admire. I’d gonna bet you didn’t actually read the Bible in detail or bother to understand it.
I am being slightly hyperbolic, but I see neo-pagans as “Wow, this pagan religion has cool stories and characters. I’m going to believe that.” Congratulations, you are the same as the nerd who likes Star Wars so much that he decides to change his religion to Jedi because Luke Skywalker is cool. The Germanic tribes Caesar fought didn’t get a choice to be pagan or not.
Of course, in the modern world everything is relative so by the logic of relativism I’m equally crazy for believing the Bible is real. The difference is I believe that YHWH and his human form Jesus are indeed real and powerful, that is, supernatural and extant. I seriously doubt most of those who claim to be neo-pagans believe that Thor and Odin are real in the same sense that devout Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe their god is real.
So, getting down to it, is a pagan prayer or ritual really going to appeal to the “higher power” to save my life or am I just putting my mind in order for battle? Am I putting my faith in Mars to see me safely through the war or am I better off taking a Xanax, doing some breathing techniques, and having faith in Kevlar? Reading Kipling might give me a better understanding about my experience and feelings, and Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day Speech might inspire me before the attack, but neither will keep me alive.
For instance, the Bible would be about as much comfort as Kipling to me if I didn’t believe that Jesus (who is the God of the Bible) was real. Psalm 91 is just a poem, not a prayer. In a world where spirituality is ungrounded in a firm theology, it’s all just a psychological balm. That’s all it might be, but until we can scientifically prove it I’m going to stick with the Bible.
Podcast with Radiant Creators
I did a podcast with Radiant Creators. It was an excellent conversation (way better than with the voices in my head). Have a listen!
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Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.