An Interview with Marc MacYoung
Interview by Gila Hayes
Throughout the summer and now moving toward Inauguration Day and other potential flashpoints, Network members are increasingly concerned about mob violence coming into their neighborhoods and work locations. Most have never had to deal with multiple attackers to say nothing of mobs. Violence dynamics expert Marc MacYoung (pictured above, right) has both an experiential understanding about riots (from being an L.A. resident during the 1992 riots) and the ability to teach about it through his work as an expert witness distilling research into explanations about violent group behavior for defense attorneys, juries and judges.
I spoke with MacYoung recently, wanting to understand more about indications that crowds are becoming violent and how to avoid getting caught up in it. He explained much about the current situation and suggested options for escaping a riot-torn area.
We share the conversation here so our members can develop survival strategies to avoid getting caught up in the violence. Let’s switch now to Q & A to learn from MacYoung in his own words.
eJournal: The news is full of reports of rallies, marches, demonstrations, protests–some are even specifically reported as peaceful protests but still have the predictable ending, riots—if I am using the term “riot” correctly. Let’s start by defining the terms. Why is accurate terminology important?
MacYoung: For the most part, rallies and protests are permitted, and by that, I mean, they actually got permits from the city to hold a rally or a march. One thing I love about living in this country is that the government will help you protest. You get your paperwork in, and they will assign you a route, they will set up barriers, they will divert traffic. You’ve got the police helping, redirecting traffic, keeping the impact down as much as possible, although that’s less for the protesters than it is for everybody else.
In layman’s terms, a rally is a gathering that is “for” something. A protest is a bunch of people getting together and saying they are “against” something. A march is often in tandem with either a protest or a rally and people walk a predetermined route to where they listen to their speakers and have their rally. All of this is legal if you do the paperwork, and that is basically just so you don’t cause traffic jams. It gives people warning. If your business is on a route, they will tell you, “There is going to be a march on this day.” So, it really is civilized; it really is cooperative. “Yay us!” for having that.
The reasons it is important to understand the differences is because an event will go through the phases the terms describe. You may also have outside influences coming in and really messing things up. A term that I really dislike has become popular. That term is “counter protest.” Now, I am a writer, so I am very sensitive to words. “Counter protest” both legitimizes and delegitimizes at the same time
eJournal: How so?
MacYoung: If I am holding a rally and I have all of my permits, calling people who show up en masse to disrupt “counter protesters” makes them sound legitimate. If you think about it, taking this further, calling it a counter protest also implies that the first group is also protesting. With a linguistic sleight of hand, when the “counter protesters show up, all of a sudden it makes “protesters” of the people at the rally, against whom the other people are protesting. If you can identify the people who have the permits to hold the rally, then you can see who else showed up just to disrupt.
Counter protesters tend to be mobs and they show up to disrupt other programs. The best example is a hot button, but if you talk about the Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville, North Carolina, they had, I believe, no more than 300 people. I am doing this from memory, so I am not sure of the numbers, but it has been estimated that upwards of 30,000 “counter protesters” showed up without permits. The first group had a permit and had their little march and their rally. Then the mob showed up.
There is another distinction that is very important. A protest or rally is set for a specific period of time. You have the permits to hold a protest or rally in a particular park from a specific time to a specific time. Afterwards, as people disperse, they may then begin rioting.
Now, to define a riot: Once it has been declared that a group has become unruly and destructive, it is called a riot. It is not just a group that is setting things on fire and throwing things. When the police announce that this is an illegal gathering that is a step in the direction toward declaring a riot. Have you ever heard the term “reading the riot act?” There is a formal declaration, an announcement, and it is a step in the process to authorize the police to use force.
Police will announce to people that it has been declared an illegal gathering and that they are ordered to leave. They will make the announcement for 15 or 20 minutes and what they’re doing is establishing an ongoing pattern of non-compliance. When all the people standing there have heard the announcement that this has been declared a riot, they are now officially and knowingly disobeying lawful orders to disperse. Rocks may have been flying prior to this, but now is when you get the teargas flying.
eJournal: In light of the many permitted rallies, I have got to wonder how so many transform from speeches, banners, and chanted slogans into wholesale destruction and head bashing?
