Crowd control

October 26, 2011

Police departments all around the world are stockpiling new equipment to disperse demonstrators and protester in anticipation of heightened social tensions and unrest, which may be caused by blatant corruption, by rising income disparities, by austerity measures, by lack of basic services, by environmental destruction, by lack of clean water, by hunger (hunger riots will most likely be a regular occurrence in coming years).

Israel’s military for instance has spent 22 million US$ on new crowd-control equipment in preparation for unrest which could erupt because of increased settlement building or a blockage of the UN Palestinian statehood bid by a US veto.

The tactics used by the authorities to quell protests will vary from country to country, but for the most part the politicians will tell the usual lies and make the usual empty promises, the propaganda media will misinform and defame, scapegoats and outside enemies will be created.

If all that doesn’t help and infuriated citizens are gathering in greater numbers, the police will try to isolate demonstrators or block the routes of marches, cordon off sensitive areas and use various psychological tactics to calm, confuse, or distract the angry protesters.

When it is politically opportune the police will humiliate and provoke the protesters in an attempt to induce reactions that could be interpreted as violence, consequently justifying the use of more forceful crowd control tactics and weapons.

The security forces have a wide variety of equipment to their disposal: batons, pepper spray, tasers, rubber bullets, stun guns, high power water cannons, and tear gas. Here are some detailed descriptions of crowd control equipment, which may be used in forthcoming popular uprisings:

Pepper spray, mace and tear gas

Pepper spray or OC (oleoresin capsicum) spray is a chemical compound that irritates eyes, skin, and the respiratory system to cause tears, coughing, difficulty to breath, and temporary blindness. A study by the US Army in 1993 found, that pepper spray can cause allergies, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and neurological problems. It could also have mutagenic and carcinogenic effects. Repeated exposure can result in permanent sickness (corneal abrasions for instance). Asthma patients are in danger to die.

PAVA (pelargonic acid vanillylamide) is a synthetic substance with similar effects. MKP/MPA (4-Nonanoylmorpholine) is another similar substance, mostly used in combination with CR gas and CS gas.

Pepper spray is classified as a weapon in most European countries and reserved for law enforcement.

Pepper sprays are available as hand held dispensers, as guns and pistols with refill cartridges, as canisters, as grenades, and as projectiles (PepperBall). There are also various exotic products like the TigerLight pepper-shooting flashlight.

PepperBall Technologies Custom Carbine-TX is a semi-automatic projectile launcher which can create a cloud of pepper powder up to 150 feet away.

Mace is a well-known brand name for orthochlorobenzalmalononitrile, abbreviated as CN. Mace is classified as an irritant, but unlike pepper spray, Mace will not inflame the capillaries of eyes and skin.

CN and CS gas are the irritant chemical agents of choice for law enforcement and riot control and they are widely deployed. Tear gas has been a standard in police inventories since the late 1960s. Officers frequently carry hand dispensers, and most departments have tear gas shells for shooting dispensers past barricades. Large-volume dispensers are used for crowd control.

CS gas (2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile) is more effective and also more dangerous than CN gas. It is actually an aerosol of a volatile solvent. While CN is a true “tear gas,” affecting the eyes almost exclusively, CS is a general mucosal irritant, and affects the upper and lower airways as well as the eyes. It is capable of causing skin blistering and nausea in heavy exposures. While tight fitting goggles (or even tightly closing the eyes) can protect against CN effects, a gas mask would be needed to protect against CS.

While authorities insist, that noxious effects of exposure are transient and of no long-term consequences, many incidents prove, that exposure to tear gas is difficult to control and indiscriminate. Severe traumatic injury from exploding tear gas canisters as well as lethal toxic injury have been documented. In Israel, CS gas caused for instance the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah in December 2010.

