Debriefing Charlottesville Part II: Helmets Worn by Protestors

Reviewing photographs and videos of Charlottesville civil unrest, and comparing and contrasting to other protests in the United States dating to 2015, there are a few trends we see that indicate the level of sophistication and preparation of organized groups:

  • One trend is use of helmets. 
  • We used to see cheap bicycle helmets to counter projectiles and perhaps falling down in the crowd.
  • Then we saw more expensive ones, and open-face motorcycle helmets (as opposed to full-face motorcycle helmets used in Ukraine). 
  • In Charlottesville, however, in addition to the military-issued Kevlar helmets worn by some of the organized nationalist groups, others brought tactical, police-style helmets.
  • Some brought baseball helmets, construction hats, rappelling helmets, and more robust motorcycle helmets.

Here is a small sample of helmets used in Charlottesville:

Bicycle helmets

Rappel helmets

Baseball helmets/construction hard hats

Military and Law Enforcement Helmets

Profiling Helmet Wearers:

To start, these helmets appear to be worn by people of different engagements in violence, either offensive or defensive. 

Some want protection from gas canisters fired by police, rocks and slingshot ball bearings, and blindsided sticks and batons.  The cheap bicycle helmets and perhaps more robust bicycle/motorcycle helmets indicate bystanders who are not expecting face-to-face fighting.

Others do not intend to fight, but want to be on the front lines to carry a sign or otherwise "engage" protestors/counter-protestors.  Here we see the rappelling helmets.  In other photos, construction hard hats are present.

And finally, the photos depicting face-to-face brawling with batons and sticks involve military-grade Kevlar helmets and old-style military helmets.  Certain groups prefer these because they already own them or are familiar with them from prior service in military/law enforcement.  In fact, these helmets are not cheap.  Ballistic helmets produced 2000-2008 run about $100-$150 used with the internal padding and chin straps.  However, the more modern designs post-2008 up to the present run $300+ used.  New helmets in this category can be $500-$1000.  A safe deduction is that one does not invest in these helmets unless preparing for imminent contact.  Those are often the aggressors to spot and avoid.

Consistently, the type of helmet matches clothing and shoes and other equipment.  We do not see rappelling helmets worn with shorts and t-shirt and tennis shoes.  Rather, those patrons have long pants, boots, and often more tactical backpacks.  We do not see people wearing MOLLE webbed tactical vests (with or without body armor) and cargo pants wearing a construction hat or bicycle helmet.  And we do not see weekend casual clothing and military-style helmets.  Baseball hat with bandana and goggles indicates preparation for pepper spray and contact, for example.  On a cursory glance, in the middle of chaos, journalists covering events can profile people quickly based on helmets and predict who may be aggressive/defensive.

Hence, when journalists patrol during photo/video shooting, depending on content needed, they can spot, assess, and decide who to approach and who to avoid, as best as possible.  Now, the helmet profiling is based mostly on in-combination-with clothing and shoes.  Add vests, makeshift shields, backpacks, and cargo pants filled with other items, and journalists can profile much further for safety and security reasons.