86.6 F
Washington D.C.
Sunday, July 14, 2024

PERSPECTIVE: The Subversive Manipulation of Crowds: Understanding the Doctrine Guiding Unrest in U.S. Streets

The Israel/Hamas conflict is stimulating growing unrest across the nation. Although the conflict in Gaza is the current motivation for protest, unrest in major U.S. cities is a recurring dynamic. And while causes may differ, the formula employed to incite unrest follows a standard “playbook” that has proven effective dating back over three-quarters of a century. Although dated, these methods have proven effective over time and have been more recently revalidated by elements such as ANTIFA in the earlier portion of this decade. These methods are now being employed by pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli protestors in a relatively uniform manner, so their increasingly violent manifestations should be anticipated. As we enter this latest stage of unrest, Law enforcement personnel should be aware of this playbook to better anticipate the methods of agitation employed to incite violence.  

Perhaps the best example of providing historical context to current events is the study titled Human Factors Considerations of Undergrounds in Insurgencies, which was produced by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1966. This was “the book” for training insurgents to overthrow governments or training governments how to suppress insurgencies — depending on which side of the fight the U.S. proxy was on. The study was based on a detailed analysis of underground organizations during WWII and 24 insurgencies since WWII, some of which were still ongoing at the time of the publication, and most of which were Soviet-sponsored, communism-motivated insurgencies. The study was updated in 2013, but the updated version was skewed toward the more recent global terrorism issues, so the original 1966 version remains the best reference for understanding the civil unrest tactics that are being employed in America’s streets today.  

The following are excerpts from the chapter titled Subversive Manipulation of Crowds. Although not completely verbatim, none of the context has been altered. 

The indispensable element in civil disturbances is the crowd; not just any crowd, but a crowd made up of individuals who have been conditioned either by subversive manipulation or by other events. The subversive manipulation of crowds involves techniques that play on an understanding that crowds that participate in civil disturbances are particularly vulnerable to manipulation by a relatively few underground agitators. Selected individuals are given special training in the subversive manipulation of crowds. A small core element of “agitators” and “riot leaders” will incite the unrest.  

There are many techniques historically employed to infiltrate peaceful protests, manipulate crowds, and incite violence, one of which is by exploiting a precipitating event. Precipitating events give generalized beliefs immediate substance. As a controversy develops, new and different issues, unrelated to the original, frequently emerge or are introduced. These added elements may reflect deep-seated prejudices or individual grievances.  

One highly effective form of crowd manipulation is made possible when the precipitating event facilitates the creation of a Martyr. A unifying martyr-figure can have a sustaining effect upon destructive crowd activity. A martyr turns an ordinary grievance into an emotional crusade. Individuals who cannot easily identify with abstract issues readily empathize with the emotional demands brought on by apparent injustice to or “brutal” attacks on innocent people.  

The precipitating event which results in the formation of a crowd depends for a great deal of its effectiveness upon communication. The desired change in attitude of the members of the target group is usually accomplished through distribution of selected communications, the contents of which are designed to increase anxiety and emotional stress. Chosen themes are constantly repeated. By concentrating on specific grievances, a group is conditioned to phrases and slogans to which its members may later react under conditions of emotional stress. In order to demonstrate the uncompromising position of the government, the demands against it are usually vague and impossible to meet.  

After the crowd has been formed, the “agitators” assume the decisive role. This function is described as bringing to flame the smoldering resentment of the crowd through emotional appeals and then giving social sanction to their actions. The agitators in the crowd play upon the audience’s suspicion of things they do not understand. The agitator seldom invents issues, nor does he have to, since his appeals are vague, and he plays upon the basic emotions of fear and insecurity. The agitator seldom justifies his facts, nor does he need to, since he chooses emotional themes common to all people.  

After the crowd has been emotionally aroused, some event must set it in motion. Normally, well prepared, equipped, and armed agitators initiate activities that compel police and other security forces to react (ideally over-react) in a manner that harms a portion of the crowd which is much larger than the agitators, and many of whom will have likely been peaceful protestors or innocent bystanders. Larger portions of the crowd then begin to react to the actions of the police. Once the destructive action of the crowd is under way, agitators try to maintain the level of emotional excitement. This can be accomplished in various ways. The core team of agitators may include “cheerleaders” who chant rhythmic and inspiring phrases or songs. Slogans can be displayed, and banners unfurled.  

“Booster” incidents can be created or capitalized upon. A rather universal type of booster activity is the looting of stores and shops. Other acts — such as the verbal abuse and stoning of police — which permit the individual to release aggression and hostility against the symbols of authority — also increase the emotional involvement. Attacks upon symbols of authority, such as police stations and the offices of local officials, increase the intensity of the disorder.  

Police and security force counter-riot tactics are studied so that steps can be taken to circumvent them. Routes usually taken by internal security forces are blocked with barricades, overturned vehicles, and debris. Attacks upon police stations and their communications systems serve to disrupt police countermeasures. Arrangements for members of the underground group to flee the area are planned in advance. These consist primarily of establishing routes of escape containing safe houses or other hiding places. Safe zones are established with householders and shopkeepers where demonstrators may seek cover when fleeing from the police. 

The internal security forces, who bear a major share of the burden of maintaining order, should understand that the control of subversively manipulated crowds requires special considerations. Standard priorities of force may be adequate for dispersal of ordinary civil disturbances, but in dealing with a subversively controlled riot, internal security forces must be alert to situations or acts which compel them to respond in ways that the subversives can politically exploit. 

Techniques based on emergent technologies will come and go, but techniques based on human factors such as perceptions and emotions will continue to persist and proliferate. The previous exemplar is a very small fraction of the information available to educate security professionals on the subversive underground tactics we are seeing today and will continue to encounter. 

The current unrest is developing according to the textbook components for radical exploitation. From the precipitating event that was exploited to enrage the masses by providing an innocent martyr as a symbol of injustice (the Palestinian people), to the mostly peaceful protestors who will increasingly provide crowds that are vulnerable to subversive manipulation, the pieces will continue to fall neatly into place. The “themes,” “phrases,” and “slogans” are becoming widely recognized. Next, we will see demands by protest leaders to be met by local governments before the protests will end, but these demands will be so intentionally unattainable that the stand-offs will continue, and subversive elements will be able to continue their routines day after day and night after night. 

The current episodes of unrest are not the first seen and will certainly not be the last. Security professionals responsible for countering the costly and destabilizing subversive manipulation of crowds should not falsely assume that they are facing an ad hoc and chaotic threat. Alternatively, they should understand that there is a “method to the madness,” and that they should be “reading from the same book.”  

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected].

author avatar
Aden Magee
Aden Magee is a retired U.S. Army Military Intelligence officer specializing in terrorist and unconventional warfare threats as a senior consultant/advisor to the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Aden Magee
Aden Magee
Aden Magee is a retired U.S. Army Military Intelligence officer specializing in terrorist and unconventional warfare threats as a senior consultant/advisor to the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Related Articles

- Advertisement -

Latest Articles