This continues my series on the annual Mock Riot in Moundsville, West Virginia, where police forces, the military and arms makers get together to test out nonlethal weapons and tactics. Part one here. Two here.
Ten inmates have barricaded themselves in an outdoor basketball court surrounded by a chain-link fence. They're complaining about the quality of the meatloaf in the chow hall. It must be some pretty bad 'loaf, because these guys are mad. Real mad. And when the riot cops from the Clark County, Indiana, sheriff's department respond, they have to reach through the links to take apart the barricade before they can shove through the one door into the court.
The inmates pelt them with water bottles, their basketball and anything else they can grab. So the deputies raise their riot shields and close ranks. At the sound of their leader's guttural command, they take one step forward and stab with their batons to ward off a couple of attackers. And I get this weird feeling like I've seen this before.
Because I have: a couple months ago, in the movie 300. The riots cops' tactics are based on the ancient Greek phalanx. The overlapping shields offer a sold wall of protection, provided the cops stay real close, move together and don't falter.
"One step forward!" the leader commands. The phalanx moves. The inmates who aren't already lying on the ground unconscious fall back. For a moment the phalanx opens up and a cop wielding a shotgun fires a beanbag round to knock out another person. As the phalanx moves over a disabled inmate, a deputy peels off the back of the formation to grab the perp and pass him off to some other cops waiting in the wings. And so on until the basketball court is clear, just five minutes after the riot began.
Now the phalanx isn't invulnerable. Knock out one shield-bearer and you create a temporary gap you can exploit to break the entire formation. That, however, requires force and discipline that few rioters can muster. Terrain, on the other hand, can make the phalanx utterly unwieldy. More on that tomorrow. And later this week look for videos of this scenario and others.
--David Axe, cross-posted at War Is Boring