Social Media Self-Defense

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español – 

Recent events have raised conversation about the necessity for operational security in relation to social media. Discussions about how to maintain an online presence while protecting one’s private life and personal identity are cropping up in communities who had previously never felt the need to exercise operational security, and who had never considered the possibility of falling prey to compromised security and data breaches.

In the age of social media, there are a myriad ways our online presence may be used against us by a multitude of adversaries. From stalkers to prosecutors, any public information that can be attached to our identities may be used to their advantage and our detriment. It is important that we are mindful of the resources we make available to potential attackers.

In the interest of making practical operational security accessible to more people, I have composed a list of basic strategies for helping to mask the link between a social media account and one’s true identity. This list is by no means exhaustive, and it is important to keep in mind that an adversary with enough resources will likely be able to circumvent this obfuscation, given enough time. That said, it is nearly always worthwhile to make these connections more difficult, especially when they come at very little cost to us in terms of implementation.

1. Use a unique email address.
When attempting to mask connections between social media profiles, including dating sites, it is important to use a dedicated email address that does not relate back to other profiles, our legal name, or, ideally, any of our public associations. Using is a bad idea; using is a great idea. Creating new email addresses is easy, so there is no need to reuse one for accounts you’d like to keep separate.
Pro-tip: you can use a service like to generate a temporary email for creating a new Gmail account.

2. Choose a unique handle.
Do not re-use handles across platforms you’d like to keep separate. Do not use firstnamelastname69 for accounts you do not want to have connected to your legal identity. Pick something else. Anything else. It doesn’t matter.

3. Don’t use the same photos.
Do not use the same photos on profiles you’d like to keep separate. Reverse image search is a thing, and it will fuck your shit up. Ideally, you would not use images of your face at all on a profile you did not want tied to you, but if you must, make sure they can’t be linked back to your Twitter or Facebook accounts simply by using a quick drag-and-drop search.

4. Your tabs are YOUR business.
Give no indication that you’re using a site you don’t want people to know you’re using: if you’re trying to keep your private account private, make sure you’re not hinting at its existence by means of open tabs. Ensure you’re not being shouldersurfed while interacting with that account, and never post screencaps that show tabs. EVER.

5. Scrub your browsing history.
Religiously. As with the above point, if you don’t want people to know you’re using a site or service, it’s best not to leave evidence around and available to the casual observer. Deleting your browsing history is easy. Using Chrome in incognito mode and closing your tabs after every session is even easier.

6. When possible, pay in cash.
When making purchases connected to your private persona, pay in cash. When cash isn’t possible, consider paying with a pre-paid card. Purchased with cash. You do not need bank statements or credit card statements establishing a link between you and places you never were, or sites you do not use.

7. Don’t use your legal name.
Pick a name. Any name. There is no need whatsoever for you to use your legal name on social media. You certainly CAN if you feel comfortable with it, but it is absolutely not mandatory. DO pick a name you will actually respond to, though.

8. If you want to keep a secret, KEEP QUIET.
Don’t talk about it. Don’t brag, don’t discuss it anonymously. Don’t tell your best friend, don’t tell your workmates, don’t tell that stranger at the bar. Just SHHHH. Stop talking.

9. Use strong passphrases.
“Password,” “Passw0rd,” “password123,” etc. are not good enough. Use strong unique passwords for each site or service. Better yet, use a password manager with a strong master password.

10. Don’t share identifying information.
If you’re trying to keep a profile secret, don’t share personally-identifying details on it. Keep your workplace, alma mater, tattoos, and the freckle on your left butt cheek private; there is no benefit to sharing these details on an account you don’t want to have linked back to you.

11. “Plausible deniability” is a terrible failsafe.
If your operational security is poor enough that you have to rely on plausible deniability, you are almost definitely not capable of pulling off plausible deniability. It’s far better to share false information from the start than it is to put honest information out there, and then try to lie to cover up its connection to you. If you are relying on plausible deniability to keep you safe, you are fucked.

12. Being recognized will fuck your shit up.
Don’t conduct clandestine meetings in places you frequent in your normal life. It only takes one staff member, regular patron, etc. to recognize you, call you by the wrong name, and totally blow your cover. It only takes an innocuous comment to someone in your normal life to make your secrets known. Pick somewhere you are unlikely to be recognized, dress differently than you normally do, and don’t go to that place in your day-to-day life if you can avoid it.

13. Alibis can be helpful, but they’re hard.
Use your credit card to buy a movie ticket or pay for food somewhere you frequent often. The problem with many alibis is that they involve having someone else lie on your behalf, which in turn requires violation of rule number 8. If you are going to construct an alibi, make sure you’re fabricating evidence, rather than relying on false testimony.

14. Strict compartmentalization.
The first rule of Fight Club is, do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB. This rule actually goes both ways; just as you should not be discussing your secret life within your mundane existence, there is also no reason to discuss your day-to-day life within your secret life. Just don’t. Keep it completely separate; no overlap, no allusion, nothing.

15. Maintain composure.
If you want to get away with keeping a secret, you must keep your cool. Be mindful of being fidgety. Don’t giggle every time someone says the word “secret.” Be aware of your facial expressions and your reactions to the people around you. Be aware of what names you’re responding to, when. Stay calm.

16. Don’t get cocky.
Persona maintenance requires constant vigilance. Personal security is never assured, and one should never forget this. Cockiness breeds sloppiness, sloppiness leads to discovery.

17. Perfection takes practice.
None of these skills are innate. All of them require extensive practice. You may find that you need to start over and start clean over and over again. There is no shame in failure, but it is important to remember that the internet never forgets; it is best to always err on the side of caution and add additional information as you go, after having properly assessed the risk.

Again, while this is by no means an exhaustive list of all possible precautions one might take, and while these precautions may not be as helpful against adversaries with a lot of time and resources, they are absolutely an easy way to minimize risk from stalkers, dangerous family members, nosy employers, and potentially even low-level state adversaries. Social media can very well be a point of vulnerability for many of us, but through careful persona management, it is possible to negate some of that insecurity while maintaining a robust online presence.

“What’s in the Bag?” – A Guide to Packing a Protest First Aid Kit

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The basic dos and don’ts of what to carry to a protest are already pretty clearly laid out here, but if you’re planning on taking on the role of Street Medic, you may want to more carefully tailor your protest-specific “clean bag” to this specific purpose. The following covers the contents of a basic functional, versatile protest-specific first aid kit, with a description of what each is for. Medics may or may not want to prioritize certain materials, based on the conditions they’re most likely to come across while in the field.

Personal Protective Equipment:

Nitrile gloves: Important for protecting you from coming into contact with other people’s bodily fluids, you not only want to carry enough for yourself to wear a fresh pair with each patient, but also enough to provide gloves to anyone you ask for assistance in treating those with serious injuries. Nitrile gloves weigh next to nothing, and take up very little space, so in this case it is preferable to “over pack,” as you can never be carrying too many (within reason), but certainly do not want to be caught without enough.

Bandanna: There are plenty of good reasons to wear a bandanna while you’re out in the streets, and it never hurts to carry a spare. As with the nitrile gloves, bandannas weigh next to nothing, and take up almost no space, so it’s better to carry one or two than to be caught without one when they suddenly become necessary.

Gas Mask or Respirator: If you’re the type of person who is likely to want to stick around when tear gas and/or pepper spray is being deployed in large quantities, it may be worth it to invest in and carry a gas mask or respirator. More information on the particulars of gas masks and respirators (and tear gas) can be found here. While useful to carry, it is worth noting that gas masks are both bulky and fairly heavy. Respirators tend to be slightly less so, but still take up quite a bit of space.

Helmet: Given that a blow to the head with a less-lethal projectile can be deadly, it may be worthwhile to invest in a bicycle helmet for wearing to protests. As with gas masks and respirators, helmets are very bulky, and they can also make putting on and taking off a gas mask more difficult, but a helmet may still very well be a worthwhile inconvenience if you’re in an environment where things are being shot into a crowd.

Basic First Aid Supplies:

Duct tape: Duct tape is sterile and versatile. It can be used to affix gauze to wounds, can be used to create basic braces and slings for stabilizing and immobilizing injured joints, and much more. While duct tape is fairly heavy compared to other supplies, its versatility makes it well worth carrying. It IS important to note that most duct tape DOES CONTAIN LATEX, which some people may be allergic to. It is also important to note that even in cases where there is no latex allergy, it’s a real asshole move to stick duct tape to bare skin, especially where body hair is involved. In the interest of protecting people’s skin from duct tape, it may be worthwhile to carry a few spare (CLEAN) socks to slip over joints you’re trying to immobilize, before wrapping with tape. This has the added bonus of helping prevent the tape wrapping from being too tight, thus cutting off circulation.

