(Gershon Ben Keren - Fri 26th Jun)
Violence against groups, is in many ways very different, to that which targets individuals e.g. as a member of a group it is extremely difficult to predict, if, when and how you will be targeted. Those attending the prayer meeting at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, last week, had no way of predicting that they would be the target of a hate crime – they may have recognized that being members of a significant and famous black church (which had been burnt down previously), in the south of the U.S. had risks attached to it, however no member of the prayer group that met last Wednesday would have been able to predict that a gunman would open fire on them, killing nine. When we consider violent acts and assaults that target individuals, such as muggings, street robberies and sexual assaults, there are usually pre-violence indicators, such as a person’s position/movement, the location they are in, or certain things that they will say and do, which will let us know that we are dealing with a dangerous individual.
However there are similarities between those who perpetrate acts of violence against groups, and those who target individuals; both feel justified to engage in violence, and can’t see any other alternatives to it. Someone who opens fire on a prayer group, believes that they are justified to do this, and believes that this is the only way that their agenda will be met. Dylan Storm Roof, who the FBI named as the killer, obviously felt that what he did was both right and necessary – reportedly his goal was to start a “Race War” and this was the method he chose to do it by. Apparently he considered an alternative target, a local school, but backed away from it due to its relatively high level of security. Storm probably considered other ways to solve the “Race” issue, as he saw it, but eventually came to the conclusion that he had no alternative but to attack the church. More importantly he felt justified to do this.
If you look at the profile of a sex offender, such as a Power Assertive Rapist, you will see a predator who believes he is both entitled and justified to force women to have sex with him, and that he has no alternative or other way in which he can satisfy his sexual desires. Like Dylan Storm Roof, he believes he is justified and entitled to commit his crimes, and that there are no other ways – alternatives- in which their end goals could be met. With every primary motive, their come secondary motives. A rapist may be looking for sexual gratification, but tied up with this are the emotional drivers of power, anger and control. Even a mugger, who at first glance is simply looking for financial gain, is in some part driven by anger, and a need to have and exert power and control. Most muggers, are at the bottom end of the criminal ladder, committing their crimes to support a drug habit – these are not individuals who are happy with their position in life, as they know how society views them, and they recognize that they have little control and influence over the direction of their lives. Muggings are one of the few occasions when they have the chance to displace some of their anger, and exert power and control over somebody. Yes, they want financial reward, however there are other illegal ways they could achieve this yet they have chosen street robberies, and they have done this for a reason.
Dylan Storm Roof, may have argued and believed that what he was doing was for the greater good, which gave him his justification for doing what he did, but at the end of the day, he was displacing anger, and exerting power and control (something he had little of in his daily life). He did not commit his crime without emotion, it was after all a hate-crime, which was motivated by anger – as he shot his victims he shouted racial slurs and epithets, demonstrating he wasn’t emotionless in what he did. Roof, was unemployed, High School dropout, didn’t have a driver’s license, and was living alternately in his estranged parent’s homes. This was not somebody who enjoyed any power and control over his life, or anybody else’s; being able to stand before a church group, with a gun, and tell them that they all, “had to go”, would have been one moment in his life, where this wouldn’t be the case. If we want to stand a chance at predicting how and why, people turn to violence, we must sometimes look beyond the initial crime and study the secondary motivators as well as the primary ones.
When we look at the secondary motivators, of anger, power and control, we can start to understand how radicalization works, whether it is racial or religious. Those individuals from the West who are joining ISIS, are equally motivated by a sense of anger at their situation, and the need to exert power and control in their lives. These motivators can be shared by the affluent as well as the poor; the sons of the rich become terrorists and suicide bombers as well as those of the poor (though notably not in as great numbers). You can be the member of an affluent family, and still have little or no, power and control in your life.
Understanding that even a low level criminal, such as a mugger, is motivated by anger, power and control, gives us clues as to how we must handle are interactions with them. Refusing an armed mugger your wallet etc. is challenging them for the power and control of that situation, as well as challenging somebody who has a good degree of anger that they need to displace. In such a situation, you will get cut or shot. You may believe that your desire to hold on to your wallet is greater than their determination to take it from you, however you are dealing with an angry person who feels justified to take it from you by force, and can’t see any alternative means of supporting their drug habit; they are also angry, and will want to make sure that this moment of power and control is not taken away from them.
