The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

An Interview with Rughi: Mindset over Circumstance

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On Saturday, May 30th at 4:00pm PDT, peaceful protests turned to violence, terrorizing Seattle streets and transforming a once beautiful, bustling downtown into a post-apocalyptic landscape. Businesses made failing attempts to protect what’s theirs with plywood and nails. Glass, trash and discarded makeshift weapons littered the concrete, while whatever remained of the automobiles abandoned in the chaos were engulfed in flames or about to be. Two unmanned police cars in the fray would become the catalyst for one man’s crucial decision that day.

Even though the reporters had been ferried off for their own protection, the incident was still caught on camera. And that video immediately went viral. The hero of the day was identified as a former Marine who was working as private security for the news team when these events unfolded before their eyes. This man’s name is John Carughi…

John Carughi constantly improving himself on deployment.
John Carughi set the pieces in order long before his actions in Seattle.
Photo by Johnathon Hale.

Interview by Kyra Sacdalan.

So, can you tell us about yourself a bit? Where did you grow up? What was that like?

I grew up going out into the woods – going shooting, hiking, camping, hunting with my father – mostly for elk. There were even a few trips to Canada too. Those were great! I mean, as great as it could be for a kid who didn't like school. But, being far out of town. Being in the woods and having trees, nature, everything all around me certainly had an influence. I’ve tried to stay in the habit of being outside of the cities since that’s what has affected my interests.

Fast-forward some twenty-plus years… You were hired as private security to protect a local news crew reporting on the ground in Seattle?

Yes, ma’am.

What did you do to prepare for such an undertaking?

I preferred to ready my bag for this type of work. I could be under some pressure. I had to dress in a way which wasn't going to stand out but would also provide what I needed on the job. I wanted to make sure my firearm was as concealed, but ready whenever I might need it. The biggest thing thereafter became setting up my frame of mind right for the specific situation I was going to be in, and that's what I did.

And how did you, how did you get your mind “right”?

I had a little over an hour drive ahead of me. Before I left the house, I pulled up a few videos of the news over the last several days of reporting in Seattle. I just let my cell phone play over on the passenger seat the all the way there while I tried to grasp some idea of what I was going into.

I made several decisions. An obvious one being that I won’t take a life if I don't have to. Then, I went over the legalities of What if? What lethal force am I authorized and trained for? Then I considered if it does come up, what are my other options. I was going to take those routes before choosing lethal force. And so, I stuck to that decision prior to my arrival.

So, I had to reconcile with the fact that there could be plenty I’d see and hear which would piss me off. But that wasn’t my purpose for being there. And it was no hair off my chest because they wouldn't know I am there. I was trying to be completely unnoticeable, only noticed by my team. I think setting this point of view – having that mindset before going to Seattle – is probably what saved me (and the two rioters) during the incident.

And what was your role in the Marines? 

I was a Marine Corps Infantryman, in the 0311 Riflemen, as well as a Combat Marksmanship Trainer at a Marksmanship Training unit.

When you confiscated the first service rifle, why did you decide not to make that your primary weapon?

I could throw out a few reasons for that situation, some of them more substantial, but to pick one which applies most to this question:

I didn't know those firearms I had taken off the rioters. I don't know how reliable they are because I haven't fired them. Maybe one of those rifles has something going on with it – it hadn’t been maintained or something – and it malfunctions. Yes, there are a slew of other reasons why I didn’t choose to make one of the rifles my primary, but if the situation had called for it, I probably would have.

You need to know your equipment. You need to know what you're doing. I knew my bag. I knew how to draw from it. Because I had rehearsed it and had trained with it several times. I don't even remember drawing my pistol from my bag during the incident, though, I know I did. But that's because the training took over. I'm proficient at this, which made a huge difference – knowing yourself as reliable and being very familiar with a variety of equipment you could handle. When I took those two rifles apart, I didn't need to look at them. I could focus on scanning my environment. And that’s just one reason why I didn’t make them my primary.

More importantly, my greater mission was to de-escalate the situation going on. I wasn’t trying to get into a gunfight. I was trying to avoid it. If there was already a gunfight occurring, it would have been advantageous for me to use the rifles. And if the situation had dictated (which it didn't), I most likely would have. But my aim was to reduce tensions, obtain each rifle, maintain control and disable them, then get the hell out of there

In the video, we only see you disarm the second person, can you describe exactly what happened in your first encounter? 

I was observing the two police vehicles as the news crew who had hired me shot video of the scene. The first thing that came to mind when I while watching the cars become vandalized was, I know police can carry patrol rifles. And this was a very unorthodox scenario where officers couldn't get back to their vehicles to further secure or remove any sensitive equipment.

The instant I saw a rifle pulled out from the window, I yelled “Gun!” and brought my team to cover immediately because I had already formulated a plan. If I had been caught completely by surprise, my reactions might not have been so quick. But they were out of harm’s way, so I made my way towards the patrol vehicle. I flipped my bag around to the side, in front of me, drew my pistol and flung it right back. By that time, the rioter had fired four rounds at the vehicle – a couple landed in a nearby brick wall, and then he went to the sidewalk and ducked into a doorway. He was under cover, if you will. At this point, I came up, drew my Glock and turned around the corner towards him. He did not see me because he was facing away trying to do something with the firearm, although I don't know what, and I took it from him before he had a chance to understand what was happening. 

I yelled, “Drop the weapon! Drop the weapon!” He was stunned. He opened his arms and looked at me because he didn't know what was going on. And at that moment, thankfully because he didn't know what he was doing, the weapon didn't come up. I surprised him just like in the video with the second rioter. Then I dropped the mag, cleared the weapon, took the bolt carrier group and charging handle out and stuffed it in my back pocket while making my way back to news crew. The experience was very much the same during that second encounter, except the second rifle hadn’t been discharged.

