The Adversary — A Disturbing Look Into the Criminal Mind

By Bob Campbell published on in Concealed Carry, Defensive Tactics, Preparedness

In my first article, I covered some basics on concealed carry and practical defense. This second part in the series shows the illicit intentness of the adversary with a disturbing look into the criminal mind. —Bob Campbell

The training you receive is important, and the people you meet in gun-handling classes are often among the most friendly and interesting in the world. Many have similar interests that cross all racial, gender, cultural and social boundaries, which is as it should be. The classes you take will be a positive experience.

Wanted posters

There are more good folks than bad, although there is no shortage of the bad.

On the other hand, dealing with the adversary is a lesson in the negatives of human behavior. Rather than sins of the spirit and flesh, you are dealing with the violent actions of criminals bent on taking your life or injuring your body. It is a flip of the coin to see whether the best or worst of humanity is in the news, and the fact remains, you do not have to prepare to face the good. The bad is another matter. Most of us are passive observers in human interaction, although when the deed is personal and the body is violated, we must prepare to resist the attack. It does not take an extraordinary or particularly heroic person to resist a criminal attack; it simply takes a determined one who wishes to survive. While I despise thieves and con men of all description, I am less concerned with the identity thief or those who write bad checks. The thief who steals property or shoplifts is sometimes dangerous when cornered; a drug-crazed felon or psychopath bent on inflicting suffering and death is the worst-case scenario. Those who have been there may say they simply did what they had to do.

Some believe there is something in those driven to evil. While it is a fine study, the bottom line is that when confronted with these people, you realize your life is more important than the offhand study of criminals. All criminals are sociopaths, in my opinion. They do not accept or adhere to the laws of society—although they are often very good at working the system to their advantage. The inner determinants of human behavior are very difficult to understand and catalog, although in my experience, street cops with 20 years or more of service understand far more than psychiatrists. So, the bottom line, in my opinion, is that all criminals are sociopaths. But the real problem is that a few are psychopaths, and others are simply psychotic.

Psychopaths are bent on causing human misery and suffering. They will not flee at the sight of a gun and will take advantage of anyone unwilling to act decisively to stop an attack. You cannot be distracted; you must act on the situation. There are many who enable those criminals and try to convince others that circumstances drove them to those deeds. I do not agree.

When facing those criminals, there are two types of risk: personal and public. The risk of personal injury is very real, and the social stigma of taking the a person’s life is also something with which you need to deal. You must give a due measure of forethought to the risks in either category. The result of training, however, is a positive. You remove the certainty of injury, and instead, your action now is a calculated risk. You must take seriously the mindset to deal with a criminal attack. I can counsel you, but you must have a well-developed sense of self-preservation. In the end, you must understand that our protein-fed, ex-convict criminal class does not consist of individuals like us who may have had a bad day; they are truly evil people in a most cases.

The Adversary

Human conflict is an interesting study. After more than 30 years in police work and security, I believe I am able to read people. Most of my associates have learned the skill as well although, in my opinion, the general populace does a pretty poor job of reading the other’s mindset. I believe the single greatest mistake is assuming the criminal thought pattern is similar to your own; predators have a wholly different mindset than the rest of us. An example is mental age. Most of us correlate pretty closely in both chronological and mental age.

The average criminal has successfully completed an education, on average, of no more than the eighth-grade level. In the past, people who, for some reason or other, were unable to complete secondary education were nonetheless able to secure employment of some type. However, in my experience, the criminal element is unwilling to engage in honest work and does not become educated. Few progress past the 14-year-old mindset and have little fear of jail.

You and I would find being in jail a dramatic, life-changing experience. Criminals consider occasional jail time simply a part of the game they play. Just the same, do not underestimate the violence to which a felon will resort simply to avoid jail. I once pursued a ragged, filthy, homeless person through city traffic as he attempted to escape incarceration. It seemed he would rather sleep in the cold than get three square meals and a shower in jail.

A 9mm with black handle and silver rail, lying on a Wanted poster.

