STAY SAFE: A Guide to Personal Security When Up Against a Violent Gang (like the police)
Now that there are concerns that police are retaliating against protesters even after the protest has ended, and perhaps are enabling/responsible for straight up kidnapping in unmarked vehicles, I wanted to release this document a knowledgeable friend sent me in order to help people stay safe out there. This is published with permission.
These aren’t my words, but I’ve looked over them and they match my experience. We have to be careful, for ourselves and for our families and friends.
The cops are a gang, and they will protect each other before they will protect you against a fellow cop. Be wary. Be safe.
>OPSEC — Determine your threat model:
If you are going to carry a simple cardboard sign, stay with the main group, and avoid confrontations, then your threat model may not be the same as a black bloc protester that plans on being a little more “passionate”. Take the measures that make sense for your situation.
Avoid anything that makes you stand out. Google “black bloc tactics” to learn more about this. Cover any identifiable tattoos, scars, or other markings of any kind. Use commonly available brands/types for bags/clothes, etc.
I do not write my lawyer’s number on my arm. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that I have my lawyer’s personal number, and also to prevent any identifying marks from being seen. As this is a common tactic, police that see it may show more aggression toward you, since they figure you expect to be arrested. If you must write a number on yourself, be aware of places where it will get smeared or wiped off. Regardless, do memorize one good phone number, like that of a partner or trusted friend that is at home. Make sure they have the contact information of all necessary parties (fellow activists, bail bonds, lawyer, boss, etc.), Never forget that protesting is a team activity.
Use a burner phone. Keep in mind a phone at a protest is likely to be lost or broken. If you want to use your phone, then get a burner phone, enable airplane mode on your main phone, then enable the wifi. Move to a different location, then turn on the burner. Connect to the wifi on the burner. Then make your calls over a voip number via wifi, like Google voice (also good for texting, and to give you another phone number), or the Signal app. Signal works. Use it. For everything when it is an option. Turn off the burner before, and preferably in a different area from where you disable airplane mode on your main phone. Do not take the burner home unless it is turned off. If I can track your phone from the protest back to your house, goodbye privacy. This is easily done.
Double phone trick notes: using both phones via cell signal in the same car, at the same time and place creates a connection from the anonymous burner and your primary phone, which will then be tracked back to your home, work, etc. Overt wear of any armor or tactical style gear will make you a target. Being the only one openly armed will make you a target (see live streams from Dallas circa July 2016 to see this happen several times).
Make sure your electronic devices are fully encrypted. Encrypt your phone, and if you expect an arrest, then remove any electronics from your home that you do not want seized (also anything else you do not want the police to find…). Use Veracrypt to encrypt Windows laptops, and use the native OS software to encrypt Macs, Linux boxes, and all phones/tablets, etc. Disable any fingerprint unlock, or change it to a rare finger only, and remove any other fingerprints stored on the device. Disable cloud backup if you do not want the police to have access to it. iPhones are generally harder for police to break into.
If using an Android, battery life is important. Consider the Motorola phones for excellent battery life in a less costly device. If using social media on your device, or banking apps, or cryptocurrency, then you may consider logging out of those services or just using a burner with limited access to things. If you are a Facebook page admin, you may not want the police to gain access to your page, or see information about other administrators.
Use Signal to communicate when available, and use disappearing messages. Other options include Wire (decent) and Telegram (poor). Expect your phone to be tracked, and expect IMSI catchers (stingrays) to be catching all the information you send from your device over cellular signal. Consider using this against them, and allow them to catch fake data that is not encrypted. Regardless, occasionally send out fake data. Remember, “The chair is against the wall… John has a long mustache…”. Maybe make this a bit clearer for false info.
Eyewear: Wear goggles of some sort. The fascists are shooting at you. Get quality ballistic rated goggles, or similar. Good brands are ESS, Oakley, and Wiley X. Some fit over glasses, some accept prescription inserts. Never wear contacts to a protest. The caustic chemical weapons being used against you may get into your eye, under the contact. This can cause significant damage. And it effing hurts. Trust me.