Gauze: While gauze is a little fluffy, and does take up a fair amount of space, it is well worth carrying copious amounts. Gauze is yet another of those items where it’s better to have more than needed than it is to run into a situation where you don’t have enough. It may even be beneficial to carry gauze in a variety of sizes and configurations. Some useful sizes to carry include 2″x2″, 3″x3″, 4″x4″, rolled gauze, and if possible, a sealed compression dressing or two for extreme cases.

Instant Cold Packs: Cold packs can be useful for treating everything from heat stroke/exhaustion to sprains, fractures, and dislocations. They’re a little bulky and a little expensive, and aren’t expressly necessary, but can be a nice addition to your kit if you can spare the dollars and the space.

Burn Dressings: While somewhat expensive, it’s worth carrying a few of these little guys in case someone comes into contact with something very hot (like a projectile fired by police, or fire).

Unscented Menstrual Pads: Useful for conventional reasons, but also because they are absorbent enough to help staunch bleeding in cases of fairly serious injury.

Liquid Antacid + Water: A mixture of liquid antacid and water is useful for saturating bandannas in case of exposure to tear gas, as well as washing tear gas out of people’s eyes, and can help soothe the burn associated with exposure to pepper spray as well. A roughly 50/50 solution of milk of magnesia and water does the trick, but other antacids are also fine as long as they are alcohol-free and ideally unflavored. If only flavored antacids are available, cherry burns a lot less than mint.

Herbal Remedies:

Mullein Leaf Tincture: Useful aftercare for exposure to tear gas, as it helps heal the respiratory system. Mullein leaf has no known interactions, and should be safe for nearly anyone to use.

Plantain Salve: Useful for treating burns and scrapes, can be applied liberally to the affected area, and then covered with gauze.

Relaxation Tinctures: Herbal medicine is medicine, and should never be taken or administered without a solid understanding of effects and interactions. One of the best options is Borage tincture, which is mild, safe to use, and is meant to make people feel support and courage of heart. Alternatives such as Passionflower, Lemon Balm, Catnip, Lavender (infusion, not essential oil), and California Poppy may also be useful in helping treat panic attacks and anxiety attacks. These should all be used very carefully, as all may affect different people in different ways. Some of the milder options above, such as Passionflower, Lemon Balm, and Catnip, may be the best options for wide use. Rescue Remedy, which is homeopathic and therefore contains nearly zero actual plant matter, may be a safe alternative to any of the above, but is likely to be less effective. The fact is, calmly and confidently telling someone you’re going to give them something which will help them feel more relaxed is frequently the most important part of helping people feel calm and safe in a protest setting.

Other Useful Items:

Lollipops: Lollipops are great for providing a quick sugar rush in the event that someone is hypoglycemic and in need of a blood sugar boost. Additionally, they’re an excellent way to help calm children who may be feeling panicked for any number of reasons (like big crowds, or scary cops.)

Character Band-Aids: While it’s not explicitly necessary to carry any band-aids at all (as injuries which can be treated with a band-aid are not really necessary to treat in the first place), it can be helpful to have a couple on hand in case a child suffers from a small scrape or cut.

Trauma Shears: Useful for cutting, without having any possibility of being construed as a weapon. It is worth keeping in mind that the likelihood of losing your trauma shears is fairly high, and they will therefore probably need to be replaced frequently.

Garbage Bags: Useful both for containing clothing which has been contaminated with chemical weapons, and also for sanitary disposal of large amounts of waste which is contaminated with bodily fluids (like blood). Lightweight and compact, it’s worth carrying at least a few of these if you have them lying around.

A Change of Clothes: If you can fit them into your kit, it’s frequently worthwhile to carry a spare change of clothes in a sealed gallon-sized bag. Whether your own clothing is contaminated with chemical weapons, or you simply find yourself in a situation where altering your appearance is a necessary safety precaution, it can’t hurt to carry a costume change if you’re able.

Sharpies: Not only is it important to write important phone numbers on your own body, so you have access to them in case of arrest, but it may also be important to write information on a patient if they are unconscious and you have to pass them off to Emergency Medical Services. Knowledge of what has already been done to help a patient, and knowledge of any vital information you may have been given before the patient passed out (such as blood type and/or allergies) can help save lives.

Snacks and Water: Medics should not be responsible for carrying food and water for others, but we should always carry enough for ourselves. Self-care is an important part of not creating a second patient, and let’s be real: nobody wants to be treated by a hangry street medic anyway.

Emergen-C: These little square packets are full of electrolytes. When we sweat, we’re not only sweating out water, but also salts. Cracking open an Emergen-C packet, pouring a small amount of water directly into the pouch, and administering to someone who is suffering from severe dehydration can be a big help!

Other Medications:

NOTE: Pills and prescription medications should never be administered by street medics. As lay-people, prescribing medication is outside our scope of practice, and we have no legal protections for giving people medication. It is highly suggested that all of the medications on this list be self-administered by whoever needs them.

Ibuprofen: Useful for sprains, fractures, dislocations, and anything else where swelling is a factor.

Epi-pen: If you can get your hands on one, an epi-pen may save someone’s life, even if they need to self-administer (with or without your help.)

Albuterol Inhaler: Procurement of albuterol inhalers can be difficult, but if you have one and are willing to carry it, it may save a life if someone who is asthmatic is exposed to either tear gas or pepper spray.

Special thanks to Lauren Smith-Donohoe for her invaluable feedback on herbal first aid, and her personal influence on my own best practices as a street medic.

OPSEC for Activists Part 3: Always Carry A Bandana

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Masked protesters in Montreal troll police with donuts on sticks.

Mention of the potential importance of carrying a mask has been made in both OPSEC for Activists Part 1 and OPSEC for Activists Part 2. There’s been brief mention of some of the reasons why it might be important to carry a mask, and this post will delve a little deeper into the subject.

There are a myriad good reasons to wear a mask to a protest, even if you feel no guilt or shame being there. Those reasons may include:

Dragnet Surveillance: It is not uncommon for police officers to record crowds of protesters at demonstrations. While having your face appear in this footage isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, for the sake of your privacy, it may be worth masking up anyway. Additionally, people whose faces appear in these videos are often either approached to testify against comrades in court cases, targeted for harassment by police, or accused of committing crimes due to proximity and convenience.

Child Custody Concerns: If you are a parent, it is entirely possible that your presence at protests could conceivably endanger your custody rights. If you have a vindictive ex, or other relative trying to gain custody of your children, they may cite your presence at protests as either neglect or child endangerment, depending on whether or not your children are at the demonstration with you. In light of this, it is best to wear a mask, and if you plan on bringing your children with you, you may wish to recommend that they wear masks as well.

Precarious Employment: If you are working for an employer who is either unsupportive of your political leanings, or doesn’t know you’re taking time off work to attend a demonstration (or deal with an arrest/court case), it may be wise to cover your face while you attend political actions. While it’s true that in most states and for most jobs, you can’t be fired for what you do in your time off, many employers are willing to either find ways to work around this, or flout these rules entirely. It’s not worth risking your livelihood by showing up on the evening news, when a simple bandana could save you from trouble in the first place.

Social Consequences: Perhaps you have a parent who worries too much, or a church community with varying values, or peers at work or school who might ostracize you. Perhaps you’re worried about future employment opportunities, or judgement from your in-laws, or weird looks from your neighbors. In any case, even if the social consequences aren’t terribly serious, it’s better to wear a mask than it is to allow potential social consequences to dissuade you from going to a demonstration at all.

Fascist Creeps: It is, perhaps, no surprise that white supremacists on the internet frequently go through photos from protests in order to identify and track down people whose politics don’t line up with their own. It is fairly common practice for them to circulate false rumors, attempt to get Child Protective Services involved in family situations, get people fired from their jobs, or attempt to fabricate incriminating evidence to turn over to law enforcement. Fascist creeps, as a matter of fact, represent all the threats laid out prior to their mention, as well as carrying with them the implicit threat of violence after the action is over. For the sake of protecting yourself from angry neo-nazis, it’s wise to not only mask up, but also to cover up any distinguishing marks such as tattoos, piercings, or scars as best as possible, in order to avoid being identified by the white supremacist fascists known as the “alt-right.”

