To say we live in tumultuous times is an understatement. War rages across eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Several major economies teeter on the brink of collapse. And here in the U.S., division between Americans is running rampant. In recent months, over 50 college campuses and dozens of cities across the U.S. have seen pro-Palestinian protests, many of which have escalated to violence as participants clashed with counter-protestors and law enforcement. The sudden spread of these protests has led politicians and pundits to claim that third-party agitators are co-opting the movement and using it to deliberately fan the flames of unrest in an election year. Lending validity to these concerns, there is a guide circulating the web which instructs these groups how to further exploit these feelings: the Do-It-Yourself Occupation Guide.

(Lead photo via Flickr – C64-92)

The graphics on the front of the DIY Occupation Guide, featuring a crowbar.

Above: On the cover of the DIY Occupation Guide, imagery of a crowbar indicates the underlying intent of the Guide.

This guide suggests tactics, techniques, and procedures for anyone who is upset with their quality of life and who may be looking for a cause to join. If that scenario sounds familiar, it’s because almost every attempt at a social movement purports to stem from one’s discontent at the way things are. Although these efforts often originate from real and serious issues and are perpetrated in the name of “justice” or “equality,” certain actors with a darker and more violent agenda creep in to take advantage of the situation. As Saul Alinsky, famous activist and author of “Rules for Radicals” once wrote, “An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent; provide a channel into which the people can angrily pour their frustrations.” The DIY Occupation Guide is a testament to this fact, and it brings to light much deeper problems our society faces.

Photo of a group claiming to be Democratic Socialists of America carrying their banner in a protest march.

Above: Protests become a convenient way for organizations to get media coverage. (Photo via Flickr – David Shankbone)

It's not a long read, and the order of the pages is a bit odd, but this guide briefly covers several topics — organizing the illegal occupation of a building, how to defend an illegally occupied space, and what to do when it comes to an end. The author assumes that if you are reading the DIY Occupation Guide, you are upset with society and can think of no other constructive way to solve problems besides becoming a professional agitator. Techniques discussed in the Guide are all about exploiting vulnerabilities, gaining access to buildings, targeting weaknesses in police tactics, and more importantly, manipulating the vulnerable minds of other people who perceive themselves as suffering in order to expand the movement.

The guide concludes with a clear statement of purpose:

“The occupation must spread to survive. What would happen if we could take over the whole city, living without the imposition of the state or capitalism?”

Unraveling the DIY Occupation Guide

Knowing that the DIY Occupation Guide exists, let’s take a closer look at what it recommends as a course of action, and how you can make sure that these tactics aren’t used against you.

Instructions on how to build a shield out of a 55 gallon trash can.

Above: Commonly seen in media coverage of protests, readers of the Guide are given instruction on how to build makeshift shields out of commonly found public items.

Originally birthed in the wake of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movements, the Guide is a comprehensive playbook for organizing sit-ins and occupations. It covers a range of tactics from simple sit-downs to elaborate takeovers of abandoned buildings, specifically citing lessons learned from J28 Occupy Oakland, where organized anarchists targeted the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center as the building they would take over. The guide has since been updated for 2024 to reflect lessons from past movements, such as Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), and can serve as a tool for both activists and those looking to safeguard themselves from said activists.

A list of suggesting reading for anarchist behavior.

Above: The Guide includes a recommended reading list to help give illegal activities a boost. According the Handbook of Terrorist Prevention and Preparedness, this type of thing falls right in line with the way terrorist organizations groom potential recruits.

It starts off by appealing to the reader’s need to feel understood. Has it ever crossed your mind that planet Earth was a confusing, crazy, and scary place to live in from time to time? This is a universal symptom of the human condition as we struggle to make our way in the world. Unfortunately, this guide takes advantage of those who haven’t found healthy ways to cope with this chaos by encouraging organized civil unrest, trespassing, and vandalism as an outlet for existential dread. It explains that its purpose is not to address any single issue, but rather to help readers reshape society on a larger scale:

“We can no longer simply protest to demonstrate our rage; decades of activism have come to the point of an impasse. To fight for single issues without addressing the state and capitalism in its entirety will not be able to make the transformations we wish to see possible. Politics turns our lived experiences into useless abstractions and uses those abstractions to fuel meaningless ideological battles. It is time to bow out of the theater of politics.”