Amnesty International stated in 1991:

The manufacturers of CS tear-gas used by Israeli forces stress that such agent can be lethal if misused — for example, by using it in confined spaces from which vulnerable individuals cannot readily exit. It is particularly dangerous when used in massive quantities in heavily built-up and populated areas, as has been the case with the refugee camps in the Occupied Territories, or when launched directly into homes or other buildings. Infants and elderly people or others who cannot rapidly move away, as well as people with respiratory problems, are particularly vulnerable.

CS gas can also significantly damage the heart and liver.

Electroshock weapons

Increasingly popular are tasers, electroshock weapons (mostly in form of pistols), that use high voltage to inflict pain and disrupt muscle control. Studies have shown that most tasers have a shock current that is 10 times what is considered to be a non hazardous level of electro shock, and countless people have died from taser shocks.

Tasers come in various sizes and capacities. The Taser X12 is a shotgun that fires XREP (Extended Range Electronic Projectiles), self-contained, wireless cartridges with a range of up to 30 meters.The “Taser Shockwave” uses cartridges, which can be fired from a distance of up to 100 meters in a 20-degree arc. The “probes” at the tip of the cartridges can pierce through clothing and skin, emitting 50,000 volts of electricity at impact.

Mide Technology Corporation developed the piezer, an electro-muscular disruption stun projectile based on piezoelectric technology with a range of 40 meters which can be used with 12 gauge shotguns.

“Taser Shock Grenades” can be launched by standard 40-millimeter grenade launchers (grenade launchers are already used by riot police to fire tear gas and baton rounds). On impact, the cartridges stick to the target and deliver an 80,000-volt shock for seven seconds, using a pulsed delivery similar to that of handheld tasers. Further shocks can be triggered via remote control.

Physical Optics Corporation developed the “Inertial Capacitive Incapacitator,” which uses a thin-film storage device charged during manufacture that only discharges when it strikes the target. It can be incorporated into a ring-shaped aerofoil and fired from a standard grenade launcher at low velocity, while still maintaining a flat trajectory for maximum accuracy.

There are also remote controlled taser barricades, phaser shields, phaser batons, phaser charged body armor, and taser vests for police dogs.

Acoustic shock weapons

HPV Technologies developed MAD (magnetic acoustic device), which broadcasts a targeted beam of sound for more than a mile. At close range, the sound is terrifying and painful. MAD can be used as a public address system, projecting instructions or warnings at lower levels — and at higher levels, forcing crowds to disperse.

The Israeli Army uses a device nicknamed “The Scream” to scatter protest groups. The Scream, a vehicle-mounted sonic blaster, sends out noise at frequencies that affect the inner ear, creating dizziness and nausea.

Another Israeli invention is the “Thunder Generator”, which detonates small amounts of common petroleum and cooking gas to generate a series of acoustic shock waves. The system could be best described as a repeating flash bang grenade. One standard 12-kilogram LPG gas canister can produce up to 5,000 shock bursts. The system generates 60 to 100 bursts per minute, each traveling at about 2,000 meters per second and lasting up to 300 milliseconds, incapacitating people by the extreme air pressure and the sonic boom effect. The Thunder Generator can be lethal or inflict permanent damage at distances less than 10 meters.

American Technology Corporation developed LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device), a far-reaching sonic blaster, which looks like a frying pan attached to a swivel. LRAD fires a 150 decibel noise beam at distances up to 300 meters. The system was used during the G20 demonstrations in Pittsburgh in 2009.

All acoustic devices can cause permanent hearing damage. Damage to the cochlea and auditory nerve sensor cells are considered permanent, while the middle and outer ear can be surgically repaired. The severe ringing which accompanies deafness can sometimes lead to insanity.

Laser weapons

The PHaSR (Personal Halting and Stimulation Response) rifle of the US Air Force is a laser shooter, which blinds the targeted person with two low­-power diode­-pumped lasers. The PHaSR has about the same size and weight as a machine gun.

LE Systems developed with DARPA money a handheld dazzler (puke ray) with green light output at 532 nm, essentially a higher-intensity version of a green laser pointer. The Defender is pistol shaped and effective up to 1000 meter; the Guardian is a torch like device effective up to 100 meter.