Stock Photos: A much less serious threat than Actual Fucking Nazis, you do not want to be identifiable as part of a protest stock photo. The likelihood of accidentally being the poster child for a super awkward headline written by hyperconservatives isn’t high, per se, but as it’s easily avoidable by simply wearing a mask, the mask is probably the way to go.

Expanding the Anonymity Set: Even if you’ve gotten all the way through this post and don’t feel the need to wear a mask, I’d like to ask you to please consider whether or not any of the threats laid out affect anyone you care about. While there are certainly a myriad of ways to identify even masked activists, if someone is willing to put in the effort, the more of us who wear masks, the less likely someone is to be spotted and have their kids taken away, or fired from their job. The more masked demonstrators there are in the streets, the less likely any one of us will be tracked down and threatened (or attacked) by right wing extremists. Even if you are not personally at risk, wearing a mask is both an important act of solidarity with our comrades, and also an effective means of helping them disappear into the masked crowd.

So have fun storming the castle, stay safe, and Always Carry A Bandana.

POPSEC: Operational Security Lessons Learned from Archer

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Sterling Archer is a well-known, widely loved secret agent whose methods are… unconventional. Despite having a background in covert and clandestine operations, he manages to fuck up on a pretty consistent basis, often with hilarious and disastrous results. Fortunately, the multitude of mistakes made by him and his cohort provide a wealth of learning opportunities for those of us who watch.

Lesson 1: Op First, Drinks After

Archer is notorious for his love of Glengoolie Blue Label… or literally anything else with an alcohol content greater than or equal to that found in NyQuil. While Sterling’s reputation for being a boozehound certainly sets the stage for some entertaining and hilariously catastrophic scenarios, the truth is that if you’re actually trying to keep secrets, and accomplish anything either covert or clandestine, you may actually want to skip the Scotch until it’s time to celebrate your success. Drinking can slow your reflexes, dull your situational awareness, and strip away your inhibitions in ways which may endanger both you, your colleagues, and your operation. Additionally, even after your operation is complete, it is wise to remember that alcohol lowers inhibitions, and it is best to drink in moderation so as to keep your wits about you when in mixed company.

Lesson 2: Cocaine is Probably a No?

I mean, do whatever you want, but if we’re being honest, cocaine basically never leads to good life choices, and that goes double when you actually have good reason to keep your mouth shut about literally anything. Additionally, if you’re trying to fly under any sort of radar, it’s generally a good call to avoid carrying anything super illegal which isn’t directly related to completing your task at hand. In fact, you may actually want to expand this general rule to also include illicit substances which are not cocaine, including but not limited to: opiates, amphetamines, and probably even weed, even if possession is legal in your state. While there are doubtless exceptions to this rule, in general it is probably best to stick to No-Doze and Jolt for your upper fix.

Lesson 3: Maybe Don’t Sleep with Fellow Operatives

Relationships are messy. Workplace relationships are about eleventy times messier than your normal level of messy, especially if at least one person in the relationship has had multiple workplace relationships. Ongoing relationships impact the judgement of those engaging in them, and catastrophic relationship-ending events can damage, if not outright destroy, the trust necessary for running a successful operation. It’s true that we spend a lot of time in close quarters with those with whom we collaborate, but there are enough fish in the sea that it’s probably worthwhile to turn our gaze outside of the goldfish bowl of our affinity groups or other organizational collectives.

Lesson 4: Brag Less

Yeah, okay, Burt Reynolds IS pretty cool, but that doesn’t mean you should brag to him about being recognizable because you’re “the world’s most dangerous spy.” In fact, you probably shouldn’t actually tell people you’re a secret agent. Or admit to it when asked. Or cop to it when accused. There are varying schools of thought on how best to go about denying your involvement in anything secretive, but general consensus is don’t discuss things outside of the very limited context needed in order to complete operations, and don’t give any indication that you’re up to anything remarkable or interesting. It’s important to note that lying is not most people’s strong suit, so employing tactics like misdirection instead of relying on outright falsehoods may be a more viable option, especially in the long term. When in doubt, speak at great length on a dull subject, then politely excuse yourself once your conversation partner’s eyes have safely glazed over from boredom.

Lesson 5: Leave Your Personal Shit at Home

While your personal issues may not be “parachuting into Russia under pretext of committing a political assassination to find out whether a high-ranking KGB operative is your father”-level bad, Archer’s profoundly poor decisions in this realm serve as an excellent reminder of how our personal issues can negatively impact both our safety and our odds of completing our objectives if we are unable to set them aside to focus on our work. We all have problems in our personal lives, but if you are unable to set them aside and focus on your projects, the responsible choice is to recuse yourself from your work until you are able to focus on it without allowing your distraction to put yourself, your peers, and your operation at risk.

Lesson 6: Take Briefings Seriously

While it may be tempting to zone out during briefings, or only skim over relevant documents and/or communiques, it’s important to remember that minutiae can be the deciding factors in whether or not a mission is successful. Pirate King Archer has a wonderful resource in Noah, but Sterling’s unwillingness to listen or learn proves his undoing. In fact, this is a recurrent theme throughout Archer’s misadventures: time after time, Sterling’s missions and his personal safety are compromised by his cavalier attitude towards obtaining and retaining relevant information. Never underestimate the value of preemptive research when undertaking something risky. It’s generally better to have unnecessary information than it is to suffer from a lack thereof: the more information you have, the better prepared you are if things don’t go according to plan.

Lesson 7: Don’t Be Distracted by a Pretty Face

While it may be tempting to allow yourself to be distracted by an attractive person, it is important to remember that at best, a pretty face is just that: a distraction. At worst, an attractive person may be an actual adversary using your sexuality to neutralize you, and lure you into divulging sensitive information. Mercedes Moreno falls in the middle when she uses her sex appeal to divert and neutralize Archer so her mother can continue sneaking people across the border into the US. There are cases where it is both possible and pragmatic to use these tactics to your advantage. Playing along may allow you extract information from an adversary or to seed disinformation, but this tactic should never be undertaken lightly. Instead, this should be done deliberately and with every possible precaution in place, including an extraction plan for when the job is done and the faux relationship ceases to be useful to your aims.

Lesson 8: Don’t Reuse Aliases

Archer habitually reuses the same pseudonym, despite using different cover stories each time. We never actually see this bite Sterling in the ass (except for when he’s called on it in meetings, and subsequently uses the name “Rando” instead of his usual “Randy,”) it’s important to keep in mind that reusing a pseudonym can compromise your identity and your operation. If you’re going to use pseudonyms, it is best practice to use names which are both plausible and disposable, rather than reusing names, or using ostentatious handles. It’s unlikely that anyone will remember Emily Jones based solely on her name, but highly likely that people will take note of (and remember) Mariah Carey or Catherine Catastrophe. Retiring pseudonyms after use is still crucial. There is still always a chance that people will remember even an unremarkable name, and it is wise to compartmentalize both actions pertaining to an operation, and operations themselves, whenever possible.

Lesson 9: Never Trust Someone Offering You “Unhackable” Security

The first thing you should know is that, given an adversary with sufficient skill and resources, there is no such thing as “unhackable.” Since “unhackable” is an impossible objective to achieve, it stands to reason that at best, anyone claiming an “unhackable” service or product is a charlatan. At worst, they may actually be malicious, as shown in Cyril’s encounter with George Spelvin, a security contractor out to gain access to data on ISIS field operatives, and sell it to the highest bidder. A couple related things to keep in mind are: don’t take security advice from people who don’t understand the threats you face, and don’t trust anyone offering easy security solutions. Proper security practices are going to offer defense in depth in order to prevent creating a single point of failure, and will necessarily be tailored to the assets you are trying to protect, and the adversaries you’re protecting against.

It’s true that Archer is full of countless operational security fails and just plain bad tradecraft, but Sterling does manage to correctly implement what may be the most important security measure of all: Archer’s affinity group is reliable. No matter how many times they fuck up, or fight among themselves, the coalition of secret agents formerly known as ISIS understands that solidarity means nobody gets left behind.

POPSEC: Security Lessons Learned from Harry Potter

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There are a lot of security lessons we can learn by examining popular media, analyzing mistakes which are made, and striving not to repeat them. The Harry Potter series is rich with such lessons, and while the following contains all kinds of spoilers (for every one of the books/movies), it’s also full of important life lessons we can take away by scrutinizing the mishaps which take place in the Wizarding World.

Lesson 1: Don’t be Hagrid.

