Group Movement Situations
Understand your target and your position
The police are much easier to predict than most people fear. Too often, the paranoia of being surrounded occurs in situations where the police are fairly static in their positions. Is your target a building that the police are surrounding in full force? Have they left the streets outside of that perimeter free to protesters or do they have roving columns ready to strike? Have you completed your objective of blockading a conference and the police are trying to break through your formations? Are you just having a spontaneous street party and don’t know when, if, or where the police will show?
Answers to these questions seem simple and obvious, yet too often mobile protesters do not have a clear picture of what the situation is like and communication has broken down too much. Issues like this are what drove armies to have set hierarchies thousands of years ago, and in the framework of avoiding set leadership, communication is our only answer.
Before the day of action, you should already know what to expect. Also pay attention to what the police are intending to do or what extent they want to go to. Is it a city that has sworn off using projectiles? Is the event you are demonstrating at, such as an outdoor swearing-in ceremony, a place where the police are afraid to use tear gas? Have previous police actions demonstrated their intention to make sweeping arrests or do they only pick off stragglers?
While its critical to always be on your toes and never trust the police to operate in a certain way, there are always warning signs you can look for. If an empty bus appears, then you can expect sweep arrests. If a squad of bike police disappeared in another direction, they are probably out to outflank you. Conversely, always be ready to exploit your own successes. Too often protesters, unready for a success or a hasty police retreat will merely remain in place and not seize their gains. Sticking your neck too far out can be dangerous, but that’s when its crucial to have the protection of the masses following up
Movement in a shield wall
For typical movement when not immediately in a confrontational position, you should still be at the ready. Traditionally defensively aware marchers have linked arms to prevent individuals from being nabbed. While carrying a shield in a wall formation, the threat of this is probably much less. But if necessary, persons using one-armed shields can use their free arm to grasp the shield arm of the adjacent person. This becomes problematic with different-handed people however. Furthermore, this tactic should not be employed when in a confrontation so as to allow freedom of movement for the shields.
The critical aspect to moving in any shield wall formation is unison. While demonstrators would discourage any individual to marshal a march, a form of organization is necessary. Unless it is possible to prepare and practice these tactics ahead of time, the best way is the use of simple commands that can be shouted (examples below), including warnings of what is ahead for those who cannot see.
For keeping tight in a march at any pace, the best method is a drum near the front (a drummer in the back won’t know what is going on well enough). Given that most marching routes will be pre-determined, directions should not be a major factor – apart from the tendency to lose formation when making turns. Should the shield wall be freely roaming or have loosely laid plans, calling out for slow turns is important ahead of time, especially since intersections are where a shield wall or any march is most vulnerable to
A system of scouts is critical to effectively moving a shield wall, especially when it is unknown where confrontation is to be expected. This does not necessitate a series of out-post necessarily, although that would be useful as well. What a mobile shield wall needs is eyes, which should be on at least all four corners of the march. Bicyclists or possible regular looking pedestrian scouts can cover their own angle of view and operate half of a block to a full block ahead watching their respective side. Communications should be kept with one or more people in the shield wall – presumably in the second row – who are known by others to be in touch with the scouts so that they will be given some priority in emergency
Proper scouting afield can also relay information concerning vehicular movements, such as extra police units arriving in APC’s, cars or vans. Another good warning sign is empty buses used for detaining large numbers of protesters.
If there are multiple targeted locations where the march is trying to head (such as trying to breech the perimeter preventing access to a public area), scouts are crucial as to informing which location would be best given shifts in the police strengths.
Metal inter-locked barriers are the typical means of blockading marches by the police. When a shield wall approaches a barrier it must be opened or knocked down prior to penetration by the wall. If police protection of the barrier is minimal, people in the back rows should be called ahead to remove the barriers so that the shield wall does not lose its cohesion in the act. If police are present behind the barrier and safe from an advance, the shield wall should advance close enough so that people reaching from within the wall can pull it down. If the police resist the movement of a barrier, persons in the shield wall should try to advance so that their shields extend over the barriers protecting hands that are pulling it down and knocking away those of the police.
The tendency for demonstrators to seek safety in numbers sometimes precludes wise tactical decisions. When safety is just as guaranteed with your march split in two, than it would be almost foolish not to split into two shield-wall covered marches that keep in con-tact. Simply put, a shield wall of 1000 people rushing a barricade on a street that is 60 feet wide will probably leave some 800 people standing around not helping because of a lack of space. Your odds improve the more the police are thinned and caught by
The most effective thing a shield wall can do is confuse authorities as to the intent of the march. To that end having one or more factions split up and take different routes will throw a police operation into disarray. Because the police are restricted to following ranking officers and their commands (at least while maneuvering) if your march splits while the shad-owing police force only has one officer among itself, it cannot break in two to follow both groups.
