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In today’s excerpt from our new book Basics of Resistance, we look into Chapter 6: The Power of Group Resistance. This chapter and the one immediately before it (on individual resistance) offer a multitude of action ideas, from simple to dangerous (but never violent). They also offer advice on how to avoid trouble. We return to again and again to the need for secure communications.


Communicating Within Your Group

The basic unit of a clandestine group resistance effort is a “cell of three”—three individuals working together. Three may be the total number in the organization, or may just be the size of one unit in a much, much larger group.

We’ll have more detail, including diagrams, in the following chapter.

Not every group needs a cell-of-three structure. An activist effort focused on public rallies, for instance, may not need a hidden structure (except perhaps at the very top of the organization). Cells of three are specifically designed to protect organizations and operations involving dangerous, often illegal work.

The point of a cell of three is to have the minimum number of people necessary to pull off an action while also reducing the danger by not having too many individuals in a communications chain.

It’s a good idea to form your cell and practice various communication methods before you take up serious actions.

In planning communications, remember the acronym PACE. PACE describes a multi-level communication plan:

Primary. This is your preferred method of communication between you, members of your group, and your close associates in resistance. You should all know how to use it and know that it is your primary. For a non-dangerous resistance effort, this may be encrypted email; for higher security, in-person talk.

Alternate. This is your first-level backup communication method. You may want to use P and A together as a failsafe. For instance, a second channel of encrypted communication or written notes.

Contingency. You may have a third level, less accessible, less convenient, and less frequently used, in case your first two fail or become untrustworthy.

Emergency. This is your method of last resort. It may carry major delays, be dangerous, or cost you both extra time and money. But this is the communication channel your cell and your associates will monitor when everything’s gone wrong, and this is your last hope of getting messages to each other.


For secure, real-world operations, your cell members need to be local to you. By local, we don’t mean just in the same state. If you’re too far to speak to them in person or to get together for an action, you’re too far apart to be in a cell together. In fact, one gauge that’s sometimes used is whether they’re close enough to be of assistance if your house is on fire.

You also need to know these people, personally and well. None of this, “But I talk to him on Zello all the time, and he lives only a few hours away” stuff. Ideally, your group members should also not be your Facebook friends or people you regularly call or text because that makes your connection too easy to trace.

For high-security resistance, you need to be able to communicate using entirely offline methods. That requires a certain proximity (no, you can’t just Skype). For most purposes, you can simply get together and talk. In emergencies or particularly dangerous actions, you might need more cloak-and-dagger communication methods—for instance, dead drops.

A dead drop is a place where one person can leave an object or a message for another. To see a dead drop project in action, visit this site.

WARNING: Don’t use the dead drops at that site or anything like them. We include the link only to show you how one particular version of the concept works. We highly recommend you create your own drops that can be accessed only by you and your contacts. Never put dead-drop messages on electronic devices that will be left unattended. Not on a flash drive, not on an SD card, not on a CD or DVD. Any of these can potentially infect your computer with malware if they leave your sight.

Other methods of offline communication could include a coded Craigslist ad. When we talk about code, we don’t mean using the word “cookies” for guns—but we also don’t mean a completely nonsensical anagram that will draw attention and get the ad flagged before you can even pass the message on. Hide in plain sight.

A code could be something as simple as a swap. The Starbucks on 33rd Street could actually mean the park on 2nd Street. A meeting time could be expressed with an alphabetical code or in agreed- upon words or phrases. For instance, the word “ad” might mean 14—the positions of “a” and “d” in the alphabet. The number 14, in turn, refers to 1400 hours local. Therefore, using the word “ad” in a sentence, regardless of context, means to show up at 2:00 p.m. There are a hundred, maybe even a thousand, ways to set up a simple code that works for your needs. Use your imagination, and game out the possible pitfalls.

Don’t be afraid to use public transportation for message passing, either. It’s easy to jump on a bus, sit behind or in front of your cell member or another contact for a block or two, and get off at the next stop with no one the wiser. One group in an eastern U.S. metro area has a cell member with a pizza delivery side gig. We’ll leave it to you how a cell could use that to their advantage. Friendly mail carriers in rural areas also make decent cut-outs and couriers if necessary.

For some extra fun, pick up a copy of the CIA’s Manual of Trickery and Deception. Back in the 1950’s, the CIA hired a magician to write them a manual on all sorts of interesting skills. You might find some of the ideas obsolete or even cheesy, but just like anything else, the book can kick your own creativity into gear.


Basics of Resistance is available for pre-order now!  You can get your copy here.