Odd thoughts about riots


With all the news about the Hong Kong protests, it got me thinking a fair bit about riots. I have wanted to talk about riots previously, but I was never really sure how to approach the subject. I’m certainly no expert on it.

What I can say is that I have been on both sides of “simulated” riots. It is an interesting experience. Here are a few comments and thoughts from what I have been though, but don’t take this as proven advise.

First, I would not recommend being part of a riot. Things can get out of control very quickly. For example, times when I was a “simulated rioter” when the exercise would be completed and we would be ordered to disperse, the “simulated riot” response would be to yelling obscenities and throw rocks. In hindsight, I don’t know how no one got thrown in the brig over these events. If you find your self in a large gathering that has the potential too, or is becoming a riot, try to get towards the edge (preferable an edge away from law enforcement/military responders). Then separate your self from the crowd and get out of there. Failure to do so can easily lead to injuries. Easy to be trampled, struck by less lethal munitions, beaten down by riot police, etc.




I always found that line, “forced to use force” funny.

I hated riot duty. Figured it was one of the worse things I had to do. It seems to me that if you have a line of law enforcement or military, and that the rioters are up against this line you are already at a major disadvantage. Preferable you will have some space between your shield wall and/or baton twirlers and the rambunctious hoard. Better for the health and well-being of both groups. Riot control will feel less need to immediately use force, and should a rioter get froggy and charge the shield wall or troops there will be an extra moment of time to prepare for them.

If they are up against your line, any attempt at incursion need to be addressed immediately. Someone attempts to reach past the shields, you smash into their arms with the shields and hit their hand the batons. The individual will, at most, only do this twice. If you are the rioter, breaking the lines is best done if you can get whole individuals past the shield/barrier/baton lines. Once a spearhead is formed, you can quickly expand disrupt the riot police response, but expect that response to be brutal.

In the military I saw CS gas used countless times. CS is an irritant, and while it may discourage groups, it will not stop a motivated attacker. OC on the other hand is much more potent, and can stop some motivated attackers. CS gas may motivate some recalcitrant groups of people to disperse, but I would not bet on it to actually do anything useful. Still it is a nice warning step in an escalation of force against rioters. OC can be sprayed on individuals or small groups to try and ensure compliance. Deploying CS gas is either to going disperse a non-motivated crowd, or enrage a motivated crowd.

CS exposure is like eating a spicy chicken sandwhich from your local fast food joint. Might clear out your sinuses. OC felt more like the angry fury of an Old Testament god.

Our SOP was that if we spotted a higher value target or an instigator in a riot, we would engage them with either OC or a less lethal weapon system (bean bag, foam baton, etc). Push comes to shove, or if you have limited resources, a 5.56 round to the thigh. Then an opening is made in our line and a small group (usually 4ish) would attempt to snatch that individual from the crowd. This would work if done quickly, before the crowd could react to what is going on. Hesitation or delay would cause this to fail.

I never got to see a Stinger ball(TM) in action. A few times we had them, but were not deployed due to concerns about eye injuries. I really wanted to see one in action, but I’m glad I didn’t as I might have been on the receiving end.

What ever you bring to use against the rioters will end up being used at some point by them against you. Between all the bodies, arms, etc, they will grab at and eventually get OC cans, CS grenades, batons, weapons, etc. Don’t have your front line riot control troops bring firearms unless they are allowed and willing to use them. Even little thing like CS smoke grenades will be thrown/kicked back towards your location. As a “roleplayer rioter” few things were more rewarding and fun than beating one of the riot response team members with their own baton.

I hate to say it, but the most effective thing I ever saw to break up big “simulated riots” in training was the good old fashioned beat down, and it always came down to it. The “good guy” riot responders would lose their moral high ground, and just start wailing on people with batons. Once one or more of those “simulated rioters” started getting Rodney King style beats downs, with all the blood, bruises, and broken bones, that this entails, then the rioters would decide to disperse.

Peaceful protest is a great thing, but riots are a whole different animal where all parties lose. As seen in many third world counties, and occasionally in second world countries, the belt fed machine gun is a rapid way to end a riot, but also a rapid way to get the entire world to identify you as the bad guy. So don’t bring your damned tanks and belt feds unless you plan to to use them. Conversely, if you are a rioter having loads of fun tossing rocks, returning CS grenades, and the like, get the hell out of there if you see them packing crew served weapons.

Riots are just terrible all around.


  1. My father took part to several riots control back in the late 60s here in Italy.. things can go wrong quickly and at that time it was not uncommon to face protesters armed with small caliber handguns..
    To this date I still like to watch the vids about riots that took place during the G8 meeting in Genova from 2001.. water jets and batons were the only reliable tools..
    That must a PITA job for LEO that must find the best way to keep the situation under control with all the crappy ROE…

  2. The church I grew up attending is across the street from people’s park in Berkeley.
    One Sunday we were in the middle of the service when a riot broke out and the police deployed tear gas, and not a small amount of it.
    Seeing a bunch of old folks ( I was 13 at the time) being gassed made quite an impression, as did the kids jumping over the 8 foot wall surrounding the garden ( Many of them bloodied).
    The Cops beat down anyone they could reach including a lot of people who hadn’t taken part in the demonstration. If you were within a few blocks of Telegraph Ave you got a beating.
    And it had been a peaceful demonstration until a few troublemakers ( Ever hear of cointelpro?) started throwing rocks.
    I would have preferred the sermon to being gassed, which is saying a lot because I usually started snoring before those sermons were halfway done.

  3. Confrontation Management is what we called it and I hated it too. Knuckles would get busted incessantly. Practicing the snatch & grab on the instigators was just a game of ass whoopings for all involved. Glad I never had to do it for real. No matter what you never have enough people.

    Another tool in the toolbox is the fire department. If it’s cold a spray of water over everyone takes the starch out of most people. You’re not so concerned with transgressions when you’re violently shivering. And if the line starts to break a billion psi of water to the face will slow you down too.

    Reminds me of a stupid event over in the desert. Base commander thought we should do a base exercise so we rounded up some folks to play protester. Problem was all the TCNs joined in because they thought it was real. It almost turned into a full on riot if we hadn’t showed up with the crew served. So all these fools we let on to cook our food, cut our hair and do all that other TCN stuff self identified as not happy with America. What a mess.


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