“Be the gray man” is a piece of advice that has been floating around the tactical/survival community for at least two decades. Twenty years ago I was reading articles recommending a strategy of “blending in” or being the gray man. “Avoid drawing attention to yourself to survive in the urban jungle.”
From Where did the Gray Man Come?
Like so many examples of tactical wisdom, people have repeated the gray man advice over and over. To the point where they’ve lost the original purpose. I fear that we have an example of advice, meant to address a particular situation, taken to extremes and recipients losing the true meaning.
Guessing the origin of the gray man advice and training, I would say it goes back to military SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape). SERE training teaches military personnel to survive & how to return to friendly lines. In the event that they get shot down, separated from their unit, or captured by the enemy.
One of the primary concepts of SERE is to blend in and move unnoticed behind enemy lines. In the woods, this means camouflage and concealment. In an urban environment, blending in, or gray man, means moving about amongst the populace in a way to avoid standing out. Not black or white, but gray.
If I were a betting man, I would say that a military veteran took their SERE training experience and began giving out the gray man advice to citizens. A way for them to avoid danger in “the big city”; think New York in the 1970s.
The gray man advice also applies to intelligence officers (spies) operating in hostile territories. During WWII, several Resistance Movements had formed to impede the Nazis in Europe. Resistance fighters organized in Poland, France, Belgium, and Norway to name a few. Members of the resistance had to move about, amongst not only the occupying troops but the collaborators as well. They needed to avoid standing out or looking suspicious.
A thread between the shot-down pilot, the spy, and the resistance fighter is the use of the gray man method in hostile territory, behind enemy lines.
Soldiers or Spies?
Intelligence operatives, spies, are a necessary part of any campaign. Spies provide information and intelligence to the Command. Depending on the information gained, the Command will act upon it. The spies do not fight the war. The soldiers fight the war, who are not at all the definition of the gray man.
The pilot shot down behind enemy lines, or the soldier who has escaped enemy capture, will use the gray man technique as a defensive strategy. Once back with their comrades in arms, the pilot or soldier will go back on the offensive. The gray man technique is not an absolute strategy for winning the war, it is a temporary defensive measure.
Consider what John Steinbeck had to say about offense and defense fighting…
“The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield, and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain. All else is supplemental.”
Modern Gray Man Advice
In its most modern and frequent use, we see the gray man advice dispensed to the citizen gun owner as a defense against crime. “Don’t put pro-gun or pro-hunting stickers on your car or truck. That makes you a target for thieves.” I have also heard/read that I should never wear any logoed apparel that would dictate a pro-gun stance. “Do not wear hats with gun company names or t-shirts with gun sayings. That is asking for trouble.”
This advice has translated into the modern Internet/Social Media world. “Don’t post pictures of guns on your social media. Don’t discuss guns in public or on the Internet.” The Internet/Social Media advice offered is not just as advice to avoid criminals, but to “stay off the government’s radar”.
Hiding Does Not Fix the Problem
In almost every use of the gray man advice, the person taking the advice wants to blend in. To be inconspicuous, do their best not to draw any attention to themselves. As mentioned before, this is a defensive strategy to help us escape danger and get to safety.
Based on 30 years of experience, I see that modern gray man proponents and recipients have lost sight of the original intent. The gray man strategy employed only because there is a perceived problem; crime, war, the presence of an enemy force, so on. Think about it. You would not need to put the effort into hiding, blending in, or being “gray” if you did not sense that there was danger.
Gray man is about temporary survival until you can get back to a position of strength and continue the offense. The pilot, shot down, doesn’t escape and sit out the war hiding. He cannot wait to get back into the seat of a new fighter plane or bomber and engage the enemy. The same goes for the soldier who escapes capture and makes it back to his unit. He grabs a rifle and ammunition and goes back with his comrades to fight.
If criminals are so common in your city that you’re scared to put a “Team RealTree” sticker on your truck, there is a larger problem.
If you feel you need to keep your social media “gun-free” to stay off the government’s radar, you have a tyranny problem. Sanitizing your social media does not solve the problem of an overreaching or out of control government. Escaping a burning building does not put out the fire.
Incremental Loss of Liberty and Rights
Almost every day, we witness big government attempting to strip the people of their inalienable right to bear arms. We have seen this in California for more than twenty years. New York, New Jersey, and Illinois have been hostile to armed citizens for years and years. Now, we see an open assault against the armed citizen in Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Washington and Oregon.
How did we get to this point? How have big government elitists come to believe that they have the authority to disarm the people? Why do they not recognize, or acknowledge, the inalienable rights in the U.S. Constitution?
For far too long, the citizens of the United States of America have engaged in the gray man strategy. The stupid jokes on the Internet about “I lost my guns in a boating accident” are an example. Hiding from an out of control government does not fix the problem.
For decades, the armed citizen has been on the defensive in the United States. The elitists attack the Bill of Rights and ignore the U.S. Constitution and we react defensively. Our would-be rulers pass laws that restrict our liberties. We turn to the courts and beg for our privileges back. We stand with our hats in hand and plead for one member of the state to side with us against another. Acting as the child begging between two parents for a cookie.
The Time to be Black or White
As John Steinbeck pointed out so well, there is no possible victory in defense. Being a gray man is a defensive strategy, but being gray does not fix the problem, defeat the enemy, or end the danger.
Now is not the time to be timid, to blend in, or to be gray. If there is any hope for the United States returning to its roots as the Representative Republic it was. When we governed under the Constitution, with a sacred Bill of Rights. For this, the armed citizens of the nation must be bold.
Christ said in Revelations; “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”
There is no room today for lukewarm patriots who bury their guns or “lost them in a boating accident”. There is no place for “reasonable restrictions” or “commonsense compromises”. If you cannot be bold, or fearless, do the rest a favor and retire out of sight so as not to impede the genuine patriots.
With that, I will leave you with the words of Thomas Paine, words that are as true today as they were in December of 1776.
“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
Professor Paul Markel
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Every article concerning the “grey man” approach that I have read says gun owners/ CCW holders should blend in and not draw attention to themselves as having a gun. Wear non descript clothing, no gun advertising or witty sayings. I have come to the conclusion that I am gonna where my pro 2A shirt, hat,whatever. I get just as many head shakers as I do people saying”right on!” In these trying times for Constitutional rights, I feel like my opinion given to my state representatives isn’t enough. I wanna wake up some sheep out in the public domain. If what I wear gets that supportive or not person to tell a friend, “you should have seen the shirt this dude was wearing” a small victory in my book. I’m not ramming it down anyone’s throat by open carrying (but by right I could) I’m comfortable with some possibly thinking he could be “dangerous on demand” I do like my Cross breed IWB holster. Anyways I enjoyed this and agreed with your article. Love the podcast. God bless.
Thanks for giving it a read! There are times to be a gray man and times to not be a gray man!