9mm versus the bad actors. They may be badder than you think.

During the past few months, my experiences have given me pause. I have encountered criminals who excel at con games, including a female cell phone thief who was well dressed and articulate. She fit in completely at the meeting she attended; in actuality, she was crashing it. It took a certain amount of luck and coordination to collar that one. A few months later, a diligent and alert sergeant put her away for some time since she had six outstanding warrants. She was looking for bigger game than a cell phone at our post, perhaps a laptop computer or secretary’s purse, and took what the opportunity presented.

Another person seemed normal enough until the conversation took a far left turn—and I do not mean politically. My point is some criminals are easily spotted; others are not. The pasty-white oldster covered with jailhouse tattoos or the young thug with the teardrop under his eye are easy to avoid. The less obvious threats are the ones who concern me.

When contemplating your first line of defense, you must consider access. Access is easier downward than upward. Street people and common criminals have little to lose, in my experience, and some even seem thrilled by attention when interrogated. A healthy BS detector is good to have, and you can glean much from street interviews. Victims are not always cooperative for many reasons. Quite often, in my experience, the victim was involved in some seedy deal involving drugs or a woman who remains mum. Access in interviews runs downward easily. Upward access is another matter. Someone concerned with the legal ramifications of their actions may prove difficult to interview. They are not easily persuaded to discuss a critical incident. The police may discuss a case in confidence—not for the record—and I have done so on many occasions, which helped me isolate the common criminal tactics.

Many of my investigations centered on unarmed thugs, although some were armed with knives and guns. Do not underrate a knife. Every time someone flicks open a locked blade, the long scar on my face itches. Once we have both generalized and determined specific information about how things work, we may develop tactics for dealing with criminals.

Unarmed Assailants

Most assaults are unarmed. They most often involve a disparity or great difference of force. In my experience, strong, large felons feel invincible. Against children, the frail elderly and most women, they are indeed invincible. Drugs often fuel part of that feeling of invincibility, and in my experience, many of those criminals are bullies used to getting their way.I have isolated the single, most common tactics. Whether attempting to rape, rob or grab a purse, the attack often proceeds in the same way. At this point, you should realize situational awareness is important. Thinking and looking ahead are indispensable. However, sometimes we are blind-sided, especially in busy areas where we simply cannot control our personal space.

In my experience, the single, most common criminal tactic is to attack either squared to the opponent or at a slight angle. The scenario often plays out like this: The criminal’s dominant hand—most often the right hand—reaches for the victim’s right hand. The victim resists; the criminal pulls harder, and he overpowers the victim. Often, the criminal twists the victim so he has an advantageous position. I have studied enough to realize that this form of attack is the norm. However, there is a form of counterattack that I have found works. I have confirmed the efficiency of this counterattack in force-on-force training. The important thing in such a situation is to stay calm and think rationally. A rapid, explosive, counterattack is vital. You may get a few bruises, but you will survive, and the SEC (scene of the crime) crew will not have to dig your body out of a trash dump in a remote location. When an attacker grabs your arm or wrist, the first impulse is to resist by tugging to get away, which does not work. Instead, strike forward with all your strength in the direction to which the felon is pulling you. That is unexpected, and you should be able to drive your fist into the attacker’s body. You may only weigh 100 pounds, but if you put all 100 pounds on the point of your fist, you will achieve some effect. The aim is to break loose and run. As you strike—if the assailant does not release your hand—grasp your hand with your free hand and pull up violently with all your strength. When you fight back and inflict pain, in my experience, criminals motivated by profit are often dissuaded and will turn and flee. But a sadist or serial killer is another matter. As I previously stated, all criminals are sociopaths, although not all are psychotic. A knife, impact weapon or handgun is the best tool for dealing with the most dangerous. You also must have open-hand tactics available.