Ironically, it attempts to defy traditional societal structures by explaining how to organize and build a new society based loosely around common corporate or military structures.

Pro Palestine protesters stand on a rocky outcrop with the Palestine flag.

Above: Protests, regardless of the cause, are a way for people to experience a social bond and unite behind a singular purpose. Because of this, they are often used by behind-the-scenes individuals to foment discord among a population. (Photo via Flickr – Alisdare Hickson)

DIY Occupation Guide Tactics

Organization starts by establishing a group of likeminded individuals and separating them into committees:

  • Entry/Tactical Committee: Charged with deciding which building to occupy and coordinating defenses.
  • Building Committee: Is tasked with decorating, defending, and maintaining the building once it’s been occupied.
  • Logistics Committee: Oversees the procurement and distribution of supplies, such as furniture and food.
  • Festival Committee: These are the people in charge of making an illegal occupation seem like a legitimate event by scheduling guest speakers, performers, or hosting panels.
  • Media: Manages all the publicity for the event, creates an online presence, comes up with statements and coordinates outreach.

Instructions on how to pack a protest go-bag.

Above: Within the guide are numerous tips, like this one instructing participants to bring their own protest themed go-bag.

The DIY guide then turns from event management to guerilla military tactics by outlining how to seize a piece of property illegally and maintain it.

  • Reconnaissance: Identifying potential targets by looking for signs that a building is unoccupied. This involves locating alarm systems, possible points of entry, and even gaining access to public tax records. Posting members of the Tactical Committee on high vantage points is also recommended to observe the movements of authorities and control crowd movements.
  • Entry: Utilizing soft methods like unlocked windows and doors to gain access to the building, to hard methods like angle grinders, bolt cutters, and crowbars to forcibly make your way in.
  • Defense: Accumulating a well-defended crowd prevents the authorities from taking the occupied building back, and the DIY Guide shows how to construct makeshift shields out of corrugated metal panels and 55-gallon garbage pails.
  • Barricades: Once the building has been taken, the guide shows how to use simple items like C-clamps and ratchet straps to prevent the doors from being opened from the outside. The guide also outlines the “Zone of Defense,” breaking the building’s defense into three distinct sections. The First Zone is the people occupying the building. The Second zone is the crowd immediately around the building and includes people who want to participate in a non-violent capacity. The Third Zone are people in the streets physically fighting the cops and diverting attention away from the occupied building.
  • Support: Those involved are encouraged to have a lawyer lined up before the event, and to have that lawyer’s number written somewhere on their body in case their phone gets confiscated. In another ironic twist, the Guide recommends knowing legal rights and recommends reading “Beat the Heat” by Katya Komisaruk. It is strongly recommended that people with medical training, like RNs and EMTs participate and be on hand in case of emergencies.
  • Propaganda: Preparing statements, managing websites, and promoting the event on social media are ways to affect public support and possibly attract more supporters to the area.

If it seems odd to you that a publication would encourage disruption of a system that works when everyone gets along by developing something that mirrors a terrorist insurgency, you’re not alone. Terrorist attacks are planned and orchestrated as communication tools to spread fear among a population and convey a message through violence. By following a typical terrorist recruitment cycle — attack, seek media coverage, create propaganda, recruit new members, repeat — the Guide invariably exploits human nature by attempting to perpetuate this cycle.

The Subversion of Protests

Pro Israel protesters stand across from pro Palestine protesters.

Above: Protests are the perfect opportunity for nefarious individuals and organizations to exploit gatherings for their own agendas, spreading misinformation and potentially inciting violence at an event that may have started out as a legitimate nonviolent protest(Photo via Flickr – Bruce Emmerling)

Let's make one thing clear — “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers of our nation acknowledged the importance of this right for every American. However, it's also important to recognize that these legitimate protests are often deliberately hijacked by outsiders who wish to polarize participants and push them towards more extreme beliefs and actions, up to and including terrorism or mass murder.

According to “Anarchist/Left-Wing Violent Extremism in America: Trends in Radicalization, Recruitment, and Mobilization” a 2021 paper by the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center (NCITE):

“Today, in the United States, reciprocal radicalization at the micro-level between left-wing and right-wing extremists is apparent in street violence during protests between right-wing [Anti-Government and Anti-Authority Violent Extremist] AGAAVE and [Racially and Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremist] RMVE groups on one side and [Anarchist Violent Extremists] AVE on the other.”