Was Dylan Storm Roof’s exact crime predictable? No. But that he was intending to commit a race crime against a particular group was. He even talked about it with friends who simply didn’t take him seriously – something which is common with many of these types of mass shootings. Dylan Storm Roof was an angry man, who lacked power and control in his life, whilst not the primary motivators – a hatred of African Americans was – these secondary motivators, were strong drivers in getting himself to the emotional place where he was ready to commit his crime; one which he felt justified to engage in, and which he could see as the only way to achieve the “Race War” that he dreamed was the solution to America’s race “problem” (there were no other alternatives as he saw it). It would be wrong to equate a mugging incident with a hate-crime, such as a mass shooting, however the profiles of the predators who commit them share many similarities, and when predicting and dealing with both types of predators it is worth remembering this.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 22nd Jun)
In New Hampshire on Wednesday there was an attempted abduction of a 16 year old girl at a retail outlet. The attack happened at 4:15 pm, in broad daylight, and was thwarted because an employee at the mall overheard the victim’s screams, and investigated their source – something most bystanders and observers fail to do – which in turn ended up scaring the assailant away. The assault was immediately categorized as being “completely random”, which may have been the case, but at the same time might not have been. It is always worth taking a look at real-life incidents, so that we can better understand how predatory individuals operate.
The first thing any predator will do is choose a location. This predator choose an outlet village, and he will have done so for a number of reasons. Most criminals will choose a location that they are familiar with, or if not a location they are exactly familiar with, one that is similar (he may have planned a similar abduction from a mall/shopping center, somewhere near to where he lived, worked or spent leisure time, and then decided to carry out his plan farther away, possibly because he wasn’t confident he could go undetected). What we don’t know is if he had visited this location previously. The fact that he choose an outlet village/mall, and made his assault in broad daylight is not so surprising when you consider the profile of his victim; a teenage girl. The predator would have correctly surmised that a mall is somewhere where teenage girls would go after school, to hang out and shop, before going home. That meant he would have had a window of between 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm, to observe and select from the greatest number of potential victims. A shopping mall between these hours, would have been an attractive location, for someone preying on teenage girls.
The assault itself happened outside the bathrooms of a food court. The food court would have been an ideal location for a predatory individual to hang around unnoticed and look for potential victims (criminals have to demonstrate “legitimacy” if they are to go undetected). Nobody is going to question why somebody is sitting at a table eating or drinking, or even simply mingling with the crowds and queues, waiting to buy food. A food court is a highly trafficked area, meaning that there is a constant flow of potential victims, and also few people who would stay in that location long enough, to notice somebody else who was spending an extraordinary length of time in that place. If this predator did order food and sit down at a table, he would have probably shown more interest in the people in the food court than he did in his food e.g. his head would have been up, looking around, rather than down, focusing on eating.
His victim selection would not have been random. For one, he would be looking for girls who fell within a certain age range. He may also have been looking for someone who was on their own. He would certainly be looking for someone who he believed would comply and not resist. Something he got partly wrong in this case, as although his victim didn’t fight back, she did scream. It may be that he erred in his selection because he felt rushed (he was nervous and emotional), and pressured to carry out the assault, only having a small window of time to commit the abduction (he claimed in court that he had to get back to his dying mother – which could be true, or simply a lie to get leniency from the judge, either of which is possible), or because he was inexperienced in this type of crime.
His victim may have given off signals of being overly polite and non-confrontational, maybe moving out of everyone else’s way as she went to the bathroom, rather than having them move out of her way, etc. She may have been looking at the ground as she walked, shuffling or striding rather than walking with a normal stride length, and her overall body motion may not have appeared “fluid” - all things that in a study done in 1984 by Grayson and Stein, were shown to put potential victims on a predator’s radar.
One of the things that every assailant needs to do before they make an attack, is to synchronize their movement with their intended victim. This predator would have had a good idea of how long it would take his victim to go to the bathroom; so after waiting a few moments, he would be able to go and position himself outside, close to the time when she would exit. He wouldn’t necessarily have to draw attention to himself by hanging around outside the bathrooms, if he timed his arrival (synchronizing his movement with that of his victim), so that he got there as his victim came out.