MacYoung: I know of several real ugly situations that started in the day as happy-happy, joyous, legal, well-behaved protests or rallies, and then later, as the day advanced, a different crew came in and started whipping up the crowd. Basically, all the nice people went home, and they were replaced by the troublemakers. I call that shift change.
eJournal: Are there hints, clues and indicators we should detect to tell us that the tenor of the gathering has changed?
MacYoung: I know of one gathering where there was a rally and during the day high school students were talking about the issues and what needed to be done, and then later in the day the representatives of another group showed up and began threatening people in the area. When the reporters were at that event it was a happy-happy, warm, joyous, fluffy time. When the camera crews went home, the shift change happened.
eJournal: It is interesting that once the media leaves, the opposing force is free to create havoc.
MacYoung: Yes, isn’t that funny? And that never gets reported. The CNN report says that the event was “mostly peaceful” – during the day it was peaceful. The media shenanigan is when they report the whole thing from daytime to late at night as all the same event. You get the reports of mostly peaceful protests, because the cameras left before the second shift arrived.
eJournal: Is shift change linked to sunset?
MacYoung: It depends, but it is important for you to understand that if a permitted rally is happening in a park, and the protesters show up to protest what is being said at the rally, then a lot of the daytime violence will happen after the rally is over. The rally is breaking up and people are trying to go home or could just be walking down the street near a park where a rally was held. The protesters are running around and picking off people who attended the rally that they caught alone or in small numbers or just attacking people. You need to understand that they are hunting people.
You have no doubt heard about all the arrests at the Proud Boys rallies. It is not the Proud Boys getting arrested; it is not the rally attendees getting arrested; it is the protesters who were roving around rampaging in the streets being arrested. They are the ones who are clashing with anybody who is there. Basically, they are just looking for a fight. A lot of times they end up clashing with the police. When the media reports that many arrests were made at a right wing rally, most of the people getting arrested are various and sundry people who are out to just cause a fuss.
eJournal: Are some just bored people who enjoy brawling, for whom a rally is a spontaneous opportunity? On the other hand, we are told that organizations recruit and bring in protesters to speak against the ideology espoused at rallies.
MacYoung: Hang on! This is a cesspool that gets really deep. Yes, there are people who hear about a rally, and just show up because, “Hey, it is a chance to beat somebody up.” Yes, that does exist.
Having said that, there really is a very large degree of coordination among opposition groups like sending out messages through social media, email chains, etc. They’ll call people from multiple states to come in and protest. I have seen photos and videos of pallets of broken bricks being delivered downtown. This is coordinated action. It is coordinated action when fireworks that are legal in other states are being brought in en masse and distributed at these mostly peaceful protests. The little birdies who tell me things that never reach the news tell me they know there is coordinated action, but they just do not know who is doing it.
The groups organizing the protesters are going out of their way to recruit from the mentally ill and the criminals. They are using them as cannon fodder and are getting them and arming them and sending them out. Mao Zedong made a comment that, “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”
That analogy is not only useful for training terrorists, but it goes a long way helping you understand what kind of forces are at play. The people — both at the rally and those protesting it — create the crowd that is the cover for looking to riot. They are the sea. You have large numbers of people who are not going to be violent, but you also have people who intend to be violent, who came prepared to be violent, and more importantly, came equipped to be violent.
Realize that these violent types are working in concert, if not outright coordination. That means you are acting as a single individual. I don’t care if you were a Marine! I read a report about a guy who decided because he was a Marine, he would go to the protest and he would be safe, and it went very badly for him. Understand that this is not a situation that you want to face. You don’t want to have to make a last stand! That is the point at which we reached the understanding that we really like the idea of a battling retreat.
It is very important that you understand that the most dangerous time is after the rally, after the speeches are done, when the crowd begins to disperse. Whether it is the protesters who are pouncing on the people who have attended the rally, or it is the people who attended the protest who have decided, “Sure, the official event is over, but now we are going to go out and cause havoc.”
