Introduction – This article is mostly for the USA but will have relevance for other countries. We are going to look at civil unrest and what can trigger it.
Definition of Civil Unrest – This is not a revolution or violent overthrow of the government. It is a breakdown of law and order. The symptoms of civil unrest follow: crowds gathering and engaging in violence such as starting fires, throwing rocks, destroying vehicles, attacking cars with motorists inside, marching outside of government buildings and acting in a disorderly and destructive fashion, crowds throwing rocks and other projectiles. Civil unrest is more than just unhappy people. It is when these unhappy people demonstrate their unhappiness with violence and destruction of property so as to send a signal to the government that they had better meet their wishes and fast. Civil unrest is not revolutionary behavior. Revolutionary behavior generally focuses sharply on specific targets; it is not random violence or destruction of property. Revolutionary behavior has a lot of let’s call it propaganda for lack of a better word. This is where the revolutionary forces tend to publish material and make speeches to support their political position and win over converts.
The people the revolutionary forces are working against generally try to counter this propaganda with their own propaganda. Revolutionary forces generally are trying to win the masses to their side so they will try to refrain from any random or indiscriminate violence. This sometimes gets forgotten as revolutions intensify and the revolutionaries resort to terrorism against those supporting the government they are trying to topple. This results in the people being fearful of the government and the revolutionaries, which becomes its own sort of nightmare. Revolutionary activities are generally timed and staged precisely, civil unrest tends to be very spontaneous. People participating in revolutions are generally trained to varying extents and highly motivated risking life and limb for their cause. Rioters are often drunk or on drugs and have little idea why they are rioting other than to loot. Civil unrest is frequently accompanied by looting of retail and wholesale stores and warehouses. People rioting will often destroy their own neighborhoods leaving themselves without water, power, shelter, food etc. People demonstrating peacefully with signs and chanting is not civil unrest.
Implications of Civil Unrest – Governments in Europe have been facing this recently. Governments fear this tremendously. If they do not respond they appear weak and the mobs get bolder and bolder eventually destroying the government and replacing it with chaos. If the government responds harshly they turn the people against the government even more. If people get killed and seriously hurt by the government, these people and their friends and families will always have resentment towards the government and this can have serious implications if there are enough of such people. If the government contains the riots to the areas where the rioters live, think the poorer sections of the cities, then the rioters will destroy their own neighborhoods only. This was the position the government took with the riots in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
If the rioters venture into the wealthier neighborhoods and go looting bloodshed will result. The wealthier people have guns as a rule and will shoot at the crowds if they were not able to get out before the trouble started. A lot of rioters will get shot. A lot of homes will be burned. Rioters will break into many homes resulting in murder, rape, fire, robbery, etc. If the rioters become armed from looting stores that sell guns or homes that have firearms then it can get very ugly. Sure two or three Apache attack helicopters can gun down thousands of people in the streets but that will change things in a big way if the government demonstrates a willingness to do this.
Trigger Points – When the people have their basic needs taken away they become agitated and civil unrest can set in. The things that push people are numerous and we will name some of them but in all likelihood a combination of things will be taking place at the same time making it harder for the people affected. It is the combination of these triggers that pushes people towards civil disobedience.
Eviction – When people lose their home by eviction as tenants of homeowners. After the foreclosure process the eviction process begins. When people are without income and homeless they will be prime candidates for civil unrest. They have nothing to lose. This is a serious trigger and is common.
No Job – This is more of a pre-trigger. They still may have a home and a car so they have a lot to lose and will be trying to play I hope it gets better versus rioting and looting. This leads to no utilities, no car, no phone, no Internet, no cable TV and all the other things people are accustomed to. Unemployment insurance is usually far from enough money but it can soften the blow a little. This is a soft trigger that leads to other more substantial triggers and is common.
No Medical Coverage – When people see they cannot get medical treatment without going to an emergency room for many hours they get volatile and ready for not nice demonstrations. This is a medium grade trigger and common.
No Car – When people lose their job they often fall behind on their car payments and then have their car repossessed. This in many cases ends the prospects for getting a job and they go down into a freefall with things going from bad to worse. This is a minor trigger but common.
No Food – Unlikely in USA. They can get free meals at shelters, groceries handouts etc. There are a lot of homeless people in USA, millions actually, but hungry people are rare. Hungry people are very hard to control. After 24 hours they are going crazy with hunger and will take whatever action they need to get food. Think about how they will react when they see their small children wasting away due to a lack of food. Homeless people are not so hard to control. They get absorbed in the daily hassles of street survival, which tends to occupy their time. This would be a massive trigger but unlikely.
Bank Closures – This will push many over the edge to break into disobedience to express their attitude towards the government. This sort of behavior can be overcome by reopening the banks but the damage can be massive until then. This is a big trigger and likely.
Hyperinflation – If the value of the dollar plunges then the people will be robbed of a major portion of their buying power. Lets say the dollar now buys about $0.75 in Euros. One dollar gets $0.75 Euro. If this goes to the point where one dollar buys $0.25 Euros people lost two thirds of their buying power form now, much more if one were to go back two years. When they see the impact of this and understand their standard of living dropped to that of a third world laborer they will not be happy about it. This is a big trigger and likely.
Seeing Riots in Media – This is the trigger or triggers. When they see riots then they are more willing to start or participate in one. Looting is productive and rewarding. Remember Hurricane Katrina and the looting. Even the police were looting in uniform. This is a trigger that has not yet occurred but is likely to occur in the future.
When Does Major Civil Unrest Occur – Generally in the hot summer months.
What Will the Government Do – Not sure? Use Hurricane Katrina for your model. By the time the government responded things were really bad. If there were one riot at a time the government would be major. They would take police action with all sorts of technology to break it up. If the people get brutalized then a deep hatred of the government will set in amongst those people who got hurt. They will be most unlikely to take a position of well I got what I deserved and now it is time to and be a good submissive citizen again. The government will most likely not have taken any action to remove or correct the triggers causing the riots. If riots break out at same time or close to same time in numerous cities then the government response will be weak and poorly orchestrated because their resources, command centers, supply reserves, troops, communications, transportation, food and medical facilities etc. will all be stretched very thin.
What to Do – If you live in a city likely to be subject to riots (see above triggers) pack a bailout backpack and leave it in the closet. Have emergency supplies for a few days in it. Have one for each family member. If the electricity goes you will need cash to buy anything so keep a supply on hand. Study various escape routes to get out of town. Decide on some likely places to retreat to. Consider securing your house with bars on windows and solid steel doors. This may prevent looting. If you are in a rural area more than one tank of gas from a major population center then you should be unaffected. When the rioting starts gangs may be driven out of the rioting area and go roving around looking to keep the looting and pillaging up. They would probably never go further than a tank of gas will go. Gas stations may be closed to control this very thing. Gas stations may shut out of fear on their own. Be vigilant and remember the media may do a new blackout on the events.
-Aurelia Masterson, www.panamalaw.org