When we think of catastrophic human events, it’s not often that we imagine they can happen in our own backyard. Despite being the author of books that literally prepare for a defense against civil unrest, I couldn’t imagine my native Ventura County, California, becoming the site of a high-profile incident.
On Sunday November 5, in the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks, a Jewish pro-Israel protestor was involved in an altercation of some sort with a pro-Palestinian protestor. The Jewish man somehow fell and struck his head; whether he just fell or was struck/pushed is a matter for the courts. This event has ignited local and national controversy over the current crisis in the Middle East and could serve as the igniting event of domestic unrest.
The victim’s memorial service was held at Temple Etz Chaim at Janss Rd. and the 23 freeway without incident. A suspect has been arrested on involuntary manslaughter charges, which might prove to be a catalyst for troublemaking. So far, the suspect has been cooperative but it isn’t him that the public should be worried about. Rather, it is outside agitators and terrorists that might exploit the situation for their own purposes.
Yes, “T. O.” is on the fringes of the Los Angeles metro as one of its suburbs, but the city is quite different from LA. It is a purple, predominately white, upper middle class city that has consistently been one of the safest large cities in America. The chances of some major social controversy erupting here seemed small, yet it happened. For those anti-California supremacists out there, I remind you that the people of Charlottesville, VA, or Kenosha, WI, never expected their towns would turn into the center of major civil unrest.
Any protests would likely be using the actual incident as an excuse to engage in civil disorder. We saw in 2020 the “causes” be supposed racism against blacks, George Floyd, and police brutality. In 2023, we are seeing protests and unrest over American support for Israel in the wake of the Hamas attack. It is possible that anti-Semitism wrapped up as “support for Palestinians” as a rallying cry. The incident and any prosecution would simply be a MacGuffin for protest.
Those concerned about emergencies or civil unrest (SHTF) need to do an area study of their location. I’ll leave it to Mike Shelby of Gray Zone Activity (and Forward Observer) to tell you how to do an area study, but I’d like to examine some important angles of intelligence preparedness. I’m going to skip over a lot of stuff, but where are the physical locations that are likely to experience unrest of some form should this explode into 2020-style unrest?
A benefit to this being real-world is that you can “follow along” so to speak and pull this all up on the map. In fact, I would encourage you to do so, which will allow you to better wargame your own scenarios where you live.
Potential protest locations
Additional points of concern:
The site of the incident as a subsequent protest location should be fairly obvious. As Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said in a press conference, the intersection itself is popular for protests because it is a high-traffic location where two large arterial streets converge near a freeway. It is a natural place to hold demonstrations for sheer visibility. Any significance it has is about being seen or symbolic to the incident.
The Government Center (courthouse), where a hearing or trial may be held, along with the fact that the jail (where the suspect is incarcerated) is located in the same complex. The advantage to a protest here is greater open space and symbolism, plus potential juror intimidation. The civic center also serves a similar symbolic purpose and is about two miles from the site of the incident.
But this incident happened in Thousand Oaks, 30 miles away! Why would anyone protest in Ventura over a homicide that happened elsewhere over a conflict on the other side of the planet? Well, Ventura is the county seat, where the courthouse is, and most importantly, where the jail is. The suspect will be booked in Ventura and arraigned just across the Government Center campus. Court houses and jails have been the natural foci of protests.
As for the sheriff’s station, a loss of legitimacy (or fear) of police can precipitate protests. We’ve seen plenty of examples of police being targeted for protests or overrunning the station. Also, a large protest could paralyze the station would hamper any operations in response to unrest. Freeway on/off-ramps are points of concern because protestors seeking to cause disruption have frequently walked on to the freeways to disrupt traffic.
Looting targets include the auto mall and the large, indoor Oaks Mall. There are also many strip and outdoors malls proximate to the incident location as well that could be targeted by roving rioters/looters. Additionally, should law enforcement in the area be overwhelmed with responding to a protest/riot, this would make homes and businesses all over the city vulnerable.
The number of participants in the main focus of events (riot/protest) wouldn’t be enough to create a citywide threat, nor would the local population pose much risk of riot, but LA is not far away. Looting-prone riff-raff and organized criminals might come up to exploit the situation. This is the situation that happened in 2020 where areas with riots became looting magnets that pulled in opportunists from all over the surrounding areas.
However, there are only two freeway access points into Ventura County from Los Angeles County and those are easily closed. With more manpower, the smaller roads that provide access can be closed, deterring most criminals who would have to be local or make a very wide detour.
With houses of worship and any other targets, the neighborhoods nearby could become targets. The North Ranch, Westlake Village, and TO Blvd.-adjacent neighborhoods could face spillover looting, vandalism, harassment, and perhaps even direct attack on homeowners. At the very minimum, there would be major traffic disruption, noise, and security concerns. Furthermore, given the hilly and brushy/wooded topography of the city, unintentional ignitions and arson make brushfires a concern as well.
To conclude, again it is not to say that anything will necessarily happen in Ventura County, but it certainly can. If not here, then it will happen in another community in the US for other reasons. Even if this only becomes my personal case study rather than international headlines, the principals can be and should be applied to where you live. It might not be rioting, but it could be looting or something else. Use your imagination and start thinking about what around you might serve as the focal point for events in a human disaster.
About the author: Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and author of the Suburban Defense/Rural Home Defense series, a cop's guides to surviving riots, civil war, or SHTF.
Note: this an adaptation from my non-fiction book Suburban Warfare: A cop's guide to surviving a civil war, SHTF, or modern urban combat, available on Amazon.