Rearward-Originating Attacks

Sometimes the victim knows the attacker, who has been waiting for the moment to attack. The attack has been planned, and the mode of attack is often rearward originating, a type often practiced in prison yards (this shows up in the scores of video taken). That is the same tactic used to attack and disarm police officers. There is very little effective, unarmed defense against those attacks. An edged weapon is essential in combating the assault. The assailant most often runs, placing one arm around the victim’s neck while using the other arm to control the victim or their body, or even the victim’s sidearm. Do not fight the arm that is around your neck with your fingers. The arm is around your throat, and you may have only seconds to escape. The proper means of escape, in my opinion, is to quickly deploy your knife and slash the offending arm.

About 50 years ago, my uncle was involved in a brawl with a dangerous drunk, who slashed him in that manner. It is not something he wants to repeat. However, this drill is essential for personal defense. As you can see, my estimation of the criminal element is far different from that of many trainers. They simply have no experience with criminals even if they have been to a lot of schools. I have dealt with the sorry lot of them, and our criminal class is extremely dangerous. Respect for the rougher man’s way of life is one thing, but understanding the basis for human evil is another. Never underestimate it.

A Look Into the Heart of Darkness

Ask any hunter what he knows about his game. Does he concentrate on range work, shooting and his firearm, or does he study the game? A hunter must know his game intimately to successfully pursue and bag an animal. He knows the terrain they inhabit, their eating habits and what it takes to find and take the beast. I think personal defense shooters do not always “get it” when considering the intersection they may have to cross with the bad guys. I believe they have in mind a sanitized television version. Make no mistake; we are the prey in that scenario, not the hunters.

If you feel you are going through life just waiting for that attack, for the inevitable flurry of motion, and believe you will emerge from that action victorious to the point you visit the local stop-and-rob at any hour because, man, you are packing heat, you may need more help than I can give. If you are recklessly stopping at the ATM at midnight to withdraw handfuls of cash, you are headed for trouble. If this mindset pervades your thinking, seek professional help, because you are the prey.

Picture of wanted posters in the background with the book cover of Karate-Do: My Way of Life in the foreground

If you are training for personal defense, the gun had best not be your only tool.

When I served as a peace officer and actively hunted the bad guys, I let caution be my guide. The hunter learns his prey’s habits to find him. We learn our adversary’s habits to avoid him. Avoiding rough clubs and sleazy entertainment is an immeasurable aid. An illusory practice is transferring our mental process to theirs. The street-wise criminal is not a Dick or Jane who is having a bad day. He or she is a sociopath. Some are bipolar; others are schizophrenic; many take drugs that induce elation when first ingested, then bring the addict down with paranoia on the flip side.

Experienced cops sometimes comment on the transparent nature of criminals’ best-laid plans. A certain level of intelligence cannot comprehend a level above his or her own intellect. As an example, I know I am not Stephen King, but a street thug may believe he is as smart as Albert Einstein. Thugs and their cronies plan crimes that seem perfectly foolproof to their culturally retarded minds (cultural retardation occurs when a child of normal intelligence is limited in his or her cultural education or has a lack of positive familial upbringing and social experience). In my experience, criminals of all backgrounds are equally subject to cultural retardation and viciousness.

SLRuleI hope this look into the criminal mind gives you some insight into senseless killings. Many criminals do not care if they are caught; others think they are too smart to be caught. The justice system has often given them every reason to believe they will not be punished. If a criminal does not care if he is incarcerated, no deterrent is effective. I promise you one thing; I have learned through many years of dealing with this type that they are not immune to fear. In fact, many of them are fearful. They fear something. They do not want to be killed or injured. They may not fear long prison stretches because they adapt to prison life. Their first choice in drugs and sex may not be available, but highs and sex are available in some form in prison. Many have healthy egos and burgeoning self-respect. They cling to life; they do not want to be executed and do not wish to be shot.

Another myth is the worn-out junkie who is easily faced and defeated in your home if he attacks you. While many crimes are motivated by a desire for drugs, few of those people are on drugs at the time of the crimes. They are more dangerous when strung out and need the next fix. They are often hardened by their lives and physically strong. You do not survive long stretches in prison without personal defense skills. You must take every precaution when dealing with those criminals.