Now you have roaming packs of people who, for lack of a better description, are taking over an area. They are prowling and hunting. If these guys come together, this can turn into a riot, destruction of property and attacking people.
eJournal: People get scared thinking about huge crowds screaming and yelling, so your description of smaller packs bent on causing injury or death deserves our attention. Is there a cumulative effect that encourages violence when lots of people have come together?
MacYoung: Yes, you could have one or two or you could have 1,000 people with 100 people in among them who are attacking. To explain this, I need to psychobabble for a minute.
There is a thing called deindividuation. Because we human beings are social primates there is a switch inside our heads to go from acting as individuals to acting as part of a group. In other words, flip the switch and we are no longer individuals; we are the mob. That is a really big mental shift that Jordan Peterson said, “Remember, when you are dealing with a mob, you are not dealing with individuals. You are dealing with an idea that has people in its possession.” You cannot reason with them.
It is really terrifying to see the switch get flipped. To complicate it, we do not know how many people it will take to flip that switch for any particular person. Some people just need the idea that others would support them before they can flip the switch. You may have someone who is backing up his buddy or he is with a small circle of friends for whom it could take 10 people to flip the switch. For someone else, it could take 100 people, for another it could take 1,000 people before they’d flip the switch. There is no hard and fast number for when a switch may be flipped.
Next, you don’t know whether they will act or whether they will just stand there and cheer what is being done. Approval can spur on the few to attack harder, but also at the same time, these people are providing cover. Basically, when you are dealing with a mob, there are going to be a few people who are very, very violent but they are going to have a lot of support, and that support can extend into hitting you while your back is turned. You may be facing one guy, and someone else comes up and smashes a bottle over your head. It is a very complex and fluid situation.
eJournal: The challenge of predicting when a situation may become violent is greatly complicated by the question of how to identify a violent protester over a simple rally attendee. More and more, I think we’re simply becoming unwilling to be part of any large crowd and getting out quickly if caught in a crowd.
MacYoung: Right, and most don’t have little signs on them that say, “Hi, I am the extremist!” versus, “Hi, I am the moderate guy.” Besides, there can be only so many hands on the rope during a lynching…
eJournal: ...but whether there are 10 or 100 in the crowd, somebody still ends up dead …
MacYoung: …and there can be a large crowd cheering on the hands that are on the rope. How do you defend yourself in a mob situation? Have you seen wolves surrounding an animal? They do not attack the pointy end. One will lunge forward and nip then another will lunge forward and bite. As the defender turns to face the new attack, yet another one attacks.
Defending yourself in a mob situation, it is not defense against just a single mob action, it is against a series of attacks by different individuals. So, the guy you may be looking at is not doing anything, but when you turn away, he is the one who throws a rock at you. It is a very fluid and dangerous situation that you, as an individual, are going to have a very hard time handling, because if one guy attacks and is backpedaling when you shoot him, that is not going to go over well.
It is just a horrible mess, but before you go down that road, understand that there are signs and, in my book, Multiple Attackers, I give lists of indicators that the troublemakers have shown up – certain behavioral changes, clothing changes, and equipment. You will see people acting in a coordinated manner, and that is where you begin to get into bigger issues.
There is drone footage of an attack on police in Chicago that shows the coordinated movement of the crowd. The marchers were going down the road, and all of a sudden, they made a unified turn at a signal. Guys who had been riding around on their bicycles suddenly lined up to keep the police away from the crowd. They held their bikes as a shield wall to interfere with police intervention.
Something else you have to watch for is people showing up with backpacks and umbrellas. They hold the umbrellas up so the drones cannot see what they are doing. In the Chicago footage, the umbrellas went up, people changed into feature-disguising clothes and when they came out from under the umbrellas, they were armed with rocks, bottles, and projectiles. You take a bottle of water and you freeze it. Is that in case you get thirsty or is that a projectile?
eJournal: In some areas, carrying umbrellas and backpacks is very common! I doubt you will know if the frozen bottle was to drink or throw until it knocks you out. We need to figure this out before it goes that far!
MacYoung: First things first: If you get notice that things are happening down at a certain place, like there is going to be a march on this date or a protest at this place, do not go down there. Avoid it! That is the starting point.
