This article is dedicated to the art of being the Grey Man, or someone who simply blends in. On the surface he or she appears to be totally unassuming and non-threatening. He’s the guy you never noticed standing next to in line at the ball park, or the woman you don’t remember was at the wine mixer (yes, that one in Catalina). You may have SEEN them, but you never NOTICED them. Ironically, they probably noticed you and sized you up before you knew they were there.
A Grey Man is fine with not being noticed. That’s exactly the way he/she wants it. Greys are capable, confidant, often highly intelligent, and despite their physical stature, they find a way to make it a non issue. If they are tall they might sit (or stand near a basketball team if available). If they are heavy, they stand near other heavy set people. They are moderate talkers in a room full of talkers, and the most boring person in a room full of quiet types. Again, if they’re even there.
How did I learn to be “grey”? When I first left the Marine Corps, I was hired on by a private security and investigations firm that was owned by a retired FBI agent. Great guy, and he loved hiring vets, especially Marines. SERE had indeed taught me some valuable things about reducing my “footprint” and how I was perceived by OPFOR or “opposing forces”. This FBI man however, taught me how to really be “grey” in an everyday setting. How to dress, walk, talk, stand, sit, park a car, all in ways to NOT be noticed during surveillance. Again, it’s important to realize that SEEN and NOTICED are two different things. It was an excellent experience, and being “grey” helped us get the job done.
There are a couple of very simple objectives for becoming a Grey Man:
- Establish a baseline – what is the normal behavior and appearance for the environment, and for someone of your gender & age.
- Avoid creating stimulus – avoid behavior and clothing that imprint a memory or stimulate others into taking notice of you or remembering you.
Objective 1: establishing a baseline simply involves observation. Take some time to observe the locals, and adopt some of their behavior and dress habits into your routine.
How to obtain a baseline? Familiarize yourself with these things before you submerse yourself into the local scene. If you cant, take 15 minutes at the airport or nearest coffee shop to sit and soak in the new environment. Grab a newspaper, play with your cell, and quietly watch people come and go. Take notes about how they dress, how they stand, walk, and interact with each other. Observe how they gesture and signal. Doing things YOUR way and not theirs is a sure-fire way to get flagged as an “outsider”.
Objective 2: not creating stimulus involves the central nervous system. Specifically the reticular activating system, or RAS. In medical mumbo-jumbo, This is the part of the brain that “collects incoming signals from the senses and viscera¹”, and “then processes and passes these signals to the higher brain centers²” in order to determine your level of awareness. Basically, the RAS “governs actions and responses to the environment³”. The objective here is to NOT stimulate someone’s RAS. (¹,²,³: Mosby’s Paramedic Textbook ©2012, 4 ed, pg 306)
How to avoid creating mental stimulation? Pretend you’re on a blind date with someone you have zero intention of seeing again. Be boring and vanilla. Avoid eye contact if you can. It stimulates the brain’s RAS, although its sometimes unavoidable. Adapt to local fashion and wear clothing without distinguishable logos & markings. That too may not be feasible in all circumstances. If you are at a ball game for example, wearing a team jersey may actually HELP you blend in. Wearing said jersey at the gun range, however, may flag you and imprint your image into someones memory.
All that said, besides surveillance, why would one want to be a Grey Man?
Let’s go over some situations & reasons one might want to consider being “Grey”:
- Social Unrest/SHTF/Riots
- Unfamiliar or Dangerous Surroundings
- Armed/Tech Robberies
- Terrorist Attacks/Mass Shootings
All the above reasons can pretty much cover most situations in which being a Grey Man is beneficial (bodily harm, identity theft, robbery, rape, etc), let’s begin:
Let’s be honest, this is happening more and more overseas, and stateside. Groups like Occupy Wall St, BLM, and even college kids at UC Berkely & NYU are spontaneously rioting because their feelings got hurt. They are angry, desperate for attention, engaged in a “herd mentality”, and looking for a release of aggression. Your goal is to NOT stand out as an option for that release. That may mean you have to temporarily blend in as one of them if you cannot avoid them altogether. Being a Grey Man doesn’t necessarily mean you pull out your magic cloak of invisibility everyone walks right by. Be a quiet, unassuming, and shy weirdo in a social unrest scenario, and you MAY be targeted for being “weak”, or “easy prey”.
How to mitigate: again, if you just can’t avoid them altogether, you may have to join them. Scream, holler, and break shit. Not TOO much, though. Don’t over-sell it, or you risk becoming a central figure and may cease to blend in. Follow the lead of the “non-leaders”, the sheep. If there’s a group of people who are roughly your build, your race, color or gender, be near THEM. As they are breaking things, you break a FEW things, shout JUST as loud and often as the average hooligan until you can slip away by slowly moving to the edge of the frey. When nobody no longer pays you any attention, congrats, you are grey, slip down a side street and make your escape.
Scenario 2: Unfamiliar Territory or Dangerous Surroundings
If you simply took a wrong turn, this doesn’t really apply. But if you travel for work or pleasure and deliberately find yourself in odd surroundings, or even dangerous ones, learning to be grey is vital. Bad guys are worldwide (including nice areas), but you don’t want to present yourself as an “outsider” with no real available resources or support. You want to blend in, look like a local, and basically be ignored. This applies to travel in or out of the country.