Issues To Consider

Within the 16-page document, several points are made that suggest the author fancies themselves some sort of social psychology tactical guru. After paraphrasing Sun Tzu’s “know thy enemy,” the Guide highlights the obvious by recommending fellow occupiers exploit weaknesses in police formations, to stay alert for changing tactics used by authorities, and to make use of important terrain features. It also recommends utilizing the “Black Bloc” technique, which involves concealing your identity with black clothing and a face mask, a tactic made popular in the German anti-police riots of the 1980s and used extensively by modern anti-fascist, anarchist, and anarcho-communist groups.

Additionally, the DIY Occupation Guide recommends setting up alternative and emergency means of communication, packing a go-bag, and recruiting tradespeople with specialty knowledge to bolster the effectiveness of the occupation. In other words, within its pages are common self-reliance techniques with the goal of establishing a long-term occupation free of counter-disruption from authorities.

Within the DIY Occupation Guide are numerous instructions like this one, showing how to barricade a door.

Above: Within the DIY Occupation Guide are numerous instructions like this one, showing how to barricade a door.

DIY Counter-Occupation Guide

So, as a regular individual or small business owner, what can you do to stay safe? In the game of chess that is urban occupation, knowledge is your most powerful piece. Staying informed about the strategies being leveraged against you may help ensure that you're always a move ahead. Recognizing the early signs of an occupation can help community members rally together, alert local authorities, and prevent potential disruptions. Thankfully, despite the thought and planning that seems to be going into these movements, they can be easily discouraged before an occupation takes root.

  • Counter Occupation Tip 1 – Check Your Security: If a building you own is largely unoccupied, start by making sure any access point that even a small child could squeeze through is blocked and locked. Avoid placing keys near the facility, even if it’s in a lock box. Lock boxes can be broken into, the keys copied, and the whole thing replaced with an exact duplicate, with the owner none the wiser. Cheap commercial padlocks and combination locks from big-box stores can be defeated by a skilled individual in only a few seconds; professional-grade locks with anti-picking and anti-shimming features are much more secure. Utilize several layers of security in case a phone line is cut or a camera is covered, and consult a security professional for guidance if the task seems overwhelming.
  • Counter Occupation Tip 2 – Stay Alert: Suspicious activity should not be taken lightly. Be on the lookout for strangers wandering around the neighborhood or the facility. They may be scoping things out and assessing for vulnerabilities. Encourage your community to report suspicious behavior to the authorities. This includes watching for people moving in small groups, scouts on rooftops or in high-rise windows and balconies, and trusting your gut when something doesn’t feel right. Thankfully, even anarchists and terrorists want to feel like they belong to a group and will often dress in a similar way. This could be as simple as donning identical masks or other accoutrements that they can identify their counterparts with. Being able to recognize these signs will aid in your attempt to stay away from potentially violent groups, and possibly even put a stop to organized mayhem.
  • Counter Occupation Tip 3 – Stay Informed: All the major civil unrest we hear about in the news is coordinated on a semi-professional level, and you can leverage the internet to find out what is happening in your area. Start by searching activist buzzwords like “community action”, “mobilized response”, “progressive action” or “vigil for,” plus your town or region. You might be shocked by the websites that exist where people are literally planning protests and occupations. There are also groups that form on social media, and even in video game chat rooms to plan their moves. By keeping an ear to the ground and remotely monitoring for nefarious organizing nearby, you potentially have the power to disrupt the disruption by letting appropriate law enforcement know before the chaos even takes flight.
  • Counter Occupation Tip 4 – Know Your Rights: Have a discussion with your insurance and/or legal advisor to learn what the best response is to a potential occupation, or if you’re the unwitting target of civil unrest. The law is a shield, but only if you know how to wield it. Understanding local ordinances related to trespassing, public assemblies, and property rights can empower residents to effectively navigate and counter unauthorized occupations. Hosting legal workshops or inviting experts to speak at community meetings can spread this crucial knowledge, ensuring everyone knows their rights and the legal avenues available to protect their homes and neighborhoods.
  • Counter Occupation Tip 5 – Do Not Fight Fire with Fire: Don’t assume that you know what the agenda is of an occupying force. Responding with the intent to aggress the aggressor may result in vindicating the occupiers and could possibly result in physical damage or injury. In many cases, a violent response is exactly what they want — they’ll use it to create propaganda, reinforce their victim narrative, and radicalize more people. Instead, let law enforcement do their jobs and stay out of their way. Since it is stated in the guide that the point of occupation is the occupation itself, and not for a desired end goal, there is no way to negotiate or rationalize your way to a peaceful conclusion. It is crucially important to understand that illegal occupiers do not want a rational outcome, they want a target for their pent-up frustration at a world they perceive is unfair. Without the fuel of annoyance (i.e. attention) from the public, their fire will extinguish itself soon enough.