Hagrid is a lovable, gentle soul. This is all well and good, but if we’ve learned anything from the Harry Potter series, be it the books or the movies, it’s that Hagrid is a drunk, a braggart, and overly trusting. Each and every one of these traits leads to Hagrid divulging information that should really be kept private. Over and over again Hagrid slips up, from spilling secrets to hooded strangers in pubs who are actually the most evil wizard ever to live, to showing Madame Maxine his dragons. If loose lips sink ships, Hagrid is probably responsible for capsizing an entire fleet. Furthermore, as Jim MacLeod (@shewfig) points out, Hagrid also has a bad habit of sharing PARTIAL information, which has the result of endangering people who listen, as demonstrated when he tells Harry to “follow the spiders,” and almost gets Harry and Ron eaten by Aragog’s offspring when they take Hagrid’s advice.

Lesson 1A: Don’t tell Hagrid your secrets.

We all have a friend like Hagrid. We all love that friend. That friend is fiercely loyal, loving, and always knows how to lift our spirits when we’re down. We all NEED friends like Hagrid. But we also all know that our friend/Hagrid is terrible at keeping secrets, and so we should maybe protect ourselves (and keep our friend from being put in a position to unwittingly betray us) by finding other ways to demonstrate our trust in our friend. Because Hagrid is a ride-or-die kind of friend, and accidentally spilling the beans hurts him almost as much as it hurts us. Cheer up, Hagrid: you’re still great!

Lesson 2: Security through Obscurity doesn’t work as a standalone measure.

It’s tempting to think that keeping vulnerabilities secret is a fail-proof way to ensure that they’re never exploited. Unfortunately, Security through Obscurity is great as an aspect of Defense in Depth, as a standalone measure it leaves one vulnerable to social engineering attacks, as in the case of Fluffy. Who could possibly know that a vicious three-headed dog is a sucker for harp music? Well, literally anyone who had ever come into contact with Hagrid. It is true, too, that given sufficient time and determination, someone could have figured out Fluffy’s weakness all on their own — and that keeping such things secret does make them harder to circumvent — but a combination of unpatched vulnerabilities and Hagrid’s inability to keep his mouth shut in the pub very nearly led to Lord Voldemort seizing the means to immortality.

Lesson 3: If you don’t know how it works, don’t trust it.

Remember that diary Ginny Weasley found that spoke to her? Remember how she confided her deepest, darkest secrets to it? REMEMBER HOW IT TURNED OUT TO BE AN ACTUAL MANIFESTATION OF HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED? Arthur Weasley advised, “Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.” When talking about magic, this is perfectly sound advice. When talking about security in the real world, it’s probably wise to say you should never trust anything with your data if you don’t know how it intends to use it, and how it will store it. This also means you probably shouldn’t rely on tools if you don’t have at least a working understanding of how they function: you don’t need to know the particulars of how something is encrypted, but you should have a good idea of what a tool does and doesn’t do (and protect) before relying on it.

Lesson 4: Know your threats.

In order to protect yourself, you need to first correctly identify your threats. False negatives can leave you open to attack, while false positives can cause you to implement the wrong defenses, as well as cost you valuable resources and potential allies. Harry, Ron, and Hermione (and everyone else) spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to defend against Sirius Black, when it turned out that the man responsible for the deaths of Harry’s parents had been sleeping in Harry’s dorm room for years. The takeaway here is that fixating on a single threat can (and often will) distract you from where the real danger lies.

Lesson 5: Whitelisting > Blacklisting

Remember how the Goblet of Fire was bewitched to reject all entries not submitted by someone over a certain age? Remember how that didn’t matter, because an adult submitted Harry Potter’s name to the Goblet? Remember how that adult used a fake school that doesn’t even exist to ensure that Harry Potter’s name was chosen? Had the Goblet of Fire been enchanted to instead ONLY accept the names of actually eligible students, Cedric Diggory would probably still be alive today.

Lesson 6: Getting owned once doesn’t have to be the end of the line.

Things look pretty bad for Harry when Voldemort transports him to a graveyard, has him surrounded by Death Eaters, and strips away Harry’s most powerful protection against his adversary… but it’s not the end of the line for Harry, and getting bested once by your adversary doesn’t need to be the end for you, either. If your security is, in fact, compromised, take a deep breath, and start doing damage control. In most cases, getting beaten isn’t a sign you’ve failed, so much as an indication that you need to try something different. Get creative, and keep plugging away.

Lesson 7: Your security doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be good enough.

When Harry and his friends are attacked by Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries, it looks like it’s lights out for the temerarious teens. They’re outnumbered and clearly outclassed by their adult adversaries, and the only tools at their disposal are perfectly puerile compared to the malicious magical mastery of the Death Eaters. Yet, against all odds, Harry and his cohorts are able to fend off their fearsome foes and stay alive long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Expelliarmus and Reducto may not seem like much, but they’re sufficient to keep Harry and his friends in the game. It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking that if your security isn’t perfect, it’s useless, but the fact is that your security only needs to be good enough to narrowly beat your adversaries… and in some cases, only for a little while. Worrying that your security isn’t perfect can cause you to fall prey to security nihilism… and falling prey to security nihilism can make it hard to recognize that some (if not all) of your practices are sufficient at least in the interim, and can also make it hard to identify what can reasonably be improved upon to harden your security a bit more.

Lesson 8: Know your sources.

Even though Harry should have learned his lesson about putting trust in the contents of sketchy books after the incident with Tom Riddle’s Diary, he makes a similar mistake in putting his trust in the notes left in the margins of his borrowed textbook by a person known only as the “Half Blood Prince.” This leads to a newfound success at potions making, but also leads Harry to try a rather heinous (if not altogether Unforgivable) curse on Draco Malfoy. Harry’s faith in this unverified source essentially results in a lot of bloodshed… and that’s an important lesson for us to learn. If we don’t know where our information is coming from, we can’t verify it… and if we trust in unverified information, the results may be dire. Whether uncritically reading state-sponsored propaganda (I’m looking at you, everyone who shares links to RT content), or trusting un-vetted privacy resources (remember Firechat? How about Telegram?) can leave people dangerously misinformed, and devastatingly vulnerable. To keep from falling prey to this classic blunder, make sure you know where your information (and your tools) are coming from, and verify it before you rely on it.

Lesson 9: Don’t fall victim to tunnel vision.

Remember how Harry and Dumbledore go to retrieve a horcrux together? And remember how much energy they put into retrieving that horcrux? And remember how in order to actually get it, Dumbledore has to drink A LITERAL VAT OF POISON? And remember how it turns out it’s not even a real horcrux? This is a classic example of falling prey to tunnel vision. The duo is so focused on retrieving this objective, they don’t stop to think that maybe they should focus their energy on tracking down the OTHER horcruxes as well before taking action. Now Dumbledore’s dead, there are still six horcruxes out there, and Harry has no idea how or where to find them.

Lesson 10: Know a person’s circumstances before you trust them.

Xenofilius Lovegood is a decent person. Sure, he rats out Harry, Ron, and Hermione to the Death Eaters, but that’s because the Death Eaters have kidnapped his daughter, are holding her hostage, and have threatened to kill her. Xenofilius doesn’t do anything any reasonable person in his situation wouldn’t do, and that’s why it’s important to know our allies’ situations before we rely on them. The lesson here is never trust someone if you don’t understand what they have to lose from supporting you, and what they stand to gain by betraying you. Does this mean you should never trust anyone with anything? Of course not. It just means you should never willingly put your life (or freedom) in anyone’s hands if you aren’t certain they’ll protect it as if it were their own.

Lesson 11: Never underestimate your adversary.

Neville Longbottom is kind of a hapless foil for Harry’s cavalier, clumsy heroism. Neither is terribly graceful, but Neville is nervous where Harry is bold, and Neville is risk-averse, while Harry repeatedly throws himself into dangerous situations without a second thought. Because we spend the entire series watching Neville fail pretty miserably at most things, it’s easy to see why Voldemort and the Death Eaters may not have taken Neville seriously as a threat… RIGHT UP UNTIL NEVILLE SLICES OFF NAGINI’S HEAD. Now, of course, nobody could have seen that coming. There is no way Voldemort could have predicted that Neville-effing-Longbottom would be responsible for the loss of one of his last surviving horcruxes… but his loss is our gain, because we can take away from this that with enough determination, even the clumsiest of our adversaries can cause us to have a very, very bad day.

Lesson 12: Don’t get lax when you think you’ve neutralized a threat.