If you are there and an impromptu protest happens consider closing down your business and leaving. If you have an appointment and you see this happening, make a phone call and say, “Hey, I am not going to make it; this protest is happening.” You turn down the street and you see a bunch of people walking in the middle of the street carrying signs and yelling and screaming, do an illegal U turn, leave! Do not drive into a crowd! Do not think they will get out of the way. Leave!
All of this comes BEFORE you get to the battling retreat. If you get caught in a situation, handle first things first! Move away from the windows! I do not know why but it seems like people in Starbucks love to “prairie dog,” and they stand right by the windows watching, as if to say, “Oh, look, there is a protest here,” and then they complain when they get covered in broken glass. Move away from the window.
Understand that for a lot of these guys, it is not necessarily about looting. It is now about destruction. There are looting groups out there, make no mistake, but a lot of times what you will see are guys who will suddenly gear up – and by that, I mean put on safety equipment like gloves, facial coverings and safety glasses to protect themselves because when you smash windows, glass flies. As an aside, if you look over and see a guy with facial covering and he is carrying a medic’s bag, it is time to go, too.
Basically, look and see what direction the crowd is moving in and move in the opposite direction. Lateral movement away from crowds is always a good idea. You may have to take a roundabout way. Instead of trying to circle back to where your car is, call somebody who can come and get you. You can come back and get your car later. When you are talking about roving wolf packs, really, is it worth going back into that to get your car?
eJournal: We sometimes fail to have an array of alternatives and that is the great value of what you are doing for us: you make us stop to think, “Who could I call? Where could I go? What options other than returning to the dangerous area can I use to get away?” If we have not planned and created alternatives in advance, when we are frightened, we are not likely to think creatively and may erroneously think we can’t get away without our car.
MacYoung: Or what about people you could call and ask if you could spend the night?
eJournal: Yes, that is a whole different level of help, and another thing we might not have considered or tried to have pre-arranged. The one guy I know who slowly and deliberately drove through a crowd of protesters did so because he was trapped with no way to turn around and he was trying to get home from work at night. Considering options for hunkering down instead of going home is another preparatory mental step.
MacYoung: If you have to barricade yourself inside, do it! Really, how much time are they going to spend trying to get through a securely locked door?
eJournal: Probably not much.
MacYoung: If you are facing groups and one guy is charging you, if you pull a gun you will face brandishing charges. People expect bad guys, or rioters, to run away if they pull a gun. Well, in numbers the bad guys are way less likely to run away. Even if you pull a gun on these guys, they will still be there, they will still be a threat and you will still be in danger.
Now is not the time to stand your ground but turning around and running is not going to work so well, either. If you back away, expect them to follow you. That is the reality of the situation. The question is can you back away far enough that they lose interest and go somewhere else?
eJournal: Are individuals specifically being targeted? Will running away trigger predatory instincts to chase that which runs? Is this specifically about hurting you, or is it a broader, wilder joy humans take in doing violence? We need to understand what drives the behavior.
MacYoung: You just opened a big, but very important can of worms that people have a very hard time understanding. Let me point out that rioting is fun. Destroying stuff is fun and yes, violence is fun, too, especially if you can do it safely.
eJournal: And the mob gave that person that feeling of safety.
MacYoung: Yes, the mob gives you that protection, but the mob also gives you that feeling that it is OK.
eJournal: What is our best strategy for facing someone indulging in violence who was emboldened by the mob?
MacYoung: If you are facing someone and you fall apart and you are screaming and yelling, you are going to get some guys who will be screaming and yelling back. Instead, you can do an organized withdrawal. I mean not waving my gun around. Drawing my gun has stalled their charge but it hasn’t stopped it completely. If I wave my gun around that is going to get me in trouble. If I aim a gun at somebody and he stops, I am showing good discipline by not shooting him. So, I lower my gun, and I began to back away. I do not put my gun away.