The Canadian company ArmLaser sells the 300mw green laser dazzler and declares proudly on its website: “by operating in the near-infrared spectrum, which the eye is transparent to but which does not register as light, dazzler weapons can do their damage without invoking the blink-reaction that normally protects the eye.”

India’s state owned DRDO’s LASTEC has developed a hand-held laser dazzler with a range of 50 meters and is working on bigger crowd-control dazzlers mounted on vehicles with up to 250 meter range.

China’s ZM-87 Portable Laser was probably the first laser weapon and was primarily intended to blind humans. It resembles a heavy machine gun. Production ceased in 2000 as a result of the 1995 UN protocol, banning blinding laser weapons.

The Blinding Laser Protocol of the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons states: “The use of laser weapons that are specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision is prohibited.”

The PHaSR rifle and other recently developed laser weapons try to circumvent this regulation by declaring, that the blinding is only temporary.

Kinetic impact munitions

Rubber bullets are rubber-coated projectiles fired from dedicated riot guns. There are also projectiles available made of plastic, wax or wood, and some of this ammunition can be used with standard firearms. Stinger rounds are filled with small rubber pellets that disperse on impact.

Kinetic impact munitions are officially intended to neutralize or pacify rioters by producing contusions, abrasions, and hematoms, but in reality often cause bone fractures, injuries to internal organs or internal bleeding, and even death.

Doctors at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, analyzed the medical records of 595 casualties admitted to hospital during Palestinian protests in October 2000. 152 were found to have been injured by rubber bullets. Injuries were distributed randomly across their bodies but were most common on the patients’ arms and legs, and on their head, neck and face.
The doctors said, that firing the bullets on civilians made it “impossible to avoid severe injuries to vulnerable body regions such as the head, neck and upper torso, leading to substantial mortality, morbidity and disability.”

Bean bag rounds, or flexible baton rounds, can be fired from 12-gauge shotguns. The ammunition consists of tough fabric bags filled with metal pellets or lead shot.The bag is flexible enough to flatten on impact, covering a large surface area. Bean bag rounds are accurate till 20 meters. Like rubber bullets, Bean bag rounds can cause severe injuries and can be lethal at close range. Even if they are not penetrating the skin they can cause bone fractures, brain damage, internal hemorrhage or cardiac arrhythmia.

MCCM ( M5 Modular Crowd Control Munition) is a non-lethal munition used to incapacitate large group of personnel with the Flash Bang and Impact of rubber balls. It functions like a M18A1 claymore mine, contains 600 rubber balls, can be fired singularly or in a group, and has an effective range of 5 to 30 meters.

Other technologies

Raytheon’s ADS (Active Denial System) projects a microwave beam to heat the skin, creating a painful burning sensation. It looks like a big satellite dish (only flat and square) and is often mounted on a Humvee. Researchers are also working on an aircraft-mounted version. The beam has a range of two kilometers and a diameter of about two meters — it can burn large skin areas, causing severe injury or death. The weapon was initially tested in Afghanistan, but recalled because of political concerns. ADS has since been modified into a smaller version AIS (Assault Intervention System), for use in US law enforcement.

A project funded by the US Navy is MEDUSA (Mob Deterrent Using Silent Audio), which uses a beam of microwaves to induce uncomfortable auditory sensations in the skull. The device exploits the microwave audio effect, in which short microwave pulses rapidly heat tissue, causing a shockwave inside the skull that can be detected by the ears and is loud enough to cause discomfort or even incapacitation. It may also cause lasting brain damage.

General Dynamics XM1063 is a projectile, fired from a 155mm M864 howitzer, with a range of 28km. It scatters 152 small non-explosive submunitions over a 1-hectare area; as each parachutes down, it sprays a chemical agent. The chemicals could be malodorants (with an intolerable smell), CS gas, pepper gas, anti-traction agents (which make the whole area impossibly slippery), or nerve gas — now called “calmatives”.