Voldemort killed Harry in the Forbidden Forest. We all saw it happen. He used Avada Kedavra, the killing curse. There was a bright flash of green light, and Harry’s lifeless body sprawled out on the detritus of the forest floor. We even see Harry speaking with the absolutely-definitely-verifiably-dead Dumbledore in a sparklingly-clean train station in the sky… so where did Voldemort go wrong? There are actually a few different mistakes he made here. The first was not verifying *HIMSELF* that the threat-known-as-Harry had been truly neutralized. Instead, Voldemort asks Narcissa Malfoy to check that Harry is dead (violating Lesson 10 in the process… see? That one is important!) Naturally, Narcissa lies, because she cares way more about her own kid than she does about some creepy old bald guy with no nose and a weird obsession with teenage boys. Voldemort also makes the mistake of violating Lesson 11. He assumes that because Harry has been taken out of the picture, everyone else will just sort of flop over and let him conduct his evil reign of terror completely unchecked. Now, had Voldemort checked to ensure that Harry was dead himself (and maybe taken the extra step of rifling through his pockets), he’d have realized that Harry was very much alive, and in possession of the Resurrection Stone, and he probably would have behaved accordingly, rather than marching on as though he were frigging invincible. So what can we take from this? A) never assume that you’ve succeeded in neutralizing a threat. If you think you’ve eliminated a threat, verify it yourself, and B) just because you’ve taken out an adversary doesn’t mean there aren’t many others out there just waiting for you to show a little weakness so they can take you out in turn.

Now, I realize that, had the characters in the Harry Potter series not made all these mistakes, the stories would have been much less interesting, and might have had an entirely different outcome… That said, we can take a lot away from fictional blunders by imaginary people, and we can (and should!) always be on the lookout for ways that the characters in our favorite books and movies could have done things differently. (And yes, there will be future installments of POPsec, so stay tuned!)

Eternal gratitude to @deviantollam for his eyes and his notes on this piece.

Everyday Activism

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Let’s say you, like so many others, care about social justice. Let’s say you want to build a better world by helping erase oppression, and facilitate resistance against the power structures which prop up the disenfranchisement of marginalized groups. Let’s say you, for literally any reason, have decided that marching in the streets and taking part in large protests just isn’t the right role for you.

It turns out, there are a wide range of options available to you to further the causes you care about, even if you are unable to participate in direct action, or other demonstrations. Not sure where to start? Here are some suggestions:

  • Find out who does legal support work in your area, and ask how you can help: between helping conduct Know Your Rights workshops, answering phones for the legal hotline, tracking down arrested people, communicating with worried family members, doing administrative work for attorneys doing pro bono defense work, and everything else that needs doing in the activist legal field, there is almost always a need for more help in this area.
  • Support people at their court dates: find out when people who have been arrested have to appear in court. Check in to see whether they’d like support, if you can. If this isn’t possible, show up, be well behaved, and make sure they know they don’t have to endure the dehumanizing process of being shuffled through the court system alone.
  • Write to prisoners: whether it’s someone whose case is ongoing, but cannot afford bail, or someone who was unable to beat their case and is now serving time, writing to incarcerated people is a wonderful way to remind them that they still matter to people, and that they are supported in their struggles. All prisoners are political prisoners, and all prisoners deserve reminders that they are cared for.
  • Support campaigns for incarcerated people: people who are imprisoned are both in dire need of income, and also largely cut off from sources of income. Fundraising for prisoners may look like raising funds for their commissary, funds to help support their children, money for their families so that they can afford the exorbitant prices for accepting phone calls from their incarcerated loved one, bail funds, and legal defense/appeal funds. Other support for prisoners may look like campaigns to send them books and/or magazine subscriptions, organizing visits from comrades, facilitating visits from family, providing childcare, and generally helping a prisoner’s family survive while their loved one is incarcerated.
  • Providing emotional and/or material support to those who DO engage in demonstrations and/or direct action: this may look like holding space for friends while they unpack trauma caused by police repression, cooking a meal, helping with some chores, being willing to talk about anything BUT what they’ve just experienced, offering to cover shifts for them at work if they are arrested (or simply too tired/traumatized to go into work), offering to feed their animals if they are incarcerated, offering to babysit while they go to a demonstration, offering rides to people who need to get out quickly, being an emergency contact for someone attending a protest, and more.
  • Doing actual educational labor around social justice issues: this means you actually check in and engage, one-on-one with people when they say something crappy, rather than standing on a soapbox and talking about how you are superior to them. This may mean recommending resources for further reading, linking to studies which demonstrate how they are wrong, and patiently rephrasing your point until you land on phrasing that actually sticks. This means speaking to people as equals, and generally means assuming that they have good intentions and bad information, rather than the inverse. This means engaging rather than blocking, and it usually means a *private* discussion, because a public discussion is often too embarrassing to be productive. This may also mean being a trustworthy resource for people who are working on their shit, so that they know they can come to you without receiving judgement or ridicule, and without having their confidence broken, to ask questions about doing better.
  • Checking in with people doing support work: support work, especially in the cases of medics, legal workers, and anti-repression work, can be an emotionally taxing and highly traumatic experience. The secondary trauma which comes from diving into repression-filled environments in an effort to pull others out is a heavy burden to carry, and having community members check in and shoulder some of that burden means that those doing the immediate support work can continue to do so for a much longer period of time. If you’re not sure how to support people doing this work, simply ask how they’re doing. If that doesn’t feel like enough, it’s okay to tell them you’re here for them, and that they can lean on you if they need to. Even if they don’t take you up on your offer, I promise, the offer is worth a lot, and it DOES help.
  • Stop laughing at racist, sexist, ableist, transphobic, queerphobic, classist, ageist, otherwise oppressive “jokes”: even if you’re not in a place where you’ve eradicated oppressive language from your speech, you know this shit isn’t funny. Speak up about it. Straight up say, “I don’t think it’s funny to make fun of _________ people.” Don’t repeat the joke later, don’t turn around and tell others how awesome you are for not laughing, just put this nonsense in check whenever and wherever it pops up, because making fun of people for being part of an oppressed class is never, ever funny. And because not laughing at this shit doesn’t make you some sort of social justice superhero, it’s actually the bare minimum for human decency.
  • Work with kids: in any way, and for any length of time. Teach kids to be decent to one another without erasing the differences between them. Teach them that while our differences shape our life experiences, they also give us amazing opportunity to learn from one another. Teach what kindness and decency look like. Teach them to know the difference between right and wrong, for real.
  • Don’t drag down other people’s efforts: there is room for people with differing political ideologies to work on the same issues without belittling one another’s work. There is nearly infinite space for addressing the harm caused by oppressive power structures, and what works for some people may not work for others. Rather than focusing energy tearing down other efforts for not being perfect, we can all strive to do our best, and leave others to do their best. We are not all operating with the same tools, so the solutions we build are all going to be different. Since we’re still a long way away from an egalitarian society, THIS IS OKAY. We don’t have to be in agreement on what an ideal society looks like, because we’re still generations away from it. We just need to agree on some of the things that are wrong, and all work in our own ways to address it. More tactics being employed by more people means a greater chance of finding some solution that works, even if it only works a little bit, for a little while. By all means, if someone’s tactics are actually hurting you (or someone else), that should be addressed… but none of us are perfect, we are all still learning, and we all need constructive feedback from time to time. Meet people where they’re at, if you can, and if you can’t, maybe just leave them alone and work on your own project instead.
  • Accept feedback gracefully: even when it doesn’t come in a tone you appreciate, try to divorce the feedback from the tone, and make something of it. Consider carefully others’ critique of your work, even if it isn’t given kindly. It’s okay to reject critique if you’ve considered it and found it invalid, but it should be considered nevertheless. This goes double when the critique comes from someone marginalized upon different axes than your own, and triple when you’re doing “ally” or “accomplice” work, and the critique comes from someone you’re attempting to be an “ally” or “accomplice” to. Criticism is a learning opportunity, and we should all do due diligence to make sure we’re not missing important facets of the issues we are collectively struggling to fix.

A lot of this work is a lot less “sexy” than rioting, or chaining oneself to a police station door to shut down their operations, but every bit of it is extremely important. If you can’t, or don’t want to be in the streets, that doesn’t at all mean that you and your work don’t matter. The struggle for a better world is reliant upon all of our best efforts, and there are ways for each and every one of us to contribute according to our abilities.

The Quick and Dirty Tear Gas Primer

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Because tear gas is a commonly-used dispersal tactic all around the world, here is a primer containing all the basic information you need to deal with it before, during, and after exposure.