A shield wall should consider the possibility of splitting up tactically only when there are enough shields. This can be judged knowing if forming a testudo later on might be critical, but if not, than only a few rows of shields and the perimeter and rear groups are needed. A mass of 1000 shields isn’t going to be any more effective as a shield wall than 500. Keep in mind if you might end up in an open space like a square or a park where the potential width of your wall may have to grow or your density of shield might be important to defend against flank attacks.
Knowing when to split up also depends on the local situation, but is definitely most effective when trying to breech a perimeter that has multiple entry points. The police work on a system of reserves, sending more officers to points that may be or are in trouble. So if two barricades are rushed simultaneously, the chances of one or both succeeding is significantly higher.
The main question is then, when can you split? A good rule of thumb for safety with a march is that there are enough people to cover slightly more than one city block. This is necessary to prevent being boxed in from two intersections at once. If numbers are double this, than splitting up is not only feasible but a very smart move. Also, keep in mind that the odds of getting boxed in a trap are greatly lessened when there are, say, three marches walking along different streets as the police have far more repositioning to do and are probably spread too thin if they didn’t expect your move. Multiple shield walls roaming a city also provide far better coverage for affinity groups that may wish to perform more dangerous operations.
So should a situation come to this and the possibility of arrest or extreme caution becomes necessary, it might be time to beat a retreat. Historically, retreating armies suffer the worst losses. The same is true in demonstrations when people break and run in fear. While there is no real practical means of teaching people to avoid this panic, a few cool heads can save the day. The first critical thing a person can do in this situation is to yell “Don’t run!” as the first fear should be stampeding other people – a horrible and demoralizing possibility.
The shield wall then in the front-line must act to play rear guard, which can be done by walking backwards at a good pace. If needed, a one-armed shield holder can brace him or herself by gabbing the arm of the person next to them. Calling out with “Hold the line!” may also help in keeping cohesion. This should also provide physical and visual coverage for those who may have taken “illegal” actions and are a target for police forces. It also will provide grounds for those that find it critical to use projectiles to stem the police onslaught.
This type of situation is the most difficult to maintain cohesion during, but arguably the most important. If individual police officers are allowed into protester lines, they will begin arresting and beating those particulars. A shield wall that is maintained can save scores – but always remain wary of being boxed in at such times.
A scout in the rear can be used to determine which direction the retreat should take as well as to observe
when it is safe to stop.
Shield Wall Formations and Tactics
Setting up your formations
The only way to guarantee maximum effectiveness of the variety of shields and body armor employed is that every affinity group uses similar equipment as much as possible. Since rows are set up of one or more affinity groups marching together and it is in no one’s interest to break up affinity groups, it would be foolish to have some people in your group arrive with massive shields, and others with just a helmet. Once converging, everyone participating in shield wall formations can agree among each group as to who goes where. Groups with inner tube or tower shields will be urged to be near the front or at least highly exposed. Remember this isn’t a demonstration of heroics – it is a matter of practicality as to which affinity groups are in the front because they are helping to defend the entire march. By visual consensus it should not be hard to deter-mine who should position themselves where, unless certain groups do not feel comfort-able near the front. Remember that DIY equipment is made to be disposable, and swapping equipment might be an important function of solidarity even if you labored for hours on your particular
This method, requiring much coordination is derived from a classic Viking method of charging. It requires a good deal of discipline, not to mention an awful lot of courage on the part of the person in front. This method also requires the space to make for a near running charge to provide maximum disarray and psychological intimidation against opponents.
A wedge will have one or two persons in front, using the two-handed method with as large a shield as possible. The two lines that follow to the right and left of the focal point slightly angle their shields to the outside direction.
Once in position a countdown to a charge should be given and the charge should be made at a quick pace of short steps to keep tight, as full sprinting will lose cohesion. The wedge works by focusing on one point and pressing upon it while the two angled sides deflect forces attempting to aid the one point and widening the breech. It also keeps a degree of cohesion for those attempting to break through. A normal flat line of attack may open a hole in one or two places, but they are difficult to expand upon and to even notice for reinforcements to converge upon.
Another advantage of the wedge is that if a person in the lead is about to be nabbed, there is immediate support behind him or her to pull them back away from arrest. It is then critical to remain close to the person in front of you. A wedge need not be more than 7-11 persons across or about 4 persons deep. Extra bodies can be used to fill the inside of the wedge, and form a solid line behind it – although at the ready to push through the breech.