How to mitigate: PRE-PLAN… so you don’t make that “wrong turn”, and avoids areas you don’t want to get stuck in. If you can’t avoid such areas, do a little research and pre-plan, have an exit strategy. Otherwise, be aware of signals you give: dress like Daddy Warbucks and you’re all but asking to get jacked for your car, your wallet, your shoes, your watch, and that $400 Mont Blanc pen. Wear that “Make America Great Again” hat at UC Berkley, and you may get pepper sprayed. Short story: accessorize appropriately.
In an overseas scenario, the research definitely helps. Find out what the local trends are in clothing & jewelry. Learn the layout of your destination on google maps so you don’t have to ask 10 people where the ATM or bathroom is like a typical tourist. Know where the police stations are, plan points of interest and routes from/to hotel for EACH. Know the local beers and some local language.
Scenario 3: Armed/Tech Robberies
This is perhaps the most complicated of the four types of scenarios presented here. In this scenario, you don’t even know you’re targeted as a victim until it’s too late. You’ve been selected much like the victim in scenario 2 because somehow you flagged yourself. Here, you’ve either said too much about what you have, or have SHOWN everyone what you have or know, or possibly have access to.
Your flashy watch and expensive car screams money. Even when you try to down play both, your $800 pair of Christian Louboutin shoes gives you away. Consequently, you may get jacked (robbed). Tone it down. I didn’t say go for the “homeless” look, just tone it down.
A Grey Man avoids being seen as worth robbing, kidnapping, mugging, or marking for a techno-crime. Once someone has I.D.’d you as someone of worth ,they will dig for ways to exploit you. They may simply run your license plate or follow you home.
They may approach you and “work you” or “data mine” you for intel like I used to for that investigations firm. Someone who’s good at this can get just about any info out of you that they need in as little as 10 minutes of casual conversation. Think about a casual conversation you might have with someone at a bar or gym. You probably gave up your name, where you work, recent trips, future trips, family members & pets names (good for passwords). You also probably gave up where you went to school, what year you graduated, your birthday, and what car you drive. As if that wasn’t enough, you may have revealed where you’re from, where you grew up, where you live now, what days you “hit the gym”, what days you “run at the park”, etc. Basically, everything you slather all over Facebook.
Scrub and sanitize your social media. Remove your personal information. Your friends already know you, and the world was doing just fine before you broadcasted you attended XYZ Middle School, ABC High School, and ITT Tech or are a Lambda Lambda Lambda Legacy. Nobody will die if they don’t know your Bday online, or if you don’t “geo-tag” your banana split at “Casa de La ME” (your home location). Remove your “from” and “Now lives in” info on Facebook. Finally, remove your workplace. Facebook is not your resume. LinkedIn is for that, which is a whole different conversation.
In addition, you can change your name to a nickname or misspell or shorten your last name to remove you from name searches. Create a NEW email that you will NOT use for any other reason than to log into social media. Hence, if anyone searches for your email on social media, your personal profile will not pop up. In the online world, this is called “Anon”; anonymous. Basically, stop being a needy attention whore. There, I said it.
Scenario 4: Terrorist Attacks/Mass Shootings
Being grey may not help in a bombing scenario, but for a mass shooting, not standing out may improve your odds of survival.
First half of this gets aimed a little at my brother veterans and the tacticool guys who “almost enlisted”. Don’t try to paint yourself as “someone to be reckoned with”. This is hard for a lot of us military guys (and the wannabe’s). We love our tactical gear, our military t-shirts and hats. Dear Lord do we love these things.
Learn to tone down this non-verbal communication. You don’t want a bad guy to walk into your office or school and peg you right away for the “military guy who poses the greatest threat”. Should a terrorist attack take place, your greatest assets are your training and the element of surprise. This is Grey Man 101.
For civilians, remember the RAS of the central nervous system picks up on anything that stands out. It may be a size, a shape, and definitely a color. Don’t be the person wearing neon orange in a room full of white and grey, Mr. Bad Guy’s eyes are probably going to pick up on you first. Shooting 101: “where the head goes, the weapon goes”. Are you catching on? Don’t be so hungry for attention and “all eyes on me”.
How to mitigate: Let go of your ego. This is hard, and takes some serious introspection. You know where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Your family knows (maybe), as may those you truly call “friends”. There is really no need to broadcast it to the world. Some people like to put out that “dangerous” vibe AS a deterrent. A way of saying “I’m the last mofo you want to mess with”. I get it, and it can be somewhat effective. Many social groups do this like the Hell’s Angels or other motorcycle clubs, or “MC’s”. When you see them, you might steer clear. Be they solo or in a group. But that also gets them attention from THEIR natural predators, law enforcement.
You have to chose between two very different philosophies. I lean towards the Grey Man until cornered, then go “full potato”. (if you get that reference, I like you already)
That’s our take on the art of being the Grey Man. There’s nothing very complicated or “James Bond” about it. It really comes down to ego and discipline. Most of all, stop WANTING to be noticed, and have enough discipline to blend in and be a “man with no name”. That essentially is a Grey Man. A person who is seen but not noticed, heard and not remembered.
As always, good luck, SPEARheads. Ne te quaesiveris extra!