Instructions on how to break into a deadbolt lock.

Above: Think your building is safe because it has a deadbolt lock? Think again! The Guide explains how easy it is to defeat these types of locks with common tools.

Think of your community as a castle. The walls are only as strong as their weakest point. Upgrading physical security measures — stronger locks, better lighting, surveillance cameras — can fortify your defenses. But beyond the physical, there's also the communal bond. Organizing neighborhood watches or community patrols can act like the sentries on your walls, keeping an eye out for unusual activities and ensuring swift collective responses. For business owners, discuss this topic with nearby tenants and consider ways you can help each other.

The heart of countering occupation tactics lies in strengthening community ties. When people know and trust each other, they cooperate better and act more decisively in times of crisis. Initiatives like community centers, regular meetings, and social events can knit neighbors closer together, creating a fabric tough enough to withstand external pressures. Even engaging in friendly, casual discussion as you pass a fellow neighbor is a move that can have long lasting positive effects. Moreover, these connections turn neighbors into allies, making it difficult for external groups to disrupt the harmony.

Photo of a sign amongst a protesting crowd that reads

Above: The right to protest peacefully is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, with the right prodding from outside sources, these protests can quickly turn from calm to chaos. (Photo via Flickr – Harrie van Veen)

That Sad Truth About Civil Unrest

Tearing down flags, defacing buildings, demolishing statues, and disrupting traffic do little to affect the decisions of policy makers thousands of miles away. If anything, it makes the situation worse, as legislators find ways to harness the power of civil unrest into fulfilling some pre-ordained agenda that has nothing to do with the original movement. By doing some preliminary research into who is funding a cause, the desired outcome becomes a little less murky. Most of the violent and destructive protestors we see in the news would not participate if they weren’t being incentivized in some way. We all need to put food on the table somehow, and unfortunately, being paid by an outside organization to sow the seeds of civil unrest is a more convenient way to provide than finding and keeping more wholesome work.

If we are being completely honest with ourselves, especially after reading something like the DIY Occupation Guide, then a sad reality becomes apparent: these incidents are a byproduct of our society’s tendency to hate one another rather than to work together. Participants of civil unrest can be generalized into two categories, those who are looking for a sense of purpose to fill a void in their lives, and those who are either paid or ideologically motivated to exploit them. As we have become increasingly disengaged with our neighbors, we have been slowly losing a support network that we once relied on to help navigate through life’s turbulent times.

A student protester throws a tear gas canister towards riot policemen during a demonstration against the government to demand changes in the public state education system in Santiago, August 8, 2012. Chilean students have been protesting against what they say is profiteering in the state education system. REUTERS/Eliseo Fernandez (CHILE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST EDUCATION)

Above: A protestor, making use of the Black Bloc tactic, throws a canister of tear gas back towards a police line. (Photo via Flickr – C64-92)

In a final twist of irony, the authors of the Guide acknowledge the importance of this fact in their sidebar titled “Notes on Us and Them.” It reads:

“We must be careful with ‘us versus them' logic, which oftentimes lapses into the logic of demanding something from ‘them' (those in power). While there are still social and class enemies, we must remember that our power to accomplish whatever project depends ultimately on an ‘us' and not a ‘them.'”

Instead of dumping gasoline on the flames of discontent, perhaps we can glean some insights from this guide that will help direct us towards a future where people are drawn towards a more constructive purpose.

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Editor's Note: This article has been modified from its original print version for the web.

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