As I am backing away, I am doing everything in my power to communicate that I am leaving, to express that I do not want any trouble. I can explain that; I can defend this action, especially if I’m trying to withdraw. You can guarantee that this is going to be filmed! Withdrawing from the situation and doing everything you can do that will let you articulate your actions in trying to avoid violence when faced by multiple attackers is going to help.
eJournal: This may relate to something you’ve mentioned but we haven’t really specifically discussed yet and that is territorialism. Do the people threatening you view you as an intruder, as someone who does not belong in an area they have claimed?
MacYoung: Oh, yeah, they do consider this their turf. I mean, how many young Republicans do you see in Portland, OR? Honestly, the protesters consider it to be their turf. Literally, this is the sunset laws revisited: “Republican, do not let the sun go down on you inside the town limits.” Territorialism is a very, very important thing to consider. At this moment in time, public space, where you think you have a right to go, has been claimed by the protesters. This is like a gang war; this is gang territory.
eJournal: But there you are! Perhaps you were operating your business, or you had work at a job that’s inside this territory. So once again, you need to get yourself out of there as safely as you can.
MacYoung: Before we undertake a battling withdrawal, we need to have considered strategic retreat. I once had a situation where I was carrying a .38 caliber Detective Special. The problem was there were 50 of them; I did not have enough bullets. So, yeah, I went out the window and I took the people I was guarding with me. They went out, I followed, and we withdrew from the area. The people I was guarding were running forward, but I was walking backwards. The other people were looking at me thinking, “Well, should we rush him, or not?” Fortunately, they chose not to, but had they, I would have been on my way to Valhalla at the end of that one.
eJournal: Is successful strategic retreat a matter of timing? Did you retreat before the mob became so wrought up that they no longer cared if some of their number got shot? Did you grab the initiative before the madness took over?
MacYoung: One of the things about being part of a mob, is that it is easy to think if someone is going to get hurt, it will be someone else. Did you ever see the movie Tombstone? In one scene, Ike Clanton has got Wyatt Earp’s pistol screwed into his forehead. The other guy says, “He’s bluffing,” and Ike Clanton says, “No, he is not!” Even if you aren’t bluffing, a mob may decide it will be someone else’s head that gets turned into a canoe, so why not?
About timing, that depends. If you are more scared, that can be a trigger for the mob to charge. If your thought is, “Yes, they may get me in a rush, but I am going to take some of them with me,” as you are withdrawing, that tends to act as a deterrent. It may, or may not, be enough of a deterrent, but that is the problem with dealing with violence. There are no ultimate answers.
eJournal: When I ask you if this was a timing issue, I didn’t think timing was more about you taking action before you are scared witless, not about getting ahead of the mob’s reaction. Put another way, you took action while you were still engaged in strategic reasoning and in control of your emotions. The timing is about taking action while you are in control of yourself.
MacYoung: One of the things Jenna Meek and I talk about in our class Crime, Conflict, & Interrogation is the point of no return in the immediate threat funnel. There comes a point of no return where it is over; you are done. Most people wait until they’re way past the point of no return before they think about acting. If you have a developing situation, you have more options early on, but the closer you get to the point of no return the fewer options you have because fewer things work. If you get close to the point of no return, and only then do you start thinking about being strategic, it is too late.
Look at it, assess the situation, and say to yourself, “You know what? Now is the time to leave. It is time to get out of here before this goes sideways.”
eJournal: We have only scratched the surface of an exceedingly complex subject, and MacYoung has a lot more strategies and explanations Network members need to hear. Let’s pause for now and pick up in next month’s journal when we can move into discussions of specific situations like armed mobs marching through neighborhoods, getting caught in a vehicle, rioters harassing diners at restaurants, and more.
Marc MacYoung is an author, lecturer and martial artist. Initially known best for his street-violence survival books, he later went on to write personal safety / self-defense books and make instructional videos. MacYoung is considered to be one of the pioneers of reality-based self-defense. He has studied numerous martial arts since the age of ten and has taught law at law-enforcement agencies and military sites around the world. While you wait for the February completion of this interview, enjoy MacYoung’s and Network President Marty Hayes’ three-part video Defusing Volatile Encounters at http://armedcitizenstv.org.
To read more of this month's journal, please click here.