Intelligence & the Holy Week Uprisings of 1968 – Forward Observer Shop

Intelligence & the Holy Week Uprisings of 1968

This week in 1968, now 50 years ago, is remembered as the most violent week in America since the War Between the States. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., riots broke out in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, and unrest boiled in other cities across the country. But Baltimore, under a period of relatively peaceful unease, is about to go up in flames.

Historian Peter B. Levy sets the scene of unease. Robert Bradby, a black man, is drinking in a bar and sees commotion down the street; a group of black protestors outside a white-owned restaurant. Bradby seems to sense that something is about to happen, so he leaves the bar. Levy tells the story of what happens next:

[G]unshots rang out, nearly hitting [Bradby]. Presumably, the shots were fired by  either the owner of Gabriel’s Spaghetti House, John Novak, or by Clarence Baker, a forty-seven-year-old bartender, each white and each fearing the crowd was about to ransack his business.

Bradby responded by concocting an improvised Molotov cocktail and throwing it into the restaurant. A small fire erupted. It was about to go out when another man threw a bigger firebomb into the building.

The ensuing fire kills two; a 58-year old white man and an 18-year old black man. Meanwhile, the Maryland National Guard is mobilizing in response to unrest in the city.

Baltimore University student Joe DiBlasi is being ordered to join his National Guard unit. He reports to the armory and is ordered to set up a guard position near the scene of the growing unrest. Now in command of a squad of troops, he watches crowds, looters, and rioters as buildings burn in the background. Those looters roam into nearby residential neighborhoods, loot the homes, and burn them down. By the next morning, there will be some 300 fires set across the city.

Looking back, DiBlasi emphasized the surreal nature of the event. “You would just look around and say, ‘How can this be happening?’”

That week, across the country, riots break out in 110 cities; 54 of them experience more than $100,000 in property damage. Baltimore alone suffers $12-15 million in damage. 43 were killed; 3,500 were injured; and 27,000 arrested. Some 58,000 National Guard and Army troops were deployed and joined law enforcement to stop the rioting. We now refer to them as the Holy Week Uprisings of 1968.

America is no stranger to riots, and we haven’t seen the last of them. Whether you leave before violence breaks out or stay to defend your community, you can play an active role in community security.


So what can intelligence do for us during a riot?

Back in 2014, a handful of volunteers and I battle tracked the Ferguson riots with the goal of providing real-time and actionable intelligence in what we called Operation Urban Charger. It was a collaborative effort taking place mostly online with analysts and collectors spread around the country, including sources in Ferguson. My intent was to demonstrate a ‘proof of concept’ that commercial, off-the-shelf equipment and other freely available tools could result in the ability to provide tactical intelligence. And we proved that it can be done with no additional cost other than a few computers and an internet connection. Here’s how we did it.

First things first: the two major responsibilities for the intelligence section in community security is to provide early warning and threat intelligence. Just by listening to the police scanner and other channels being used by first responders, we were able to receive warning when the National Guard commander began issuing orders for his troops to begin moving to their security posts in the city. That was 90 minutes before the No True Bill verdict was announced. That’s a great case of how a simple police scanner can produce early warning, and it allowed us to spin up and start looking for indications of the violence that followed. (I provide a list of gear and equipment that I recommend in the Ultimate ACE Startup Guide.)

Throughout the night and early morning, we monitored the police scanner, social media (Twitter, Periscope, and Facebook, among other platforms), news outlets, and reporting from on the ground to visualize the security situation around the town. The picture below is a screenshot of some of the National Guard and law enforcement staging locations.

Throughout the night, we continued to monitor the social media accounts of protestors, rioters, reporters, and observers, and we updated our map with the last known or real-time location of events and personnel. We tracked the movements of the rioters and crowds, observed the police responses, and continually produced early warning about movements until the early morning hours.

If we had lived in that city or could have been affected by the violence, then we would have fared much better with this intelligence than without it. And this is why intelligence is such a crucial aspect of preparedness, emergency response, and community security.

I teach students the step-by-step process of how to set up an intelligence section (what we call the ACE, or Analysis & Control Element), how to run ACE operations, and ultimately how to produce this kind of intelligence during an emergency, whether it’s local or national.

My next SHTF Intelligence course is 19-20 May 2018 in Austin, Texas, and we’ll have future courses coming up in Colorado, Idaho, North Carolina, and a few other states this year. Be sure to sign up for our weekly newsletter below to get future course dates, additional information about our course offerings, and links to invaluable resources on intelligence and community security.

I hope today’s post gives you some insight into what’s possible for the next emergency. I’ll be back tomorrow with another edition of the Forward Observer Daily to write about intelligence, security, and defense for an uncertain future.

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper

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Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.


  1. I followed the link to your lost of equipment/stuff you recommend.

    Is the Uniden model you recommend d still valuable despite the increase in police and fire departments using encrypted comms?

    1. Encryption isn’t easy to run and, as we’ve found with numerous cases of riots and unrest, there’s a common interoperable frequency which is not encrypted, even if the tactical teams’ transmissions are. Yes, it’s still worth the money.

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