  • Tear gas is not actually a gas, but rather an aerosolized particulate. Basically, it’s burn-dust and propellant. It is designed to stick to mucus membranes (eyes, nose, mouth, throat) and hurt.
  • A damp towel, bandanna, or other cloth over the nose and mouth can greatly reduce the effects of tear gas. The tighter the weave of fabric, the more effective it will be.
  • Because tear gas burns, a mixture of liquid antacid and water (commonly referred to as LAW) can be applied to affected areas to rinse off the dust and neutralize the burning. Maalox, milk of magnesia, and actual milk are all commonly-used remedies. Milk of magnesia contains the highest concentration of antacid, is typically the least expensive per application, and doesn’t spoil.
  • It is commonly believed that vinegar on cloth can help counteract tear gas. The reason this works is because of the previously-mentioned effectiveness of cloth+moisture for trapping dust before you inhale it. Vinegar is not necessary, and you can (and absolutely should) use the liquid antacid and water of your choice for this purpose. Using the liquid antacid mixture also reduces the chance of accidentally pouring the wrong liquid into people’s eyes, in low-visibility conditions.
  • Tear gas is classified as a “less lethal” munition. Tear gas is painful and unpleasant, but most people CAN breathe in conditions where tear gas has been deployed in outdoor settings. Short, slow, shallow breaths are best, when possible.
  • Tear gas is classified as “less lethal” in part because it absolutely can kill people with asthma. As you are leaving an area being gassed, look around you for people who are unable to walk, and try to help them to safety. If you are traveling with an asthmatic friend, it may be a good idea for you to carry a spare inhaler for them, in an easily-accessible place, so that they are at less risk of not having access to one.
  • Tear gas canisters are typically deployed using 40mm grenade launchers. A canister blow to the head may be fatal. If possible, wear head protection. Even a bicycle helmet could save your life.
  • Tear gas canisters are extremely hot. Do not touch them with bare skin, plastic, or other synthetic materials which may melt. If you may come into physical contact with a canister, welder’s gloves, leather baseball mitts, oven mitts, hockey sticks, etc. are be your best bet.
  • It is not necessary to touch canisters. Dumping water on an active canister, or covering it with a bucket, can help stop deployment of additional particulate.
  • Don’t run. Running causes you to breathe harder, and puts you and others around you at greater risk of falling, being tripped, being trampled, or other injury. Additionally, because tear gas clouds impair vision, this gives extra reason to move carefully and as calmly as possible.
  • Under most circumstances, the damp cloth over the mouth and nose, and swimming goggles over the eyes is sufficient for normal tear gas exposure. If you intend to spend prolonged amounts of time in tear gas, or if you have breathing conditions, you may want to look into a gas mask or respirator.
  • If you are going to purchase a gas mask, look for one that takes “NATO” (40mm) threaded canisters, as these are easiest to find replacement filters for.
  • If you are going to purchase a respirator, look for one rated N-95 or better. If pepper spray is also a risk factor, you may want to consider spending the extra money on a R- or P-95 or better-rated respirator, as these are (respectively) resistant to or “proofed” against oils as well as particulates.
  • If you do opt for a gas mask or respirator, make sure that it properly seals around your mouth, nose, and (in the case of a full gas mask) also around your eyes before relying on it to protect you. Practice wearing your respirator or gas mask, familiarize yourself with how it alters your breathing, and get used to the way it feels before wearing it outside.
  • Do not wear contact lenses. Contact lenses can trap tear gas particulates against your eye, potentially doing irreparable damage to your corneas.
  • Do not wear oil-based sunblock, lotions, moisturizers, or other skin products. Oil-based skin products can cause tear gas to better adhere to your body, intensifying its effects.
  • If possible, carry a change of clothes in a sealed ziplock bag, and a trash bag for contaminated clothing. You may want to change in front of your house, rather than bringing contaminated clothing into your home.
  • After exposure to tear gas, take a COOL shower to wash off remaining particulate. Keep in mind that taking a hot shower can reactivate remaining particles, making your shower experience very, very unpleasant. Please believe me when I tell you that teargassing yourself in the shower is significantly more unpleasant than taking a cold shower.
  • Seek medical care if you continue to have trouble breathing after exposure. Smoking dried mullein leaf is some hippie shit that can actually significantly alleviate the ill effects of tear gas exposure.

Remember that tear gas is, first and foremost, a tool for dispersal. Its intended use is to get you to leave and never come back, and it is extremely effective at achieving this. Tear gas is scary, and extremely unpleasant, and it’s okay to be afraid. If you can push through your fear, you are actively denying the police what they want, and that is a truly beautiful thing.

OPSEC for Activists, Part 2: Packing for a Protest

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Many protests are impromptu affairs, and you don’t always have prior knowledge that one is going to happen. In some cases, you may not have time to pack a bag beforehand, and even when you do have time, you’re not always thinking clearly. For these reasons (and more!) I recommend buying a cheap backpack (if you can), and using it as a dedicated protest “go kit.”

My own grab-and-go kit is what I refer to as a “clean bag.” This is because as important as it is to bring the things you need, it is even more important to make sure you’re not bringing anything that could endanger you or your peers, or result in serious criminal charges being brought against you in the event of an arrest and search of your possessions. Packing a “clean bag” not only means that I make sure I’m not bringing anything to a protest I don’t want to be caught holding, but actually that even when I’m NOT attending a protest, nothing contentious ever goes into that bag.

Things to AVOID bringing:
As I said before, what you bring is secondary in importance ONLY to what you make sure you do not bring. These are things I make sure don’t go into my clean bag EVER:

  • Anything sharp: no knives, no scissors (I carry a pair of trauma shears instead), nothing pointy at all.
  • No weapons: don’t bring baseball bats, brass knuckles, those little cat keychains, or anything else considered to be a weapon, if you can possibly avoid it.
  • No “burglary tools“: lockpicks, hammers, wrenches, etc.
  • Nothing explosive: No matches, no flares, etc. Being caught somewhere you’re not supposed to be, carrying “incendiary devices” is pretty much never a good thing.
  • No alcohol: It may seem silly to mention, but don’t bring booze to a protest. At best, you get popped for public intoxication; at worst, you get accused of trying to make incendiary devices. It’s not worth it.
  • No drugs: Don’t bring any illegal drugs at all (even weed, even where decriminalized), and never bring more than 3 days worth of prescription medication with you. If you are bringing your prescription, make sure it is in its original packaging, complete with your legal name and dosing information on the bottle.
  • No paint, spray paint, etc.: Getting caught with paint supplies during a protest where any kind of vandalism may be taking place tends to look real bad. I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I am going to say “don’t get caught with paint.”
  • Oil-based makeup, lotion, and/or sunblock: Oil-based products can cause chemical agents like pepper spray and tear gas to stick to your skin, intensifying their effects. If you’re not sure whether or not your sunblock is oil-based, you’re far better off covering up in light clothing and skipping the sunblock altogether.
  • Contact lenses: as oil-based sunblock can cause chemical agents to stick to your skin, contact lenses can trap pepper spray and/or tear gas against your corneas, potentially resulting in permanent blindness.As an added precaution, it is generally best to make sure that anything essential that you do bring (medication, ID, house keys, phone) stays on your immediate person rather than being put into your bag, as arrest is always a possibility, and sometimes you will be separated from your bag (or may need to abandon it to make a hasty getaway), and you want to make sure you can still take your meds and get into your house.

    So what should actually go into your bag? All kinds of things

    The Essentials:

    If you’re planning on attending a protest, the following items are bare essentials you should bring along, in order to sustain you and keep you from being reliant on the people around you (who may or may not actually be prepared to assist anyone), and to mitigate some negative outcomes which may arise. Some of them may not seem necessary, but a majority of what seems excessive weighs next to nothing and will make a huge difference in the event of arrest or injury.

