Arts and Culture

The Book That Teaches How to Spot a Terrorist

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Last Tuesday, March 22nd, moments before a pair of terrorists blew themselves up at the airport in Brussels, the police received a call from the cab driver who had dropped them off. Their behavior seemed sketchy. The driver said they spent the ride talking shit about America, and when they got to the airport, they refused his help with their heavy luggage.

The cab driver may not realize that he was using the same skills the US Marine Corps teaches in its Combat Hunter Program to help Marines spot bombers and shooters before they strike. Now those skills are available to the rest of us in Left of Bang, a condensed form of the Combat Hunter curriculum. This book could actually save your life. If nothing else, it will take your people-watching skills to new levels.



The first thing you’ll learn in Left of Bang is how to establish a baseline. When you enter a new environment, ask yourself: what’s normal for this place? It’s all relative. Normal at a Starbucks is really different from normal at Burning Man. A guy in ass-less chaps with a mighty erection shouldn’t raise any alarms at the Folsom Street fair, but he might get your attention at Dave & Busters. Once you’ve established ‘normal’ you’ll be able to spot things that don’t seem right no matter where you are.



An anomaly is Marine speak for ‘one of these things is not like the other.’ The taxi driver in Brussels knew from experience that there’s something odd about someone who doesn’t want help with their luggage. Spotting that ‘something off’ is the best way to take action before something goes bang.


You need three pieces of evidence to know you’ve got an anomaly on your hands (and not just encountering a weirdo.) Once you’re sure something’s up, it’s time to get your ass in gear. You have three options: run, hide, or fight. In the critical moment, you’ll have just milliseconds to decide.


Get out of the situation. You don’t actually have to break into a sprint. This simply means putting some distance between you and the threat. This might be a good time to call the cops.


Say you can’t run, your next best option is to hide. There are two types of hiding places: cover, which protects you from bullets and shrapnel, (like standing behind a food truck) and concealment, which keeps you from being seen but won’t stop a bullet (like hiding in a bouncy castle or behind the curtains.)


The frog has concealment but not cover.

Left of Bang has a note to teachers that’s really depressing. The safest way to protect a whole class is to hide. Children tend to freeze when they’re scared, and if one kid freezes while you’re trying to get the class to safety it puts everyone in danger.


If possible, use teamwork to take down your attacker. As with any fight, overwhelming aggression beats technique every time. If you make it out alive, you’re pretty much guaranteed some wild sex and media attention.


In a mass shooting, you’re most likely dealing with someone who has never fired at humans before, and unless the gun is to your head, the odds are in your favor.


Left of Bang is super critical of racial profiling, simply because it doesn’t work. Focusing on race or background can blind you to a real threat that doesn’t look like the one you pictured in your racist-mind’s eye.


The best part of Left of Bang is the homework. I hope I don’t ever have to use any of these skills in a life or death situation, but I had  fun looking for anomalies at the beach and studying body language on late-night runs to 7-Eleven. So far, it doesn’t seem like you can unlearn this stuff.

Five stars.

Images: South Park Studios, the BBC, Fanpop, BuzzFeed 

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Charles Daly - Cut-Rate Curmudgeon

Charles Daly - Cut-Rate Curmudgeon

Charles has stories in a number of small journals, but who doesn't? He lives in east Asia and works on an Olivetti typewriter named 'Lovely Rita.' All his heroes died of syphilis in the 19th century.


  1. baccaruda1
    March 31, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Great write-up, and advice everyone needs to know.

    • Charles Daly - Cut-Rate Curmudgeon
      Charles Daly
      March 31, 2016 at 11:33 am

      Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!