Terrorism in America
The armed citizen’s view
By Massad Ayoob
Issue #150 • November/December, 2014
The warnings come in non-stop…
FoxNews: “A new English-language Al Qaeda magazine features a how-to article on making car bombs and suggests terror targets in the United States, including casinos in Las Vegas, oil tankers and military colleges, and implies that an attack is imminent.”
ABC News: “Federal authorities Friday urged law enforcement across the country to be alert for possible attacks inside the United States in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic group ISIS, the brutal terrorist group that beheaded American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and has seized vast swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.”
National Review: “Islamic terrorist groups are operating in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez and planning to attack the United States with car bombs or other vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED). High-level federal law enforcement, intelligence and other sources have confirmed to Judicial Watch that a warning bulletin for an imminent terrorist attack on the border has been issued. Agents across a number of Homeland Security, Justice and Defense agencies have all been placed on alert and instructed to aggressively work all possible leads and sources concerning this imminent terrorist threat.”
ABC News: “In a joint bulletin issued to local, state and federal law enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security and FBI said that while they are ‘unaware of any specific, credible threats against the Homeland’ and find most threats to the U.S. homeland by supporters of ISIS ‘not credible,’ they cannot rule out attacks in the United States from sympathizers radicalized by the group’s online propaganda…'[B]ecause of the individualized nature of the radicalization process — it is difficult to predict triggers that will contribute to [homegrown violent extremists] attempting acts of violence,’ the bulletin states. Moreover, such lone offenders ‘present law enforcement with limited opportunities to detect and disrupt plots, which frequently involve simple plotting against targets of opportunity,’ according to the bulletin.” (ABC7News WJLATV.)
Ugly times are upon us. For many years before 9/11, experts had predicted that terrorism would come to American shores. On that clear, until-then beautiful, morning in 2001, the terrible predictions came true, and we experienced the Pearl Harbor of its generation.
The current menace dominating the headlines is ISIS, but the menace wears many faces. Who remembers the “domestic terrorist,” Timothy McVeigh, and the horror he wrought in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing?
On June 8, 2014, a couple who deemed themselves American “patriots” walked into a Las Vegas pizza joint where two police officers were taking a break, smiled at them, then whipped out guns and assassinated them. On one of their corpses, they left a Gadsden flag, once a symbol of the American Revolution, the coiled rattlesnake with the motto, “Don’t tread on me.” At the scene, they babbled something about “the revolution.”
The pair — he already armed with a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol and she with a Ruger LCR .38 revolver — then stole the 9mm handguns and spare magazines from the officers’ bodies, adding an HK pistol and a Glock to their armament along with a pistol-gripped 12-gauge shotgun the male was hiding in a carry bag. They ran a short distance to a nearby Wal-Mart, where they separated. The male, appearing to witnesses to be acting alone, cleared the shotgun from his bag and fired a blast into the air, screaming at people to get out and announcing, “The revolution has begun!”
As shoppers stampeded out, one armed citizen, Joe Wilcox, attempted to interdict. He drew his own Glock and moved toward the male suspect. However, the female spotted him, slipped up behind him, and shot him dead.
The psycho couple barricaded at the firearms and auto supply displays, the woman unsuccessfully ambushing the first responding officers, who returned fire. Police .223 bullets mortally wounded the male gunman, and anchored the female on the floor. Security cameras showed that she tried to shoot her male partner, failed, and then turned the pistol on herself and committed suicide. The pair turned out to be long-time whack jobs who had shown up for the Cliven Bundy ranch standoff, and been booted out because they were too radical, and revealed to the others that they were felons in illegal possession of firearms.
Murder. Twisted political agenda motivation. “The revolution has begun.” Do their actions fit the profile of “terrorists”? Yeah, pretty much.
What to do
Since this is Backwoods Home Magazine’s firearms column, let’s begin with terrorist situations where an armed citizen might be able to make a positive difference. First, let’s draw a lesson from the tragic death of Joe Wilcox, the armed citizen who died trying to do the right thing in the Las Vegas Wal-Mart, and who was appropriately honored as a hero by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department for having done so. Bad guys (and gals) often travel in packs. One does “overwatch” for the other(s). It’s a tactic armed robbers have employed for a very long time, and it works just fine for political terrorists, too. If you are armed and choose to intervene in such a situation, don’t reveal your weapon or your intentions until you’ve done a slow, discreet, penetrating scan to find other Bad Guys. Known in some quarters as “seeded backup” and in others as “tail-gunners,” they’ll be posing as shoppers or other innocent victims. In Las Vegas, the killer female had grabbed a shopping cart to push, and blended in as a shopper, unnoticed until she drew her weapon to commit another murder. Accomplices may also be outside, acting as “outriders,” prepared to murder any potential rescuers responding to the scene.