  • Water: And I’m not talking a little 16.9 oz bottle, either. Water is heavy, water is important, and if you can carry a gallon of it in your pack to cover yourself and someone who may not be able to carry their own, you’re not just shouldering your burden, you’re taking care of others around you and alleviating the work load of organizers and medics.
  • Snacks: Hanger (that’s hunger, plus anger) is real. Hanger is the mindkiller. Hanger is the little-death that brings total obliteration. You must feed your hanger. Let it pass over and through you, and when it has gone, you will know you were right to bring those snacks. Being hungry can take a bad situation, and make it worse. Making sure to keep your blood sugar at reasonable levels can make all the difference at a protest. You’re putting your body on the line for a cause, that body needs to be fueled!
  • Your ID: Plenty of people will argue with me on this one, but the fact is that if you are going to get arrested, having your ID on you may be the difference between being cited and released, and being held in custody.  You probably don’t need to bring your entire wallet, but it is almost always worth grabbing your ID and sticking it in your pocket (not your bag) on your way out the door.
  • Prescription medication: If you are on prescription drugs of any kind, and missing a dose is going to be a problem, do yourself a favor and bring along 3 days worth of your medicine *IN ITS ORIGINAL PACKAGING*. Make sure the packaging has the dosing information and your legal name on it, and make sure to keep it on your person (again, in a pocket, not in your bag.)
  • Emergency cash: You never know at what point you may need to beat a hasty exit. Bringing emergency cash can enable you to hop onto public transportation, dive into a taxi, or wander into a coffee shop to buy a latte and blend in with the rest of their clientele. You don’t need to bring much, but it’s always worth it to have a little cash on hand.
  • Comfortable shoes, and clothing you can move in easily: You never know how long you’ll be out, and you also never know how quickly you’ll need to get away. It may also be a good idea to pack a small change of clothes in your bag, for a variety of reasons. For one, if you need to get away, ducking into a restroom and swapping out your clothes can help you disguise yourself. Additionally, if you’re exposed to chemical agents like tear gas or pepper spray, you may want to change outside and put your clothes into a seal-able plastic bag before bringing them into your home.
  • Emergency information: write crucial phone numbers (legal hotline, the co-worker who may need to cover your shift, the housemate who might have to feed the cat or walk the dog, a friend who might be able to bail you out, the babysitter who may need to stay late) on your arm, in permanent marker. Other things you may want to write on your arm include allergies, medical conditions that first responders should know about, etc. Arrest and injury are always possibilities at pretty much any protest, and permanent marker on skin is the best way to make sure that you never get separated from your emergency information.Additionally, in the event that emergency medical attention is needed, and you cannot advocate for yourself, having that information on your body can be extremely helpful.


    There are some things which, while not entirely necessary, may well be of use if you’re planning on attending a protest. A majority of these items are geared towards helping you and the people around you, and are generally intended to extend the length of time you may be able to stay out in the streets.

  • A first aid kit: Specifically and especially gauze, duct tape, ice packs, ACE bandages, and extra water. Even if you don’t know how to treat injuries, carrying extra supplies is useful if you’re up for it.
  • A mask: Even if you intend to be the most peaceful protester who ever lived, there are still a million excellent reasons why you may not want to have your face associated with a demonstration, and any demonstration can change in a matter of moments. Additionally, in the event of tear gas, a dampened bandanna is better protection for your lungs than nothing at all. (Isn’t it a good thing you’re also carrying extra water?)
  • A notebook (and pen!): Jot down police officer names, street names, and times when you see shitty things happening. If you see someone being arrested, take notes on what you’re seeing, and be sure to share your notes with any legal organizations doing protester support work.
  • A camera: Read this, and then go out with your camera and start recording cops doing terrible things. Make sure to also read this before doing anything with your photos/videos.
  • A gas mask or respirator: You probably won’t need one. In most cases, even if tear gas has been deployed, as long as you’re not running into it, you are probably fine just covering your mouth and leaving the immediate area. However, if you have respiratory issues, do not intend to leave a tear gas-filled area, and/or intend to walk into tear gas, you may want either a gas mask or a respirator and goggles.
  • Liquid antacid and water: Because tear gas and pepper spray both burn, it can be extremely useful to carry a mixture of liquid antacid and water in a spray bottle to apply to affected areas. Make sure to use unflavored antacids, as the peppermint-flavored ones often burn a bit when applied to the eyes. Milk of magnesia is generally a best bet, as it’s got a higher concentration of magnesium hydroxide (the antacid ingredient) than do most liquid antacids, and it also doesn’t contain the same additives as others. A 50-50 mix of liquid antacid and water is considered ideal.
  • Rescue remedy: Yeah, it’s hippie as shit, but it makes some people feel calm, and it’s unlikely to hurt anyone or anything.

There are plenty of other things you may or may not want to bring with you, depending on the role you intend to play at a demonstration, but it’s most important to consider what the negative ramifications of being caught with those items may be, and also important to leave anything that can’t be replaced at home. If you’re planning on bringing any of the items outlined in the first part of this guide, make sure they’re in a separate bag, which can be easily discarded if things are beginning to look like they may lead to arrests, and try to be conscious of what traces of yourself you may be leaving behind if and when you do drop that bag.

Protests are not safe spaces, and regardless of what any organizer may tell you, the risk of police brutality and/or arrest is always there. Planning accordingly can be the difference between a cite-and-release and a felony, and can also be the difference between going home or going to the hospital. This does not mean that you should stay home, it just means that proper preparation gives you and everyone around you your best chance at creating the change you want to see in the world. For more information about how to keep yourself safe before, during, and after an action, read this.

Eternal gratitude to @geminiimatt for reading this prior to release.

Wildlife ist Krieg: 10 Totally Kvlt Animals

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These animals are metal as fuck.

1. Hippopotamus

Hippos are territorial and aggressive, going so far as to fight crocodiles (and each other) over their shared aquatic habitats. Hippopotamuses will also fight off lions and hyenas seeking to prey on their young, and have been known to attack boats with humans in them. While hippos are vegetarian (they eat over 100 pounds of vegetation per day!), and not terribly territorial on land, they are credited in Africa with killing more humans per year than any other large animal on the continent. In the mosh pit of the animal kingdom, hippos are definitely that big beefy guy who will fuck your shit up if you accidentally get too close.

2. Moose

Have you ever been at a show and seen that guy on the edge of the mosh pit who’s tall, muscular, and wearing kinda showy bits of armor? That guy is a moose, except he’s wearing a chest plate instead of badass antlers. Moose are herbivores, and are also pretty chill, as long as you respect their personal space. Moose are polygamous, and will definitely fight each other over mating rights, and will attack anything they perceive to be a threat to their children, but much like that guy wearing those cool leather-and-iron bracers at the Eluveitie show, as long as you’re not threatening them or their loved ones, you’ll probably be okay. Just… try not to bump into them.

3. Black Kites and Brown Falcons

Researchers now believe that Black Kites and Brown Falcons in Australia have been intentionally setting brush fires to drive their prey (primarily lizards, frogs, and snakes) out of the protection of grass, and into their bellies. I don’t know about you, but “Arsonist Birds of Prey” sounds to me like a perfect deathcore band name.

4. Mongoose

Look at this lil’ critter. Just look. Adorable, no? This cutie pie is that scrawny, baby-faced teen you bump into at a black metal show and everything is cool until they notice that the guy to the right of you has a swastika tattoo so they literally tear his head off. The mongoose is a cute, fluffy animal so fierce that COBRAS consider them predators. Know what’s more metal than killing and eating deadly venomous snakes? Nothing, that’s what.

5. Black Widow Spider

The Black Widow spider is the most potently venomous spider known in existence on the North American continent. With venom fifteen times stronger than that of a rattlesnake, this spider’s bite packs quite a punch. In addition, the Black Widow spider (who is already perfectly dressed for any metal show, with her black carapace and an hourglass-shaped splash of red on her belly) is known to kill and eat her mate once she’s finished with him. That’s… pretty fucking metal.

6. Praying Mantis

OK, sure, Black Widows kill and eat their partners after mating, but you know what’s even more metal than that? The Praying Mantis, an insect which looks like it’s basically made of blades, takes it a step farther. During mating, female Mantises frequently decapitate their male counterparts. When they’re finished, the females of the species then eat the males… while they’re still alive. Whoa.

7. Blue-Ringed Octopus

The Blue-Ringed octopus is tiny. The Blue-Ringed octopus is cute. The Blue-Ringed octopus will Fuck. You. Up. This adorable little cephalopod, found mostly off the coasts of Australia, New Guinea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines has developed a rather amazing defense mechanism to keep itself from being easy prey for larger organisms: it produces not one, but TWO different deadly neurotoxins. One is used for immobilizing its prey, and the other is used to slay its predators. The Blue-Ringed octopus is generally shy, using its dull golden brown flesh to blend into its surroundings… but piss one off, and its glowing blue rings of death become extremely obvious. This deadly little cutie preys mostly on crustaceans and small fish, but only one milligram of its defense toxin is enough to kill a human.

