How Do You Identify a Threat?

Posted: July 1, 2013 in Self Defense
Tags: , , , , , ,

MuggerAfter writing the last few blog posts, I am now looking around and noticing my environment. I observe people as they enter the store, I look for people standing near my car in the parking lot, and I watch out for suspicious people on the sidewalk. Yet, one question has pestered my brain. How do I know when a suspicious person is a threat (because it’s typically not as easy a masked man with a big knife)? It’s easy to be suspicious of people in general. In fact, it’s not too hard to get suspicious of everybody. But since I want to stay in the land of the sane, there must be a way to determine if there is an active threat or not. That young man in thick sweatshirt walking towards me on a sweltering June day may work in a freezer all day long. He may genuinely be cold. He may also be cold natured or fighting off some kind of illness. Or he may be concealing a weapon and preparing to attack. A person of any age, race, or sex may be a threat. How in the world is anyone to know which of the people below is the real threat?

Man-in-Suit-Walking Woman+with+Coffee Red-Stripper-Advocate-375x375 Man+with+Beard+and+Shades1

There must be some cues to look for that will reveal the truth. Thankfully, we humans are not very good at hiding our thoughts. If you know what to look for, you can frequently determine the immediate plans of all but the most skilled actors and criminals. We humans communicate our intentions through countless ways, ranging from subtle to blatant. As one specific action could potentially indicate multiple things (e.g. eye contact may indicate romantic interest or an impending assault) behavioral signals are often grouped into clusters. There are clusters for indicating happiness, anger, depression, etc…  To read a person’s body language you must look at the cluster of behaviors they are exhibiting. As my goal is to be able to identify an impending threat, I focused my research on two clusters: an assault is possible and an assault is imminent.

An Assault Is Possible

What behavioral signals should I look for in that too warmly dressed man coming toward me to see if he is planning on attacking me? What are the early warning signs?tumblr_mfo3q44m861s1pgdso1_400
1. Does his face change color? A light-skinned face will turn red as the body prepares for a high level of activity. His blood is pumping faster and adrenaline is starting to flow.
2. What are his lips doing? If they are pushed forward, baring his teeth, that is a bad sign. Remember, if it’s a warning when done by an animal, it’s probably just as bad a sign when done by a human.
3. Wait, did he just spit? Excessive salivation may be an indicator that his body is getting amped up for major activity. However, he may simply be partaking in the old southern tradition of chewing tobacco. The difference should be obvious by the color of the spit. Either way, I’ll keep my distance.
4. Is he breathing normally? His breathing will get quicker and deeper as his body prepares for the attack.
Angry-guy-Ver-2-by-blackand5. Where is he looking? Is he looking at me? Does he have the “Thousand Yard Stare” (looking through you with eyes glazed; an empty stare)? Red Flag!!
6. Direct, uninterrupted eye contact is also NOT GOOD!
7. Are his movements within the normal spectrum of movement? Exaggerated movements, pacing, pointing and uncontrolled scratching can all be indicators the body is trying to find something to do with the high levels of adrenaline now coursing through him. Or he could be scratching due to his recent discovery that burning Poison Ivey is really not the best idea.
Other things to look out for include:
1. A person standing with their head and shoulders back, and squared off to you. Picture two teenage boys about to get into a fight… They walk up to each other, size each other up, talking trash the whole time… Thankfully, as the teacher, I could normally get between them before things went further but I know that stance well. It does not bode well for the person on the receiving end.
2. A person standing as tall as possible. Frequently, an attacker will make himself look as menacing as possible in order to make you afraid and thus an easy victim.angryman
3. A potential attacker may also redirect their activity if they are too frightened to directly assault you. Be wary of them! They may try to surprise you from the side or behind.
4. Sweating can certainly be a good indicator on cooler days, but is not a reliable metric during these hot Georgia summers. It’s just plain hot. No rush of adrenaline or nervousness needed to make a person sweat here.
5. And the obvious: If a person is belligerent, challenging, yelling, cursing, hostile, etc.. lookout!

While these early warning signs should certainly put you on high alert, or Condition Orange, force is not justified at this time. At this point, the best action is to create distance and by using body language or words discourage the threat from continuing his chosen course of action. Depending on the situation, stopping your forward movement and putting your hand on your firearm or other weapon while maintaining eye contact may be enough to discourage the attacker. You have let him know you see him, you are not intimidated, and you are prepared. He may choose to wait for an easier victim. Look for the following signs to determine if the attacker will escalate or submit.

An Assault Is Imminent:

If you see these signs go to Condition Red and create distance!!!

