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Living Without Rule of Law pt.1

The goal of this two part series is to give the reader an understanding of how ‘rule of law’ collapses, how to best survive the transition, and how to regain some sort of community justice in the aftermath. This first part will focus on understanding the collapse.

This essay is a two part series. You can read the second part HERE.

To put it bluntly, societies have lifespans. Over a long enough timeframe all empires will fall. Is America next on the chopping block? Probably not, but America as a whole does not need to collapse for us to see a breakdown in rule of law.

We only need to look back to 2020-2022 where (almost worldwide) we saw police pullbacks that resulted in massive increases of both violent and petty crimes. In the same period, we saw riots and looting that police would refuse to intervene in. If we turn the clocks back to 1968-1998 we will see The Troubles, where the IRA targeting of police resulted in massive spikes of AWOL officers as well as a police pullback that resulted in a dramatic rise of crime. More common examples include the looting and depravity that is seen after natural disasters or the communities left abandoned after police ‘walk-outs’ and strikes.

The fact is: partial and complete breakdowns of the Rule of Law happen often and it is in our own best interest to prepare for them when they do come.


For this first half of the series we will focus on police and civilian behavior in times of crisis, before moving to broader ideas of martial law and the effects on public infrastructure. With all of these concepts together, we can apply what a ‘typical’ WROL situation may look like within America.

Acronyms and Definitions

AWOL - Away Without Leave (Abandoning)

ROE - Rules of Engagement

SOP - Standard Operating Procedure

WROL - Without Rule of Law

Rule of Law - A state of society where clear laws are set and an earnest effort is made to enforce and punish violators equally. Rule of law is broken when any of the following occur: the laws are not clearly available, or, those tasked with the enforcement of the laws choose not to do so equally, or, those tasked with enforcement choose to enforce some laws but not others.

Understanding Police Behaviour and SOPs

It takes surprisingly little to change police SOPs, and even less to change their behaviors. In February 2013 Christopher Dorner, a former LAPD trainee, posted an online manifesto stating his intentions to ‘bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty,’ the manifesto also listed family members of certain officers as targets. Over the course of 9 days, Dorner had killed two officers and two civilians before finally taking his own life in a police siege. Meanwhile, Police officers had shot at and wounded three civilians who they suspected of being Dorner, one was a white male who ‘drove a similar vehicle to Dorner’ (the vehicle was later determined to be a different make and color, Dorner is also a 270lb black man), the others wounded were 71 and 47 year old women whose vehicle had been shot 102 times; the officers were alleged to have not given any verbal warnings to the vehicle, though the LAPD has declined to confirm if this is true.

Dorner’s 9 day spree caused significant changes to the operational flow of both the LAPD as well as nearby departments. All unarmed uniformed police were repurposed into less exposed roles, similarly, motorcycle-officers were moved into cars as motorcycles were deemed too exposed and risky. This repurposing of units caused car shortages within the departments and a smaller police presence on the streets. Above all else, it worsened police response times. One man had reduced the effectiveness of an entire city's police force.

While the changing SOPs did handicap the police, it didn’t cause the police shootings of innocent civilians. The changes in attitude and behavior caused the shootings. At first glance you may assume that the police involved in the shooting were scared. Though this doesn't match a real world understanding of psychology. Fear is a very short lived emotion, lasting only hours at its most; maybe a newer officer who was not as desensitized to the hazards of the job felt fear when starting their shift, but after the first day of Dorner’s spree, LAPD officers would have felt a type of excitement akin to a tense sports game. This high background adrenaline feeling is felt by soldiers and cops alike. When Dorner was finally cornered in a mountain cabin, there was such a large rush from both police and special units to make it to the area that the roads became congested with cop cars. Every cop wanted to be the one to kill Dorner.

We see three main impacts when these behavioral shifts occur.

  1. Cops will act on little to no information. Some become impulsive in their desire to ‘win’ against the enemy.

  2. Cops put more emphasis on their own safety. More likely to search or arrest for minor offenses, more likely to draw a firearm or issue orders.

  3. Cops may look past some offenses or arbitrarily enforce laws. Petty offenses may not be pursued because there are ‘bigger fish to fry’.

These effects were seen city wide due to one man with a gun. An insurrection, gang of cop killers, or just a change in public perception of police can all have the same or worse impacts. If anything more extreme than Dorner occurs, we will likely see roadblocks/lockdowns enforced by arrest or even emergency powers granted that allow for unconstitutional searches and arrests.

The Collapse Spiral

The real threat to rule of law is not a single event: nuke, EMP, insurrection, natural disaster, etc. In all of these situations, there is no risk to the police beyond what they already deal with. What poses the greatest risk, however, is a breakdown of public trust between a population and its police. This process is the collapse spiral.