As for sexual predators, our young men and women are equally in danger from the deviant. Even if most male convicts prefer women to men as sex partners, brutal sex in the pen has many times given them a desire to inflict pain in their sex lives. They often will use sex as punishment—a particularly humiliating form of attack against adult males. Young people attacked in such a way often become deviant themselves for many psychological reasons.

A note of worry, or perhaps a relief to some, is that the average number of active criminals in the population is two percent. While that seems a bit low for some areas, and may be much higher in certain districts, consider this: if you live in an average city similar to my hometown where there are perhaps 80,000 inhabitants, there are about 1,600 active criminals to deal with every day. The police department numbers fewer than 300 officers. The sheriffs’ office covers a county with 250,000, including the major municipal area. That figure supports a conclusion that the active criminal population is about 5,000. We have 300 municipal officers and a like number of deputy sheriffs. There are a half-dozen or so small towns in the jurisdiction, with about a dozen officers in some and two or three in others. In my experience, small-town officers are either constantly mired in political scandals and interference from the “council” or mayor, or primarily operate as revenue agents concerned with writing tickets for small infractions. They are poorly prepared, in my opinion, to deal with real criminals or conduct investigations beyond the fender-bender level. Those are the odds. We are outnumbered when the bad guys are compared to the peace officers, by a considerable margin of more than 10 to one.

If, however, you consider armed citizens—the good guys and girls—the odds look better. When dealing with the criminal element, never sugarcoat reality: those people will kill you. They have little hope for tomorrow and little regard for other humans. They have nothing and respect nothing. They are not folks like us who have had a bad break.

Take these words to heart the next time you are hammering a one-dimensional target with your 9mm. It is not about a game; it is about reality.

In my next concealed carry and practical defense installment, I’ll discuss the basics of sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control and hitting the target.

Have you ever been attacked or known someone who has? How did you handle it? Share your experience in the comment section.

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (9)

  • Hank Alvarez

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    I read it once and I saved it on my desk top and I will read it again. He gives a lot of good information I’m going to pass on to the people I care about. Thanks.

    Reply

  • Jeff

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    I have been attacked a few times in my life (unlucky). The latest time I was walking back to my car at a bowling alley Just as I started to open the door of my truck, I heard running footsteps behind me and as I turned I felt a sharp pain. The guy had stabbed me! I covered by head and crouched to protect myself but for some reason they left. The cops later said it was probably a case of mistaken identity, or a gang initiation. There have been a few other times when people have tried to pick fights with me and I’ve been able to leave the scene. After not having been raised with guns and being afraid of them, I got one a couple of years ago due to a violent drug dealer in my neighborhood. But now I’m getting more educated about self defense laws and think there may be times when I need something less than a gun to defend myself, so I’ve gotten pepper spray and am intending on taking some self defense classes.

    Reply

  • Richard from AZ

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    Many things to say on this topic. Very well written article. I already know a lot of this stuff from watching Investigation ID channel constantly. I did like the advice about cutting attackers arm with a knife when they choke you from behind. I hardly ever carry my knives, and I need to improve that because I have a couple good ones.
    In this age of men studying UFC fighting, and taking steroids, what I worry about the most is dealing with a tough attacker who has no weapon. It makes it a little trickier to know when to pull a gun without getting yourself in legal trouble.
    I totally agree with the advice about not putting yourself in dangerous environments. I have done that all my life, yet sometimes it’s hard and you have to remind yourself where you are.
    Thanks for a great article sir!!