A ground view from where John Carughi made his move.
Chaos in the streets, where John Carughi kept a cool head despite the din and rage around him. Photo by Zach Beam.

At the time, most of the people surrounding you had no idea who you were or what was going on. So, what happened when you tried to leave the scene?

That's where things became interesting. Every moment thereafter until I could return the firearms, I had phones in my face. The disassembled rifles were slung across my body, I had grabbed my team telling them we need to move because now I just put a target on my back. Disarming the two immediately told everyone there I was not one of them. So now, I’ve put myself in more danger. I put my team in more danger. And that’s when the death threats started coming. Every decision I made moving forward was towards two goals: return the firearms and keep us safe. To do that, we had to move.

There were maybe up to 300 people in each a block trying to close in on us. I was keeping space between me, my team and everyone else. I had my Glock out and was on high guard for about three and a half blocks because we needed a show of force. Then, two gentleman approached and said they were here to help. And then another guy wearing the American Flag around his shoulders wanted to help. So, I tried to come up with a plan. He would run up a block or two and try to find the police while we stayed in one place. He found a line of policemen holding off the crowd a block away. And so, we were moving again. I told my crew to head to the vehicle because the mob wouldn’t follow them once we separated – they were after me. Once I made sure no one was trailing them, I took off towards the policemen. 

And then how did the police react to you when you handed over two of their service rifles? Was their initial reaction different when you had an opportunity to explain yourself?

I already had a plan. The police weren't going to do anything unless I provoked them. The rifles were broken down – with my Glock holstered, and I had my hands up yelling loudly and clearly, “These are yours.” One of them told me to get back, and I responded, “Sorry, but these are your firearms. I retrieved these…You need to take them.” He was 100 percent puzzled. He and another officer came up to me, I quickly explain the situation, gave him the rifles, pulled out the charging handle, bolt carrier group and slapped them in his hand. I actually laughed and said again, “These are yours. You need to take these. I need to go.” Then I turned around and took off to find my team.

What was going through your mind?

Regarding my frame of mind, I had given myself many routes to take depending on what I came up against, and the decision was made ahead of time. I understand I’m not going to be able to pick what will happen or guess which is the “right” path, but whatever you’re capable of, you just need to do something. Do I want to take an American life? No. My process uses the Socratic method – asking myself a series of questions to stimulate thought, to give me a frame of mind when I enter hectic environment. I think that's really why I was successful and able to disarm the two rioters without lethal force. I blended in and they didn’t even noticed me. I saw an opportunity to catch them off-guard. 

You had made a conscious decision not to use lethal force in this situation, even though you would have been within your legal rights. Was it your military training which helped to diffuse the threat without having to discharge a weapon? 

I think I was lucky. In fact, I was very lucky. Lucky that they didn't get hurt…I didn't get hurt.

Lucky to have had years of experience on a rifle range where I was able to develop the ability to recognize when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. Being able to surprise those guys was fortunate. This was an incredibly unique situation. The results could have been completely different if I showed up just a little later or one of the guys had seen me approaching. I was more than willing to do what I needed to do, though I still have some doubt. But I had decided beforehand on the ride over to Seattle, whatever the case, I was going to try to find another way than to discharge my weapon. What comes to mind is Japanese philosopher and Samurai, Miyamoto Musashi who taught that the best a warrior will try to finish a battle before it begins. He wrote in The Book of Five Rings, ‘The ultimate aim of martial arts is not having to use them.”

Why were you able to de-escalate a potentially violent situation in a non-violent or non-lethal way, yet, for instance, the George Floyd incident lead to such an extreme and harmful outcome when those law enforcement officers seemed to be under far less duress?

I was not part of, nor truly understood, those officers’ situation. I was not in their heads. I don't know their prior experiences. I don't know their prior training. I don't know who they are. I only know who I am. I know why I decided to choose a particular frame of mind during my experience…Because I know who I want to be. And I know what I want us as a country to be. 

When the dust settles, what aspirations do you have for the future?

There’s something my wife and I are working on, but it’s a little too soon to talk about it yet. Just a few nights ago, we sent out for the business license.

With it, I'm hoping we'll set a good foundation to be able to help others. It was brought up to us that all this attention might be a good thing right now because it’s an opportunity which could provide a little support – even though I feel I’m undeserving of it. Having a GoFundMe, with people giving me money, is very awkward. It's absolutely insane, and, honestly, it is amazing to see this sort of generosity. I'm incredibly grateful.

All the feedback I've been given on my Instagram is extremely positive. I would love that same positivity and encouragement to be sent to Firewatch Official. And that's what I'm really hoping grows. What drove me to create this outlet was my own peer group – and we didn't even go to combat. So, I thought, “Why are we struggling? Why are so many of us lost?” Sebastian Junger has written about so many things we related to. His books helped me figure out the reason why my Marine Corps brothers and I were struggling: we had lost our tribe. Plain and simple. Now, a couple of my brothers from the Marine Corps live with us, and it is very much a sense of home. We have each other’s back, and we have developed a family here in Washington. That’s what I’m hoping can happen through Firewatch Official, as well. (Sebastian, if you're reading this… Call me, I’d love to buy you a beer.)

About the Author:

Kyra Sacdalan is a freelance motorcycle and adventure travel journalist who just so happens to be an adamant firearms enthusiast. Her work has taken her from dusty steppes of the Gobi Desert to the abandoned villages of rural Japan, and just about everywhere in between. She's a cultural bloodhound who seeks to enrich the lives of others by telling stories that may be often overlooked.

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