Masks: Use the highest rated P rated mask you can find. P100s work well. A military issue type NBC/CBRN protective mask is even better. Photographers, consider the mirrorless cameras to allow you to shoot using the live view screen with good autofocus even when wearing a mask or goggles, as the typical viewfinder is mostly useless in such a situation.
Body protection: Level II body armor vests can be easily worn under a loose shirt. Level III A vests are a bit thicker, but work better. Both of these are “soft” armor, meaning they are far more comfortable, and far lighter than hard armor. A good source of these is buying second-hand police surplus. Level III/IV is required to stop rifle rounds, and that requires hard plates. Use your judgment on whether or not you want to bother with that. If wearing a vest, wear a cotton shirt underneath. Under Armour, aside from being a lousy company, makes sweat-wicking shirts. They do not work under a vest. Wear cotton. Let the idiot fascists wear that crap. Being hit with a rubber round, or a small bomb or other projectile is painful without protection, but just annoying with a vest on. Backpacks worn on the chest filled with most anything will also provide some protection. Think of sports pads and motorcycle riding gear for other great sources of less-lethal projectile protection. Buy them cheap used.
Gloves: Wear or bring gloves! Leather palmed in particular. Mechanix brand works great. Smoke and CS grenades get very hot very quickly. With a good glove, you can return to sender with a smile.
Body cameras: Body cameras are your friend. They help to defeat legal charges against you.
Clothing: Wear bland, solid colors. If bringing a bag, consider having an extra t-shirt in there. You don’t want to wear something that has traces of CS or is soaked with OC (pepper) spray. If it is possible for you and your goals, dress professionally. Seriously. In the words of my lawyer: “People wearing a suit are escorted to the car. People dressed like you are often dragged.” It makes a huge difference in optics. Also, you can resist a little harder when dressed professionally. Cops will murder PoCs all day long, but a person wearing a suit, esp. a white ally, will get away with more.
Bring nothing that you don’t need or mind the police having in their custody for years. At one point in time I had 4 camera bodies. 2 of them were in police custody for most of 2 years. If you are going to carry a wallet, purse, etc, go through it. If there is any information or anything you do not absolutely need, remove it. Do not give the enemy information. Carry no info that will help the enemy if it can be avoided.
Do not post photos or videos that may allow you to identify other protesters. If you capture any particularly good footage, either consider uploading it to the cloud (make sure another person has access to this), or changing memory cards and storing the memory card away, or pass it off to a buddy that is less likely to be arrested. Use software to blur faces before posting, and film the cops, not fellow protesters. Work in buddy teams, so that if one is attacked another can get the video of it, and hopefully get away. Consider tossing phones or other devices to your buddy if about to be kidnapped by fascists. Sometimes it does work and they can get away with it.
LRADs and Sound Cannons can Fuck Up Hearing Permanently. Here’s a link with some tricks on what you can do to try and minimize the damage.
Use the tools you have. Military units get a weather report every morning. It’s not because they call off war for rain. It is because they use every bit of knowledge at their disposal to give them an edge. If you can stay upwind of the enemy, and/or keep the sun in their eyes, etc, do it! Do not let them dictate the zone, be dynamic. Move. Make them move. If they are going to block off a large area, leave enough there to keep them busy and break off in to other groups to go elsewhere. Make them react to you. If you are reacting to them, you are one step behind.
Consider having people that are at home listen to police scanners and watch live streams. Set up teams at home, and maybe recon elements (motorcycles work great for this) to monitor and plot roadblocks, obvious choke points, etc. Avoid them. Make them move, do not let them get set up. Wear them down. Consider protesting in shifts. When you are reacting to them you end up in a blind alley or a cordoned off area, and they are now in control. This is bad.
Don’t be seen, or if seen, don’t be remembered.
Encrypt everything, especially lines of communication.
Do not give the enemy information.
Be smart and protect yourself, and your friends.
You are a team, or several teams, so act like it.
Keep them reacting to you.