    Reply

  • Hank Alvarez

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    After teaching the GED preparation course at the men’s prison at Chino, California I came away thinking the Aztecs of Mexico were right, off with their heads. They had no prisons. Most of these guys were repeat offenders in a system with a revolving door and they are a drain on our economy we can’t afford. A short fall and a snap of the noose on their necks would be what they deserve and we’d all be a lot safer. Hank

    Reply

  • Rick

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    I totally agree that most criminals are sociopaths or psychopaths. After watching all the crime shows on discovery I’ve developed a plan in my head about what I would need to do.
    Sadly, us good people typically think of others based upon our thoughts and actions, but criminals don’t think like us which puts us at a major disadvantage. The non-sense we see in most movies doesn’t help either. The good guy has a gun pointed at the bad guy and must give the bad guy 3 chances to stop moving when he was told at gun point to stop and then the bad guy over powers the good guy. If you can’t pull the trigger then don’t point a gun! Just consider what a sociopath is and how they would react towards you and put together an action plan for yourself. Great article that gives some important advice – Thanks!

    Reply

  • Dave L.

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    We live in rural eastern CT with no town police department, only the six shift state troopers on patrol at any given time. On a good night, we can expect a trooper in 5 minutes at the latest, but in foul weather, trouble at the prisons or at UConn, we are basically on our own. At 1:00AM Christmas morning 2012, my wife and I were awakened by someone pounding on our front door. Our dogs were going berserk and my wife was frightened out of her wits. I went down stairs in my skivvies holding my Glock 21 and SureFire flashlight at the ready and called out through the door for the person to identify himself. He stepped in front of the window where I was standing, and I blinded him with my light. He said his truck broke down at the end of my driveway (300′ away) and could I come out and help him. I told him to get the BLEEP off my front porch. He then starts to tell me he has kids in the truck. I don’t have any idea who this character is, or if he is alone, but I do know I AM NOT going outside of my castle to see. I told him again to get the BLEEP off my porch and to leave the property. He now sees my firearm and leaves. I watch until he disappears from view, and then run around my home turning on every exterior light and double checking that every door is secure. I then call the CT State Police. I give them all the details (except the fact that I am armed and WILL dispatch this individual to God if he enters my home). They tell me that because of the snow squalls and multiple motor vehicle accidents they are attending to, they would get someone out as soon as they could. Needless to say, I was stunned. I have a potential intruder on my property, and they thought dinking around with fender-benders was more important??? I said, “thank you very much.” and hung up the phone. He never returned, and I never went back to sleep. At day light I went out to check things out while still armed. There were tracks from one vehicle and one set of foot prints in the snow, so perhaps he was telling the truth. 2:00 in the afternoon, I probably would’ve helped the guy out. But at 1:00 in the morning he was one false move away from two or three center mass HP hits.

    When we moved out here we kind of thought this is how police response would be. This confirmed it. I never go to bed without a loaded firearm close by, and usually have one handy around the house during the day.

    Reply

  • Richard

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    Greetings;
    Indeed, they walk among us… While on a semi vacation, my date & I were walking back to the hotel on the river walk…we had strolled a bit too far from the safety of sight from other tourists and restaurant workers who could come to our aid and at the least call LEO’s for response…

    I sensed being followed, those following, were pickling up their pace as their window of opportunity was diminishing each step back towards the safety of the eyesight of the entertainment area,suddenly, one of the five, I later found out the total number of the would be robbers, quickly passed me, getting in front of me keeping pace while facing me, waking backwards, I,early on,had told my date I would protect her..not to panic, but stay close and behind me…I had already put my hand on my SPYDERCO, full serrated blade, and was at the ready to pull it and put it in to action as it our only defense….being a one hand opening knife, gravity being the energy with the snap of my wrist suddenly stopping to let the weight of the Handel snap into the locked position…i had practices this over and over, so had the confidence , plus being poorly lit, my adversaries had limited view, but could hear the click/snap of the blade locking… I had laid my plan early on, and needed to put into action as I feared being pushed from the front rearward into those behind me…

