A Post Mass Shooting Review from our Church Red Teaming Experience

Feature by Mr. J. Tate, Chief Intelligence Officer in bits&digits, on Peerlyst.com, published November 2017.

Prologue Rant

We start by throwing a rock at the gun machine, @NRA. The NRA has never done anything to me personally, but this is a jab is well deserved. The spin cycle your PR machine is knitting will get a lot of misinformed, undertrained, and afraid people killed. More guns and less control over them will not, is not, and never will be an answer to a crisis like this.

But in the same paper, touch my guns, US Lawmakers, and we have a constitutional issue, you and I.



Late last year and the beginning of this year, my company conducted a few #RedTeam style physical security assessments of South Carolina’s largest Baptist and Methodist churches as a goodwill addition to the Cyber Security contract engaged. Obviously, I’m not going to go into the weaknesses of the individual institutions; nor will we discuss in verbosity the plans of actions and mitigations leveraged. Our topic of discussion is the #SecurityTone these institutions had before we arrived. And we’ll discuss how they may have changed ever so slightly to a more adept security conscience religious institution post assessment.

Operation Inoculate Emmanuel

In the defense of these churches, the racially divided and charged state of South Carolina had just experienced one of the, “at the time,” most deadly church shootings in history. If your not familiar with the Emmanuel 9 situation, I suggest you take a gander in your favorite search engine. White man/boy/racist/extremist/terrorist takes it upon himself to contribute to a systematic inflation of the African-American race expeditiously by exploiting the “Cold” and security relaxed nature of the American Church.

He knew it. I know it. Most people can agree. We all think of Religious Institutions as Safe Zones.

Well after this incident, I can personally attest to the increased interest for personal and congressional safety. This lends itself to both the Black & White church base demographic in South Carolina.  (I really dislike having to draw a divide between color of skin, but facts are as such in this case. I beg your pardon.)  One side, fear of retribution from the other race. The other side thinking there’s a New World Order in the making, and they need to “protect themselves from the Oppressor.” (Nope, I’m not joking.)

Of course, this polarization is the byproduct of some serious issues in the South. (And nationwide, but this is not the point of this article.) What is more interesting is the hyper-militarization each church took upon themselves in response to this crisis. Without diluting the message or violating anyones confidentiality, I will sum up the pre-assessment landscape with the following statements.

If the tragic event which happened in Sutherland, Texas, attempted to take place in one of these religious institutions in South Carolina, the following would be true.

  1. The shooter would NOT have gotten past the first reload. (They were both well armed and some of the former Marines, SF, and SOF Vets would have neutralized the aggressor quite effectively.)
  2. The casualties from the shooter would have likely been restricted to less than the number of rounds in his clip. The number of casualties or injuries from the security staff would have likely been in the same ballpark of the Texas incident. (Everyone with a gun, which was about 75% of the staff would have probably engaged the shooter. Cross fires and lack of training would have resulted in lots of inadvertent injuries.)

One of the first alarms voiced from the Red Team was in theory. Most of the security apparatus was very impressive. Though well organized and well lubed, some things were over emphasized in the name of #Fear.

Why do I make the above assertions? Keep Reading.

Our mission was to circumvent the physical and technical security countermeasures of the religious institution with no forewarning to the church staff. My team comprised of  3 individuals.

  • Myself, the Jester. 
  • A modern day Cleopatra with an education beyond most politicians, doctors, lawyers, or police. I can go on and on. Plus, she’s about 6 ft. 6 in. in heels, and she did have them on.
  • And a secret weapon, I’ll keep a close hold on for now. Let’s just say this person is my sleeper/Detective/SWAT… We can go on, but we will not.

Of course, our mission planning was the most extensive part of the plan and took weeks to kick it off with our legal teams approval and local law enforcements understanding of what we were doing.

ProTip: No matter what you do, people will never like the idea of conducting a Red Team in a church. Prepare to articulate the mission objectives, clearly illuminate the benefits and approval authority to any LEO with a presence in your church. We experienced both of the two typical responses, either:

  1. They will be totally against it and claim the safeguards they have in place are the best out there. (Grin and Bear the sarcasm first.  And, carrying with you the power of observation, timing, and a Police chief from the corresponding county vetting your services doesn’t hurt when you come to that meeting by the way.)
  2. They are all in and want to shadow the operation (of which you must respectfully decline and ask that they participate in the after action.)

Both easily negotiated with little diplomatic maneuvering and a well connected dream team. But again, we are going against the point of this article. To the core, I want to address the 3 aforementioned assertions based on what we observed pre- and post-Red Team assessment.

First things first, more guns in the church is not an answer.

Taking such an approach is problematic and has a multitude of issues we do not need to go into here. (Not yet, at least…) When a vast majority of the congregation’s staff is carrying a CCW working in Clandestine Operative mode with no formal training, mistakes are bound to happen. The count of casualties in a situation like Sutherland significantly increases if no substantial counter threat strategies are leveraged with hours and hours of training to supplement. Furthermore, there are countless other vulnerabilities involved with just arming the staff. Think through it, or contact an expert. Most security outfits, like ours, offer ProBono assessments to religious organizations, because we are human beings.

However, a more illuminating point should be: do not skimp on your training budget. I’ve only recently apprised how the Christian Church organizational structure works. As I have found out, many churches report up the chain to a governing church. These institutions must carve out an adequate budget for Security and Training. While you can rely on the Spiritual Force to keep you safe, I would assume the Spiritual Force also wants you to be logical in your expectations. An adequate budget to establish a proper security parameter for your congregation and its outliers (Children Ministry, Baby Ministry) should include a multitude of countermeasures not simply Active Shooter. We live in a society where children are kidnapped, online crime is rampant, and active shooters are getting more bold.

Take the time to really take security (physical and cyber) seriously. But do not rush yourself into a fear pit. This is where mistakes happen. There is way too much at stake to take this for granted.

Protect your flock the right way, and ensure you don’t have a wild west style security detail to hurt you in the long run rather than protect. Any questions, comments, or concerns? Feel free to drop us a line. We have a rather wide spread net of security outfits across the US.  Either we’ll consult with you or have one of our vetted professional organizations reach out to you.

@bitsdigits we@bitdigits.com

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