Calmatives could be bebenzodiazepines like Valium, serotonin-reuptake inhibitors like Prozac, and opiate derivatives like morphine, fentanyl, and carfentanyl.

The XM1063 project also has a “vehicle area denial” component said to be composed of nano-particles. The US army has researched chemicals to interfere with engine combustion in the past, including work with ferrocene (normally used as an anti-knock additive) which prevent engines from working.

Israel uses the malodorant “Skunk” since 2009. Skunk is usually sprayed from a water cannon, but there exist also portable devices. Israel also intends to spray Skunk from helicopters (Flying Skunk). The substance leaves a terrible odor of rot or sewage on whatever it touches and causes nausea and even vomiting. It does not wash off easily and is said to linger on clothes for up to five years.

All these chemical substances would be banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention, which became effective in 1997 and is signed by 188 nation, but the convention is either ignored or sidestepped with the argument that malodorants, calmatives, and anti-traction agents are not weapons.


As the history of protest movements around the world has shown, riot control doesn’t necessarily have to remain “non-lethal”.

In May IDF soldiers killed 20 unarmed “Nakba Day” protesters on the Syrian boarder with life ammunition and at least 45 demonstrating Palestinian youths were hurt by IDF life ammunition along the Gaza fence. IDF soldiers are also ordered to fire at the legs of any Palestinians who cross the “red lines” that it has demarcated around settlements.

The Arab Spring is another example that riot control measures can be deadly. The Bahraini uprising ended with a bloody crackdown and at least 36 protesters died. 1800 protesters died until now in Yemen. 223 protesters died in Tunisia and 875 in Egypt. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were successful in bringing down the long time rulers Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, but recent developments suggest, that the basic power structures are the same as before and only prominent and exposed figures at the top of the political food chain have been exchanged.

One should not underestimate the firepower of modern war machines. The Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters are normally equipped with 30 millimeter cannons and Hellfire or Hydra 70 missiles. The usually installed Hughes M230 30 millimeter “Chain Gun” can fire 650 projectiles a minute. The projectiles fragment upon impact and have a lethal radius of at least three meter.

Let me suggest this — and I know it is a controversial proposition:

If the protests in Tahrir Square had been a serious threat to the fundamental social compact and the existing political and economic system, a few helicopter gunships could have easily cleared the place and ended the annoyance. But as it was quite convenient to solve the complication by just getting rid of an old weary general and a few of his cronies, some slightly younger and less weary generals took over and everything was okay again.

I don’t consider resistance as hopeless, I don’t advocate to give up and comply, yet I’m not sure that open protests are a winning strategy. One doesn’t have to study “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu to realize, that facing a superior enemy head on will seldom work out…

The OWS movement should watch carefully what has become of the Arab Spring!



One of my favorite songs is “Uncle Remus”, written by George Duke and Frank Zappa. It is a slow soul-rock number, with very inspired piano playing and female back vocals. Duke recorded his own version of the song with a wonderful gospel piano introduction and an intelligent and masterful synthesizer solo. Here are the lyrics:

Whoa, are we moving too slow?
Have you seen us, Uncle Remus?
We look pretty sharp in these clothes
(yes, we do)
Unless we get sprayed with a hose
It ain’t bad in the day
If they squirt it your way
‘Cept in the winter, when it’s froze
And it’s hard if it hits, on your nose

Just keep your nose
To the grindstone they say
Will that redeem us, Uncle Remus?
I can’t wait till my fro is full grown
Ill just throw away my doo-rag at home

I’ll take a drive to
Beverly hills
Just before dawn
And knock the little jockeys
Off the rich peoples lawn
And before they get up
I’ll be gone, I’ll be gone
Before they get up
I’ll be knocking the jockeys off the lawn
(down in the dew)

One comment

  1. nicely laid out, ya mato. responding to facing a superior enemy- ‘the easiest path with authority is inevitably acquiescence: the stupider they are, the stupider you need to be.’ ;D (from a jewel of a book- richard flanagan’s ‘gould’s book of fish’) i think we can substitute devious for stupid. :D


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