He may have chosen the bathrooms as the place to commit the assault, because they lacked “natural surveillance” i.e. the people in the food court would be unable to see the attack happening, and possibly because there were several routes he could escape down if discovered, or routes through which he would be easily able to exit with his victim. The location was also more than likely to have left him with only a short distance to travel to get to his car. It may be that he got to the mall early enough to park his car in a convenient spot, so that he would be able to get his victim to the car, without being seen or drawing attention to himself. He had obviously decided at some point it would be unnecessary to use a weapon in this stage of the assault, as he left his guns and knife in the car.
It is certain that his victim had a lucky escape. What is not known is the level of “conscious” and “subconscious” planning that went in to the assault. It is obvious that it was something that the predator had fantasized about, and will continue to fantasize about (something that incarceration is only going to allow him to continue doing). It may be that this was his first abduction, it may be that he has committed others that are unknown. What is likely, is that given the chance, he will attempt to do the same or similar again, having learnt from his mistakes in this attempt, and potentially improving his chances of successfully executing his assault.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 15th Jun)
Although we can act as predators, we are by nature “prey” animals, that is, when we are confronted by a threat or danger, our default behavior is to run, and get to a safe place. This behavior is engrained in our DNA, and has been our species most successful survival strategy – it doesn’t always work at the individual level e.g. people have run away from danger into oncoming traffic etc. but for the species as a whole it has proven to be a pretty effective way of working i.e. if you’re not there it can’t hurt you.
When I look at my survival options, the first one I always consider is disengagement – and this is the one I teach to those who train with me. If there is the opportunity to back down and/or back away from danger this should be the first one that everybody considers; it may not appeal to the ego, but it is by far the safest option – if available – to take. There are no “fair” fights, as any assailant will have stacked the odds in their favor, either by having third parties with them, arming themselves with a weapon and/or choosing the time and the location of the assault. So to go into a confrontation thinking that your training puts the odds in your favor, is naive at best; if your training has given you the skills and attributes to level/even the odds, then you are in a good place. It is paramount to remember that the injustice of the situation is irrelevant, and the only thing that matters is your survival.
The Hebrew bible, says that it is, “better to be a live dog, than a dead lion.” I wonder how many martial arts and self-defense schools, would readily acknowledge, and promote such an idea? Yet, this is what those of us who teach and train reality based self-defense, should be acknowledging both to ourselves, and our students. And not just acknowledging but promoting. Sometimes the goal of our techniques, and approaches to violence, gets lost here. I remember asking a student at a seminar I was conducting, what the point of striking an assailant who was holding a knife was, and their answer was, “to punish them” i.e. to inflict pain as a punishment. With such a mentality/approach, there would never be a moment when disengagement would be an applicable option, because why leave them, when you could punish them some more? When we punch we want to be able to strike as hard as we can, and generate as much concussive force as possible, in order to take an assailant out of the fight, so that we can disengage safely – if we could have disengaged without going through this process, all the better.
There have been occasions when new students have questioned why I would hand over a wallet to an armed assailant, as if the point of learning how to deal with armed assailants was to learn how to hold on to $20, and a load of easily cancelled credit cards. I have even had people suggest that there is a monetary amount when they wouldn’t hand over their wallet to an armed assailant, possibly working of the basis that your technical expertise in dealing with such situations, increases in direct proportion to the amount of cash you are carrying. The safest option in such scenarios, is to give whoever it is what they want, putting the rights and wrongs of the offense aside. The reason you train, is when after getting what they want, they don’t disengage – that’s the time to fight.
Many people miss disengagement opportunities due to hesitation, because the majority of martial arts and self-defense training is all about engagement e.g. physically dealing with a threat or an attack. If you ever have the question pop into your head, “should I go?” the safest answer is almost always “yes”, and doesn’t really require anymore thought. If you see a group moving towards you, and your instinct is to go/run, then it is probably best to go – whatever your level of training.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 7th Jun)
Last week’s blog article, looked at situational awareness, and the use of the environment both to assist you, as well as creating problems for you etc. In this week’s article I want to take a look at “scanning”, and how this can be used to create a 360 degree understanding of your environment, and those who are in it.