In this particular situation, my advice would be not to even draw the gun until you (A) had positively identified the Bad Guy as such, and not an off-duty cop or another armed citizen who is “riding to the sound of the guns”; (B) have determined that the target is indeed a danger to innocent human life who has to be shot down; and (C) are in a position where you are certain you can get the necessary hit and terminate the threat without your own gunfire endangering innocent human life. Dropping to kneeling to angle your fire upward, perhaps for a brain shot, will reduce the danger of a miss or an exiting bullet striking a bystander. Once you’ve made the shot, scan quickly for additional threats and then, holster your weapon. Your rescuing gunfire will have drawn attention and may, in all the hubbub, have created the false illusion that you are the dangerous one. Responders may include cops in uniform or in plainclothes, and other well-meaning armed citizens: you standing there over a dead body with a smoking gun in hand are now doing a convincing imitation of the Bad Guy, and you don’t want to become a “friendly fire” tragedy.
In September of 2013, a squad of at least four terrorists reportedly belonging to the Islamic group Al-Shabaab attacked the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. They were armed with AK-47s and grenades, and some were wearing explosive “suicide vests.” In a siege lasting some 48 hours, they murdered more than 60 innocent victims and wounded approximately 175. Armed citizens may have kept the toll of dead and wounded from going higher: there were multiple reports of armed citizens going against the terrorists and helping many victims safely escape.
Years earlier, in a crowded market in Israel, a woman described as a housewife observed a terrorist about to activate an explosive vest. She drew her personal 9mm pistol and shot him dead before he could trigger the device, saving countless lives.
Firing from a kneeling position will reduce the
danger of a miss or an exiting bullet striking a bystander.
At houses of worship
Whether the motivation is institutionalized religious hatred or individual madness, a disproportionate number of mass murder atrocities have taken place at churches. Armed individuals among the congregation have been conspicuously successful in short-stopping some of these atrocities… but an armed Good Guy or Gal has to be there for that to happen.
Colorado: A man who has committed mass murder at one church attempts to do so again at another. Hearing his first shots, a female ex-cop working as volunteer security rushes toward the danger and spots the killer, who is armed with an AR-15. She runs at him, firing her Beretta 9mm pistol, and shoots him down. Now immobile and perhaps realizing that he is dying of the wounds this brave woman has inflicted upon him, the killer fires his last shot into himself. She will be publicly credited with saving dozens of innocent human lives.
Colorado again: A psycho opens fire at a church. An off-duty male police officer draws his concealed handgun and instantly shoots and kills the perpetrator, preventing a mass murder.
South Africa: In Cape Town in September of 1993, four terrorists enter a church and open fire with machine guns and grenades. In the opening moments of this blitzkrieg attack, they murder 11 helpless people and wound 58. But then, an armed parishioner draws a five-shot, two-inch barrel .38 revolver and opens fire on the terrorists, shooting one… and they abandon the mass murder and flee for their lives.
For a long time, my own training schools have welcomed “church security personnel,” sometimes selected members of the congregation but often the pastors and rabbis themselves. If your place of worship is considering similar homegrown security, I’d refer you to my colleague Jon Hodoway at Nighthawk Custom Training Academy in Centerton, Arkansas (www.nighthawkcustomtraining.com). This organization has the best training program for this specific type of security that I’ve run across yet.
Kidnapping is another commonly used tool of terror. In August of 2014, the world witnessed the barbaric, videotaped beheading of American journalist James Foley by a masked man with a British accent, claiming to represent ISIS. That hideous tableau is nothing new, either; Mexican cartels have been doing the same for years. Indeed, the cartels have long been kidnapping innocent citizens for ransom: criminal instead of political terrorism in my view, but a form of terrorism nonetheless.
I’d like to share with you the view of a man I know and greatly respect, who I think has a good handle on this sort of thing. Master defensive firearms instructor Larry Mudgett, late of the LAPD SWAT team, is a gunfight winner with an uncompromisingly realistic view. On the website of his training school, he offers an excellent essay: www.marksmanshipmatters.com/articles/why-surrender-is-never-an-option/. In what may be the most powerful quote therein, Mudgett describes what he calls the four phases of surrender: “The first phase of surrender is failing to be armed, trained and committed to fight. We are prepared to surrender when we are unprepared to resist. The second phase of surrender is failing to be alert. You must see trouble coming in order to have time to respond. The warning may be less than one second but it will be there and it must be recognized and acted upon immediately. The third phase of surrender is giving up your weapons. The last phase of surrender is up to the monsters who have taken control of your life and perhaps the lives of your loved ones. The last phase of surrender is out of your hands,” Mudgett concludes.
The rich and powerful have bodyguards, armed to fight off kidnappers. We ordinary peons have to arm ourselves to be able to do it.
Armed citizens saved many people from terrorists during the
Westgate Shopping Mall shooting in Nairobi, Kenya.