Many events can start this spiral. A string of police misconduct or a large enough group of cop killers may do it, but these events on their own don’t bring the widespread underlying outrage that an economic collapse or government mistreatment brings. Assuming the average citizen pays their debts and bills on time, does their job, and saves their money, when an economic collapse inevitably comes they may end up jobless or homeless. These people, who have been proficient and organized individuals will need something to occupy both their time and anger with, what better target than those who kicked them out of their homes?

During an economic collapse, if the police are shot at nearly every time they try to serve an eviction warrant, they will eventually stop serving evictions. If cops are regularly ambushed in the line of duty, they may stop showing up to their shifts all together. Remember, police are not bound by court martial or any other high ideals, officers can choose to quit or go AWOL without punishment.

The government is faced with three options to approach this spiral:

  1. Pull police back and attempt to limit civilian maltreatment long enough for the civilian population to calm down. (This route was chosen in the 2020 riots)

  2. Enforce harder control in an attempt to stop further criminal action. This route may include vehicle checkpoints and enforced lockdowns of innocent civilians, generally worsening public perception of police and government.

  3. Employ martial law. The population may not have such a disdain for an ‘indifferent’ third party to serve as a stop gap measure during an economic or police reform.

In each of these possibilities, the innocent civilians come the worst off. From a civilian perspective the options are either to deal with a police pullback and the rampant petty crime that goes along with it, or to be subject to draconian enforcement from police or military units. Even worse is the possibility that an organized and large enough civilian resistance may lead to AWOL troops and fracturing within the US DOD as soldiers refuse to fight their own countrymen. Whether this will be enough to completely degrade the US DODs effectiveness is unlikely, but it is important to recognise that the collapse spiral will occur even under martial law.

Martial Law

Martial law is not well defined in our legislation. In order to not complicate things, we will define it like so: Martial law is a term used to describe a situation where military units are employed as police, responding to and enforcing civilian laws. The military may also be given control of the courts and in extreme situations, civilians may be trialed for disobeying certain military orders. Effectively, martial law occurs when the military is given control of the executive branch of government (Policing), and in extreme situations, the military may also be given the authority to judge and make laws.

When the military is employed under martial law, they will not act like police, they will act the same as they do on humanitarian and peacekeeping operations; because of this, it is important that you understand how military ROE work. Below is a copy of a real ROE card issued to soldiers in 2003 Iraq as well as an example ROE for peacetime operations, it is likely that the rules of engagement for an American civil war, rebellion, or collapse of policing will be somewhere in the middle of these two cards.

Should the day come, familiarizing yourself with the military’s ROE may be the difference between life and death as military units may take up a ‘shoot first, question second’ approach to civilians who are disobeying orders.

Utilities, Prisons, and Public Works

Now, we get to the components that really hold our societies together. Utilities and public works. The electrical grid, water purification/distribution, waste management, and telecommunication networks all require a complex and skilled workforce to maintain, many of whom are surprised that their cobbled together patchwork systems work even in peacetime. Should a famine, disease, or natural disaster prevent even 10% of these workers from doing their jobs, we would see rolling blackouts, water shortages, and other collapses become very common. Should these workers stop getting paid, we would see a complete collapse of the entire infrastructure within days. Water pressure and electrical supply may last for a couple days (in theory), but as everyone attempts to store water and charge devices, any failsafes or remaining capacity will be insufficient to meet demand, causing the appearance of a complete infrastructure shutdown.

Luckily, if there is still a functioning government or military, these infrastructure sites have always been of very high strategic importance. The US military or a competent government knows that the first step in recovery is to re-staff these key positions. In previous natural disaster relief, the order of operations (for bases caught within the disaster or for national guard or military elements called in to help) is to first transport in water and supplies as a stop-gap measure, establish their vehicle-portable desalination/water purification equipment, and to finally fill civilian and government infrastructure with trained personnel from within the military until they can locate the actual staff. This process can take one to several days depending on the level of damage the infrastructure has sustained. In cities with some level of civilian rebellion, this process may take significantly longer. In most recent cases, the water infrastructure downtime has been within a week, more extreme disaster areas had seen double that, and all of this assumes the government is coming for you in the first place.

Finally, the issue of prisons. Modern prisons are almost entirely automated: security measures, lighting, and most importantly, their HVAC systems. Assuming the courts are still functioning, judges will likely find that prisons with regular power outages would easily classify as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’. In a situation where infrastructure is unreliable, we will see the same ‘prison emptying’ that we saw during the height of covid. With judges who are unwilling to send criminals into prison, inmates being released early, and police being told not to arrest for low level offenses. The 2021 cases of criminals being arrested multiple times a day just to be released each time will become very common; unless our courts are able to find a better method to deal with its criminals (this will be covered in PT2).

If there are no cops, soldiers, or federal agents willing to enforce the laws, then criminals and everyday hungry civilians will treat the laws as mere suggestions.

This is not the only way that rule of law will break down, economics, politics, starvation, pandemic, natural disaster may all play a role or be the sole cause. Fundamentally, all it takes is for enough cops to choose not to show up for their shift.


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