Most people see scanning as something that they are actively engaged in e.g. they are looking for people, acting and behaving in a certain way, that may have harmful intent towards them – such as people who are walking aggressively towards them, people who are holding eye contact with them etc. and whilst there are times to actively scan, it shouldn’t be all the time, as this would be extremely exhausting. This means we must develop the skill of passive scanning. Passive scanning is something that “prey” animals such as horses, gazelle and similar, rely on to identify potential danger. Take the example of a gazelle, which can graze in a relaxed manner, whilst being in close proximity to a sleeping lion. The gazelle, passively uses all of its senses to keep it safe; if it hears the lion move it will it will run away, if it sees the lion start to stir from its sleep it will move away. It is not however in a highly adrenalized state consciously analyzing the lion’s movement and behavior. As well as being unnecessary, as there are only a few certain/distinct movements that indicate a lion is waking up, it would also be an extremely stressful/time consuming activity to engage in.
To be successful at passive scanning, you first need to develop an active curiosity about your surroundings. Without this curiosity, your conscious mind will not be drawn to those actions and behaviors which are out of place. Most of us have heard the story of the security professional who guesses that the man wearing the heavy coat on a hot day, must be concealing something, because why else would they be wearing a coat in such weather? The truth is, that the “reasoning” part of the threat identification process, comes after the identification of the threat itself. What first drew the security professional’s eye to the person in question was not the logic of why they’d be wearing a heavy coat in such weather, but that they were dressed differently to those around them; they were out of place, and this piqued their curiosity. After becoming curious, the logic of the coat in relation to the weather was applied, and the threat/danger identified. If you don’t have a sense of curiosity, your passive scan will see your eyes pass people and objects of interest, rather than being drawn to them, and asking the question why.
In an age of constant distractions, such as smartphones, and the need to think about so many things at once, it is easy to lose our curiosity about the environment, and those people around us – especially if our day-to-day life is relatively safe. If we aren’t curious about our surroundings and those in it, our eyes will never be drawn to the person who keeps adjusting their clothing, or who is looking furtively about, whilst avoiding eye-contact with others. Equally we won’t notice and question why someone is walking in the opposite direction to everyone else, or why they are waiting at a particular location. If we have a curiosity about our environment, our eyes will be drawn to these things, and we can start to process the reasons why, and apply knowledge, experience and logic to the situation e.g. we can understand that the only reason somebody would be wearing a heavy coat on a hot day would be to conceal something etc. To start developing the ability to passively scan, you must first actively scan on a regular basis, till it becomes a subconscious process.
When our eyes are drawn, we need to make a dynamic risk assessment of the situation; determining whether we are in a high risk situation, or one containing unknown risks. If you think/believe that a situation is “low” risk, you have obviously identified a potential threat, and classifying it this way will only lead to you underestimating it, and not treating it with the seriousness it requires. If you can’t identify the exact reason/danger that caused your eye to be drawn, you need to engage in active scanning, that is looking/searching for the things that you know indicate danger and harmful intent. You should also take notice of emotional feedback that your body is giving you, such as if you are adrenalized or not. If you are then the person constantly readjusting their clothing, may be giving off other signals that your fear system has identified as indicating a potential threat, and what might have been explained a way, as someone just wearing uncomfortable clothing, can now be discounted, and the more likely reason that they are about to draw a weapon can be adopted.
There are also times when you want to engage in active scanning. If you know that you are passing a particular location, which looks like the perfect ambush site, you should be attempting to get a 360 understanding of what is happening in your environment. This involves scanning the ground, as well as elevating your eye line e.g. a pile of cigarette butts in a particular location give you the knowledge that individuals or a particular individual spends time there, possibly looking for potential victims etc. Don’t restrict your active scanning to what is just at your eye-level. An open upstairs window during cold weather could contain a threat, however remote, such as an active shooter etc.
It is worth interspersing your periods of passive surveillance, with periods of active surveillance. Working this way, you will keep your mind in a state of curiosity, and are much more likely to “passively” identify threats and dangers if they happen to be in your environment. One of the biggest inhibitors to our ability to passively scan is our smartphones. If you have been reading this blog article on your phone, in a public place, five minutes has just gone by, when you were not aware or curious about your surroundings and environment. A gazelle, will have raised its head several times in this space of time, using intervals that would allow it to see the lion before it would be able to get to it.
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