For the unarmed
Some of our readers live in places where they can’t carry guns. All of us go places where it’s against the law to do so, from commercial aircraft to courthouses and other government buildings. If we are in that situation, do we have any hope against armed monsters who terrorize us?
There are no panaceas, but there are options. Hand-to-hand combat, by definition, only works at hand-to-hand distance. Trying to punch, kick, or throw human monsters armed with guns does not have a great history of success, so your best bet is to effectively learn disarming. Properly taught, this will be a structured system that attacks the weapon rather than the man holding it, using your initial movement to deflect the gun barrel away from you (or another intended victim) and then flowing into a leverage-based movement pattern that rips the weapon out of the malefactor’s hands.
At Massad Ayoob Group LLC, we teach a system based on the work of Jim Lindell, in my opinion the leading expert on disarming and on gun retention, which is defeating a Bad Guy’s attempt to disarm the Good Guy. In the Pacific Northwest, Firearms Academy of Seattle also teaches this to qualified private citizens; such systems are normally taught only to police. Few conventional martial arts dojos have anything this effective, so for local training your best bet is to seek out a Krav Maga school. It has been my experience that most, if not all, Krav Maga instructors will teach very effective leverage-based gun disarming.
Once you have gained control of the opponent’s weapon, it’s unlikely that he’ll surrender at gunpoint: the committed fanatic will probably have to be shot down to stop him. You’ll have to be prepared to do that if necessary. It would be useful in such a situation, even if you’re not a “gun person” yourself, to know how to use the various weapons you might find yourself taking from an offender in an emergency. Check with gun people you know about going shooting with them, with various firearms from their collections. Historically, in international settings, terrorists have favored Communist bloc weapons such as the Kalashnikov AK47 design, and the Makarov pistol. But, you never know what gun you may have to take away from a potential killer, and know how to use yourself.
Let’s look at the guns that might have come up for grabs had you been in the Las Vegas Wal-Mart we mentioned earlier, and found yourself having to struggle with one of the killers. The female murderer’s revolver, and the Glocks of the dead Samaritan and one of the murdered officers, will fire with a simple pull of the trigger. The male murderer used a Smith & Wesson M&P pistol; those come with or without thumb safeties. If the one you gain control of is equipped with a thumb safety, that lever will be on the frame toward the rear of the slide: up is “On Safe” and down is “Fire.” The same would be true on some versions of HK service pistols such as the one taken from the other murdered cop. Either the S&W M&P or the HK might be a variant with no thumb safety, which will fire like a Glock or a revolver with a simple pull of the trigger. The male murderer’s shotgun in that case was reportedly a slide-action Winchester. Those generally have a slide release button at the rear of the trigger guard, which is pressed upward to unlock the slide, and a crossbolt safety button at the front of the trigger guard. Unless specially modified for a left-handed shooter, it would be activated by pressing the button from right to left for “Fire” condition, and from left to right to put it “On Safe.” These things are helpful to know if you find yourself holding an unfamiliar loaded gun in a fast-breaking life or death situation, hence the value of a familiarization session with assorted firearms.
Beyond the gun
There are only so many emergencies one can handle with a firearm. Terrorism takes many forms. Jihadist websites have reportedly encouraged their true believers to start forest fires and wildfires. Another terrorist tactic might be train derailment, or trying to blow up chemical storage facilities to create toxic clouds capable of extinguishing life in whole communities.
You can’t shoot a wildfire or a giant cloud of poison gas, but you might just be able to outrun either. Other writers have addressed the BOB, or Bug-Out Bag, elsewhere in the Backwoods Home universe. It’s a grab-and-go kit bag containing medications, spare glasses, emergency cash, a change of clothes, and maybe some food, a canteen, a gun, and ammo. Personally, I go with a BOV: a Bug-Out Van. The mini-van is a sturdy mule, and always carries a case of MREs, a flat of bottled water, blankets and pillows, bad weather gear, a trauma kit, and an Automatic Electronic Defibrillator (AED). There’s ammo on board for the handguns the significant other and I are always wearing anyway, the emergency cash is already on our persons, and so are vehicle keys. Spare shoes and a change of clothes apiece are already on board.
Paranoid? Not at all. Even if nothing ever happens we’re prepared to eat, sleep, and drink in the vehicle if we’re on a long trip and all the hotels are full. Something as simple as a sudden rainstorm or a child who throws up on you makes the change of clothes worthwhile. We teach shooting (thus, the ammo) and we stop to help at accident scenes if emergency services aren’t there yet, hence the trauma kit and the AED. (At my age, I might be the first one to need it anyway.)
The terrorist warnings are in the air. They come from people who can access intelligence the rest of us can’t, and who know things the rest of us don’t know. As all who read Backwoods Home know, preparation is not paranoia.