    I lunged forward making a sweeping motion throat level of the forward threat, he arched backwards, building momentum continuing my swing to the fellows at the back, lunging as close to their throats, yielding eyes opening wide with surprise of my response, in addition arching backward to avoid the sheeps foot serrated blade…,all they while moving, with haste into the cover of darkness from whence they came…. I feel remaining calm, showing confidence, kept my lady friend reassured and calm herself..allowing me the freedom to concentrate and put in to action my only defense… I am glad I remembered and used what I was taught in a self defense course I took as a sophomore in high school, as I got tired of being bullied…. I was instructed, if i found there was no way to flee and it was oblivious I would have to defend my self, to lay my plan, and to attack with out stopping at the moment I felt my feet want to flee as my adrenalin level would be at its highest and to start the attack, not stopping until the violence was stopped or the safety of flight to safety…. I know that GOD was with me and that my only plan of action saves my date & I…. That was 1990, San Antonio, river walk …. I still carry my spyderco mariner and have had it at the ready…, still practice flipping it open…now, running is becoming less and less an option due to mechanically induced arthritis from being run down on one of my m/cycles by a meth’ed up shuttle bus driver in Arizona while visiting daughter #2… That GOD for full riding gear & the sense to wear it…. In this crazy world, with laws protecting the criminal becoming stronger, the defender having to defend their selves from legal action, although a concern, so is defense from the sociopaths Mr. Campbell speaks of in his fine informative article…

    Thank you Mr Campbell …. ! ! ! I look foward to your next article…indeed, I do…

    Reply

  • John

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    I too use a knife as a primary self defense/all around handy tool, My sisters wedding was in Cancun Mexico and if anyone has been there you know that the tourist part is on this long isolated peninsula, and everythign is all bright and nice on the main street but just one block over things start to look pretty seedy according to western standards and if you go off of the peninsula things are down right third world.

    Across from our hotel was a long “island” in the middle of the road and there were no lights on it and lots of trees, bushes ect well, and Id walked through there before during the day and thought this was a perfect place to be suprised and mugged by people trying to prey on drunk tourists.

    Well the night after the wedding we all went out for dinner and a group of 6 of us were walking back to the hotel, It was Me my 5 year old niece my Sister Her husband, His Brother, his brothers wife and thier two daughters.
    I had brought a few knives with me just because I like some freedom of choice, and I could arm others in my party who didnt think to bring one.
    Well walking up to the crosswalk I just got a bad feeling and told everyone to wait for a second, I reached down and pulled my Benchmade 710 out of my pocket and had it in my hand and then told my brother in law to follow a few steps behind me, Well when I walked across into the dark secluded traffic island walkway I just stood there for a second and let my eyes adjust a little while pretending to be oblivious to the two mouthbreathers in the bushes, not wanting to scare the crap out of some kids running off to sneak a kiss in the dark I waited.
    I heard movement behind me and off to the side so I turned to face them square and saw two very unfriendly and large men standing there complete with tattoos and bandannas, one of them told me in perfect english to give them my phone and my wallet.

    Since I had my knife in my hand at this point I told them that I didnt have any money or a phone but I did have this *opened 4″ benchmade* that didnt produce the desired effect of them leaving, they were more confused than anything, I doubt people resist much, So at that Point My brother in law walks up next to me, and since Ive got my knife out he flicked his out and the two looked at eachother then looked at us then looked at eachother again, and I dont know if they froze with indecision or they were trying to to telepathically tell eachother to try to strong arm rob us, but at that point i was getting really worried about the outcome so I just said that “since the US embassy was just down the road I could get there and have a ticket home before they bled to death”.

    That got them to go.

    Now if I hadnt been paying attention and we all just walked in there and they tried to rob us, Im sure they would have, I would have been really hesitant to confront them like that because who knows where i would have been in relation to them or what they would have done if they had a few teenage girls or a child to grab for leverage.
    whats the saying? “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure”?

    The mindset is everything If you dont realize something is wrong until you are confronted you are already behind the power curve and you are reacting to them, If you feel something is off and Identify a potential threat and take steps to minimize that threat if/when it does present itself since you were “ready” you arent reacting to the threat you are countering it, and since action is better than reaction, you just turned the table on the criminal. like the article said, the criminal has a plan and scenario all played out in his head, and that scenario doesnt involve you not being taken by suprise.

    Reply

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