8. Fugu

Look at this adorable little guy. Pufferfish and blowfish are super cute and smiley under average circumstances. As long as they’re not feeling threatened, they’re really pretty chill… so what makes them metal? These adorable little puffballs, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, produce a deadly neurotoxin considered to be hundreds of times stronger than your average, garden-variety cyanide. Where this gets metal as fuck is, their meat is also considered to be a delicacy in Japan. While the preparation of fugu is tightly regulated, that doesn’t stop amateurs from trying to prepare their catches themselves — and dying because of it. Fugu is so metal, it kills humans after it’s dead.

9. Cayuga Ducks

Cayuga ducks are black. Their feathers are black, their beaks are black, their legs and feet are black, their babies are black. They even lay black eggs. They’re basically the sludge metal of the water fowl world.

10. Thresher Sharks

If we’re being honest with ourselves, sharks are metal by default. Rows upon rows of teeth, that whole “being able to smell blood” thing, rending the flesh from their still-living prey in the most brütal fashion… so what makes Thresher Sharks worthy of a specific nod? This fuckin’ shark has a goddamn SCYTHE for a tail. And it uses it to stun and herd its prey for maximum munching efficiency.

OPSEC for Activists, Part 1: The Basics

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When attending a protest, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. Your experiences during a demonstration may vary based on a lot of different factors. It is generally best practice to prepare as though you may be arrested, even if the risk factor seems very low.

Some things you may want to consider include:

  1. Lock your cell phone.
    A 2014 Supreme Court Ruling states that police must obtain a warrant before searching your cell phone. While it is possible that officers may act in defiance of this order, securing your phone with a PIN, passphrase, or fingerprint can help ensure that they do not violate this ruling without your knowledge.There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these three methods of securing your device:Fingerprints: provide very quick access, and cannot be shoulder-surfed; however, if a warrant is obtained for the search of your device, you can be legally compelled to unlock it.
    PIN: provides quick access, is easy to remember, and may be covered under your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination even if a warrant is obtained; however, a 4-digit PIN can be easy to guess/crack, and may also be easy to shoulder-surf.
    Passphrase: may be covered under your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination even if a warrant is obtained, and is more difficult to guess, crack, or shoulder-surf; however, a strong passphrase may be difficult to enter if you need to access your phone quickly, and strong passphrases may also be more difficult to remember.
    Any of these three options is a good choice, and all three are preferable to leaving your phone unlocked. Choose the solution that works best for you, and don’t worry too much about its imperfections.
  2. Encrypt your text messages.
    There are a variety of options at your disposal. Signal, Wickr, and even iMessage all provide reasonably secure messaging. The encryption all three provide means the plaintext content of your messages isn’t able to be captured by IMSI catchers (aka “Stingrays”) that law enforcement agencies set up to monitor protester communications.With Signal specifically, this protection extends to your phone calls as well as your text messages.As an added security measure, Signal for Android allows you to password-protect access to your text messages, and Wickr allows password protection on both the Android and iPhone platforms. The benefit of this password protection is that if you are using a fingerprint lock for your phone, law enforcement will still be legally unable to compel you to grant access to any password-protected databases, as passwords are protected under the Fifth Amendment.
  3. Check your pockets.
    Make sure you check your pockets before you head out. Be mindful of anything you may be carrying that could be construed as a weapon, and try not to bring anything you cannot bear to lose.Additionally, if you take any prescription medications, make sure to bring them with you in their original packaging. It is best to only bring a 3 day supply or so, and to leave the rest at home, in the event that you are somehow separated from your possessions and cannot get them back immediately (or at all.)
  4. Bring a mask.
    While it’s entirely possible you will have no need for it, bringing a bandanna or other face-covering can help in many ways. Wearing a mask is unlikely to protect your identity in any real and meaningful ways if you are seen doing something illegal, but it may help protect you from passive recognition by local law enforcement officers, thus shielding you from being singled out for future harassment based on your political ideologies.Additionally, wearing a mask can help keep you from being spotted by employers watching news coverage of events, or to avoid being the poster child for unsavory headlines. Photos of your face may be available long after the protest, or even the movement is over, so it is important to consider how being associated may impact you several years down the line.
  5. Choose your clothing carefully.
    Distinctive clothing can make you easy to pick out of a crowd, easy to place at the scene of a crime (even if it is not a crime you have committed,) and easy to target for police repression. While “black bloc anarchists” are frequently demonized as “violent” and “criminal,” the fact remains that black bloc is actually a tactic, not a faction, and its roots lie in protecting individuals from being targeted for repression during or after a demonstration, by cloaking everyone in a shroud of homogeneity.It is, of course, still possible to use biometrics such as height, weight, facial structure, and gait analysis to identify people in a crowd, but unremarkable attire can still help your chances significantly. It is particularly wise to avoid wearing bright colors, and also a good idea to abstain from wearing jewelry. If you have brightly-colored hair and/or tattoos, it may also be a good idea to cover these.If you are anticipating exposure to chemical agents like tear gas or pepper spray, it is important to know that while synthetic fabrics will not absorb these chemicals, and may provide a good barrier between them and your skin, they may also melt if they come into contact with something hot.Additionally, make sure whatever you’re wearing is easy to move around in (specifically in the event that you need to make a quick escape), and wear comfortable shoes.
  6. Prepare your emergency contacts.
    Find out whether there is a legal hotline that operates in your area. In many areas where such hotlines do exist, it is sometimes possible that they may not be staffed for all demonstrations, but it is always wise to write the phone number for the hotline in sharpie on your arm, as many unstaffed hotlines will also find emergency staffing in the event of arrests being made. Additionally, it is a good idea to check in with a couple trusted individuals who will not be at the demonstration; write their numbers on your arm as well, talk to them beforehand about any relevant information that you might want a legal hotline to know (prescriptions you need, whether or not you want public support, whether or not you want to be bailed out, who, if anyone, you’d like to have called, etc.)As part of this procedure, it’s also a good idea to set a check-in time with any individuals you are designating as emergency contacts; this is for a number of reasons. For one, it is always possible that you may get only one phone call in the event of arrest. It’s generally best to use this call to contact a legal hotline, but often there is a time lapse of several hours between being taken into custody, and being given your phone call. In the mean time, your emergency contacts can assume that your failure to check in means that you are unable to do so, and can start calling into the hotline, or calling people who need to be informed of your arrest (maybe you need a co-worker to cover a shift, maybe you need to let your housemates know you won’t be able to take your laundry out of the dryer or feed your dog, maybe you need your partner or neighbor to pick your child up from school.)Remember, also, that phone calls made from jail are monitored, so be mindful of what you are saying, and make sure your contact knows not to say anything that could be used against you as well. It may also be a good idea to come up with a duress phrase, to be used in the event of extreme emergency if you’ve told your contacts you do not want to be bailed out, but circumstances you may not wish to discuss over the phone have changed that.
  7. Keep your mouth shut.It is important to remember that you are under no obligation to answer questions posed by law enforcement officers. If you are being taken into custody, you may be required to show identification and give fingerprints, but there is no need to answer questions prying for information beyond that given by whichever form of identification you choose to use. Officers in the United States will often ask questions conversationally without first reading you your Miranda Rights, but you are under no obligation to answer them, and should refrain from doing so.Law enforcement officers are well-trained in asking questions conversationally, so you don’t necessarily realize they are pumping you for information, and any information you reveal, even in response to a seemingly innocuous question, can be used to hurt you. Specifically state that you would like to invoke your right to remain silent, ask to speak to an attorney, and say nothing else, no matter how harmless you think it may be.
  8. Consider repression tactics.
    Several of the dispersal tactics used by various law enforcement agencies may influence the choices you make prior to attending a demonstration. If police in your area use chemical agents like tear gas or pepper spray, you should refrain from wearing any oil-based makeup or contact lenses. If law enforcement uses less-lethal projectiles, you may wish to wear thicker clothing to help pad against rubber bullets and beanbag rounds. You may also want to consider bringing a gas mask and/or helmet along with you.
  9. Never travel alone.
    When going to a protest, always bring a buddy along to watch your back. Buddies should help keep each other safe from being flanked by law enforcement, being taken into custody without anyone knowing, or generally getting left behind. Having someone to watch your back can make a huge difference in how safe you are at a protest.Additionally, never depart from a protest alone; at minimum, travel using the buddy system, and whenever possible, travel in larger groups. Post-demonstration snatch-and-grab arrests by law enforcement are frequent occurrences, and traveling in a group means that at very least, there are witnesses if you are targeted.With special thanks to The Grugq for reviewing this guide.