1. Face goes from red to white. As he is about to attack, blood will rush to the internal viscera and to major muscle groups of his body and leave the face looking white or grey.
2. The lips will tighten over the teeth. Again, picture a dog about to attack.3949045681_1ce9b3914a_z
3. Breathing becomes rapid and deep. His body is sucking in oxygen as it prepares for the outburst of energy needed for the attack.
4. His stance may change to a bladed position or he may shift forward or back.
5. The hands are frequently held up between the hips and face. They may be clenched or clenching and unclenching. If you have ever taken martial arts or even just done Tae Bo you are familiar with this position.
6. The attacker may begin bobbing up and down on their toes as they try to bleed off the excess oxygen in their system.
7. They may also rock back and forth for the same reason.
8. You may see them give a quick glance to a soft point on your body, such as your stomach, groin or even your jaw. This is the Target Glance. They are picking the place they will attack first.
9. The head will go down-breaking eye contact in an instinctual move to protect their neck.
10. Eyebrows are brought forward in a frown.
11. Verbalization stops. If the attacker has been cussing, challenging, etc… up to this point, but he or she suddenly goes quiet, be prepared for an attack.
12. Movement stops. The phrase “the calm before the storm” comes to mind.
13. Body lowers and center drops. They are assuming the “combat crouch.”

Signs of Submission or Escape:

De-escalate your use of force when you see these signs.

fearful dog in another submissive posture1. The attacker pulls his hands up in front of his body with his palms out.
2. He lowers his tone and volume, slowing his rate of speech.
3. He may freeze and become totally inactive.
4. There is a chance, however small, that he may fall to the ground as a means of clearly showing his submission to you. Again, I revert back to dog behavior… think of a submissive dog that goes belly up when they meet with a dominant dog.
5. A clear indicator of submission is a reduction in violent movements.
6. Turning and walking away is one of the most obvious signs of escape
7. And running away has to be the most obvious.

While these signs are good to see, keep in mind that the attacker may say “Ok, Ok, don’t shoot. I give up.” in an attempt to get you to relax and lower your guard. Remember, somebody who is willing to attack you will have no problem lying to you. Don’t believe them unless their words are accompanied by the corresponding body language.

Concluding Thoughts:

Do not shoot the attacker once they have clearly demonstrated their submission or intent to escape. It is illegal in most, if not all, states to shoot a fleeing suspect. If they are no longer a threat to you or your loved ones you are no longer acting in self-defense. To shoot them when they are not a threat constitutes murder not self-defense. Our goal in self-defense is to stop the threat, not to kill.

One other thing to keep in mind, while much of the body language described above is primitive and not affected by culture, actions that are viewed as hostile by some may be culturally acceptable by others. Learn what is normal for the area you are in. Be wary of the “not-normal.”

Overall, listen to your gut. God built us with a wonderful alarm system. Listen to it. If something feels “not right,” even if it doesn’t logically make sense, follow that feeling. Get out or move away or whatever you need to do. And if your actions cause a stranger to think you are rude, so be it. It is better to have a false positive and be alive than be polite and dead. Don’t let social rules and fear stop you from obeying that voice inside. It may just be God’s voice.

Disclaimer: I am in no way, shape, or form giving legal advice. I am not a lawyer nor am I trained in the law. I am simply passing on the knowledge I have gained from others (who also are not lawyers). Do your due diligence and research the laws in your state. I also recommend you find a 2nd Amendment friendly lawyer in your town and get together with him or her to discuss the laws in your area.

Additional Reading:

  1. Reblogged this on Highlands Keep, LLC and commented:
    The ability to properly read the body language of those around you is extremely important to identifying and avoiding – or being ready to meet – potential threats to your person. Yet another great post from Autrey’s Armory about self-awareness and self-defense.

  2. MamaLiberty says:

    Outstanding advice. And thanks for posting the link on “Mom with a Gun.”

    Criminals want weak, submissive, frightened victims. Even those who are not armed can decrease their chances of being attacked by walking and acting confident and strong.

    I’m a certified firearms and self defense instructor. I’ve written a book about my own experiences and training to supplement the class materials. I include all of the self defense drills I normally teach and practice.

    Over thirty years ago I had to shoot a man to save my life. Please read that story here: And if you are interested, ask for the book. I’ll send it free to anyone who requests it.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story. I completely agree with what you said about walking with confidence. We convey so much with just how we stand and walk it is amazing.

  3. Tommy Hzrper says:

    Great job Ruth!! For additional info I will suggest that everyone read Lt.Col. Dave Grossman’s books. Start with “The Warrior Mindset” Tommy

  4. naturally like your web site however you need to test the spelling on quite a few of your posts.
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    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. Please tell me where you found these spelling errors. I not only checked the articles multiple times but also sent them to an editor before posting. I’ll be glad to fix them if you let me know where they are.

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