How to Stay Safe in an Unsafe World (guest article / interview)

Yesterday’s message on the topic of self defense was a surprise hit!

We got a lot of responses, and folks interested in the program.

Thank you.

I am following up today with a transcript of a recent interview done with Mike Gillette of

The focus of the interview was the dangers posed by so-called “lone wolf terrorists”.

Mike shares some of his thoughts about how to think when you must think about the unthinkable.

– Forest


QUESTION 1: Should the average person be worried about lone-wolf terrorist attacks?

Worried? No. Mentally prepared? Yes. The way we mentally frame various circumstances plays a big part in how effectively we’ll respond should a response become necessary.

To put it in simple terms, the language we use when discussing or even thinking about dangerous situations can be positive or negative. If you default to always using negative terminology, your mind will store those negative attitudes accordingly.

And those negative attitudes create a defeatist mentality [that] assumes the worst and is more prone to giving up when confronted with danger.

The key is to understand that while certain things such as terrorists are “scary,” you don’t have to be perpetually scared of them. Learn how they operate and what it takes to protect yourself, and then go on about your life.

QUESTION 2: As high-profile targets get extra security, is there an increased likelihood that soft targets — and civilians — will be attacked by lone-wolf terrorists?

Soft targets have historically been the target of choice for terrorists and will continue to be. They are easy to get into, get around in and get out of. And they also provide the potential body count that yields the maximum psychological effect.

As an example, in 1920 a horse-drawn wagon filled with explosives was detonated in front of the J.P. Morgan Bank on Wall Street. The blast killed 38 and injured 143. Attacking soft targets is nothing new.

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QUESTION 3: Is increasing one’s awareness the most important precaution a person can take?

While it can sound trite, being aware is your most critical survival skill. It’s as true when you’re scuba diving as it is when you’re walking in downtown Newark. Nobody survives an attack they don’t see coming.

You need to adopt the attitude that nothing takes you by surprise. Your life is important, and it’s equally important to pay attention to what’s going on around you. The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself questions that begin with the word “why” — as in “Why is this nervous-looking person walking up to me so quickly?” or “Why would someone leave their backpack next to the bus stop?”

Asking the right questions could save your life.

QUESTION 4: How is fighting a terrorist — a person who’s willing to give his life for a cause — different from fighting a mugger, a gang-member or a rapist?

You just have to play the hand that’s been dealt to you. The idea of being willing to die for a cause is not unique to terrorists.

As a cop, I encountered any number of street criminals who wanted to die. They would actually scream things like, “Shoot me, I want to die!” There is a unique element of risk when dealing with anyone who does not care whether they live or die, but a mugger can kill you just as surely as a terrorist can.

It is up to you to use your powers of perception to assess what you’re dealing with and to respond accordingly. The idea of developing different strategies for muggers, bikers, skinheads or terrorists takes what is already a difficult task and makes it unmanageable.

So make it simpler. You are a good guy (or girl) and you may one day have to deal with a bad guy (or girl).

If that happens, there won’t be time to do anything except respond to whatever threat is presented to you.

And only after the fact will there be time to analyze whether your attacker was a gang member, a mugger or a terrorist.

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