This is another method that takes discipline, and planning ahead of time. It probably is too complicated to be considered, but it’s included for the concept anyhow. The pulse, as the name implies is a series of quick and short engagements that are just as quickly broken off. This should work to throw the police off balance and catch them by surprise when the real push is made. If pre-arranged, such that 3 pulses will occur before the real press, then simple shouting commands will work.
The difficulty is being able to disengage – as people behind you may not be aware of your methods. A possible effective manner is to use only one line of shields, having a few people behind to ask the rest of the crowd to wait until the final real charge. Otherwise, this is probably a move too difficult to coordinate.
The Echelon Charge
Similar in effect to the wedge, but easier to set up, the echelon also works in a defensive manner. It is set up such that a given wing of the shield wall is extended ahead, sloping down to the other side of the wing, like the shape of a guillotine blade. Each person stands slightly behind and to the side of the person in
The principle behind this tactic is to turn the flank of a cordon of police and execute a breakthrough there. Traditionally, this is done on the right wing of the shield wall, turning the left wing of the police formation and for the sake of preparation, it is a good idea to keep this as a standard – unless the police have caught on of course. To add to the effect of pressing one corner of the opposing line, the weight of added
bodies should be added to this side.
In effect, the one edge pushes through on one corner, turning the flank while the other end of the echelon advances enough to keep those police at bay. Hence the weight pushes through one side and the other wing of the police is helpless to come to their aid. This method not only breaks the police line, it also boxes them in to a degree, forcing a very disorganized withdraw on their point. The confusion should be enough to deter the police from pressing your weakened left wing. Alternately, if an echelon is too difficult to form, a simple straight line with added weight to one side can have a similar effect.
Tortoise or Testudo
The tortoise formation is the essence of the shield wall. Now while typical advancements may only require a front row of shields, the tortoise formation aims to protect both the front and the top from raining projectiles such as tear gas canisters. A tight wall above and in the front can also protect against direct spray items such as pepper spray nozzles and water cannons.
Traditional tortoise formation dictates that the first row of shields lay theirs at ground level while the second row reaches over the shoulders of the first at an angle to double the front protection while then the third and subsequent rows protect the top. Additionally members on the side would protect the flanks if necessary.
As the tortoise was employed for protection against arrows and javelins in antiquity, it is only crucial today in situations of situations where police projectiles are thrown. As it is naturally a slow moving formation, it is not recommended for actions in defense against batons for the loss in visibility in finding gaps among the police lines.
For the purposes here, a formation with one front row of shields and the remainder providing ceiling support should suffice. As moving fast invariable develops cracks in the formation, move to a slow rhythm or the chant of “1, 2, 1, 2…” A tactical objective of the Tortoise is to get close enough to police rounds to render projectile weapons ineffective. This will relieve protesters in the rear of the need for flight. Immediately once contact is made with the police lines, the tortoise should break into supportive rows of frontal shields aimed at defending each other against baton blows.
This defensive tactic, or a loose derivative of it should be employed when you have a single position to defend against imminent attack, and your numbers are rather small. This can arise typically when trying to block the path of vehicles in a spontaneous move.
The traditional square was a formation the British Imperial armies would use to defend from massed cavalry attacks. For our purposes, it works to prevent or at least pro-long arrest even when surrounded or when injecting yourselves into a compromise-able position.
The square is simply set to face around a point with your shields out. As you are immobile, kneeling will provide a smaller space for the police to try to crack. In reality, you will probably end up with more of a circular formation than an actual square, but the idea is the same. And if you happen to find a stockpile of muskets, what the hell, have a go at it.
Extreme self-defense tactics
When facing an opposing force that is hell bent on breaking laws and violating your rights by viciously attacking you, any code of self-defense allows for extreme measures. By this we mean to include the throwing of projectiles and use of bludgeon weapons which serve to distract and disorientate the opposition so that the demonstrators might regroup or escape.
While injury to others is never a facet to embrace in self-defense, we must recognize this possibility as it has happened in the past, and will probably occur again. If the police are prepared for the worst, so should we. While this is not the place for a moral treatise, the general philosophy is that we are fighting for life and freedom, and so long as we don’t fight for death and oppression as our enemies do, we have moral fortitude on our side.
Grease guns, smoke and paint bombs and other items don’t necessarily injure and also can provide tactical advantages in disorientating the police. But, as this is a booklet concerning self-defense tactics, we won’t get into specifics on more aggressive street fighting manners. And hey, how much do you need to know about throwing a brick?
[From “Bodyhammer: Tactics and Self-Defense for the Modern Protester” by Sarin