When Russian Special Forces units stormed the terrorist held school in Beslan on Sept. 3, 2004, John Giduck was landing in Moscow with his Archangel team of tactical consultants, including former Soviet Spetsnaz commandos. Giduck reached Beslan while the school was still smoking from the fires ignited by the Chechen terrorists; bombs and bodies of the more than 344 victims of the siege were still being removed. The experience changed Giduck’s life and led him to become one of the busiest law enforcement speakers and trainers in America.
Giduck was commissioned to write an after-action report for the U.S. government on the tactics used by both the terrorists and the Russian troops who assaulted the school. He soon realized that the information in that AAR needed a larger audience, and he wrote “Terror at Beslan: A Russian Tragedy with Lessons for America’s Schools.” The book was written in just three months and, ever since it’s publication, Giduck and Archangel have become some of the busiest law enforcement and military trainers in America.
Police: You’re an attorney by profession; how did you get involved with Russian Special Forces units?
I was working on a master’s degree in Russian Studies in Russia, and I got to know through an odd set of events the gentleman who was the head of the KGB for the St. Petersburg region. I’ve always been a wrestler and a wrestling coach. So I told him I was interested in learning the Russian martial art called SAMBO. He set me up for some training with some of the Spetsnaz instructors, and I started training with them. As time went on and I kept coming back for more beatings, I got introduced to more people. That’s the way it works in Russia. Everything runs on personal relationships.
Police: Were you in Russia when the siege at Beslan occurred?
We got into Moscow as the siege was ending. We got down to Beslan the morning after. It was a bad scene. They were scraping bodies out of that gym for quite a long while, and I mean scraping.
And the town itself was just insane. People were running everywhere, racing around 20 people in a car with guns bristling out. Any time we heard a rumor that were more terrorists in a house somewhere, everybody—the military, the police, the citizens—would go there and start shooting things up. That went on for several days. It was out of control.
Police: Why do you think Americans tended to have such a sympathetic view of the Chechens before Beslan?
It’s a product of two things: our post-Cold War mentality and the Western news media. For nearly 50 years, Russians were evil in the eyes of Americans. They were bad. They were the enemy. Then in 1991 as the Soviet Union was disintegrating and people were looking to begin leaving, the Chechens declared their independence.
To us, their independence made perfect sense. It wasn’t an unreasonable thing. The Russians were the “Evil Empire,” therefore by definition anyone who wanted to get away from them was good or certainly politically aligned with us. So our government and our State Department’s formal policy were in favor of the Chechen cause for independence. And the U.S. embassy in Moscow started letting any of them in who applied for visas come here.
And the Western news media has really come down on the side of the Chechens. If you’re really careful and you read and watch and listen to news accounts and you pay attention to the word choice of commentators, you will never hear the Chechens called “terrorists.” This is true even as they were taking over the Nord-Ost Theater in Moscow, even as they were taking over the school in Beslan. Most of the news accounts called them “freedom fighters,” “rebels,” “independence seekers.” It’s a blind spot that we have in our thinking.
Police: Has that changed at all now that we are fighting Chechens in Afghanistan and Iraq?
This is something that I pay attention to constantly. By and large the news media account has not changed a bit. In fact, it is rare to find mainstream news media reports that will even acknowledge the fact that there are Chechens fighting us in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Police: Why did the American news media soft pedal the brutality of the Beslan siege?
Part of it is political. They have been locked into a particular perspective and viewpoint. It’s difficult for them to now change and say, “Oh my God. These people are horrible. Look at the terrible things these people are doing.” They’ve allowed their egos to get interjected into it.
And it’s not as though Russia is an innocent party. Russia has committed more than its share of atrocities in Chechnya. But Russia has never taken over a school full of Chechen children and wired them to bombs.
The thing that is most relevant to me is that I have friends in Russia. I have friends in Russian Special Forces units. I don’t have any friends who are Chechens. I know some Chechens. Ultimately, I don’t have a horse in this race. It doesn’t matter to me. Ultimately, all that matters to me is what is the relevant tactical information for America. As for the two parties to that conflict, there’s one thing I know for sure: I don’t have to worry about Russian Special Forces coming over here and taking over schools full of our children. But there are groups over there in that conflict who will do it, who certainly have planned it, who will do it at the first opportunity, and that includes the Chechens, Muslim Arabs, and North African Muslims who are operating in Chechnya and training there.
Police: Have we done anything in America to protect our schools from a Beslan attack?
No. The short answer is no. There are a lot of police departments around the country that are very forward thinking that understand the broad global threat and reach and reality of all this, who know it will come to America. They are doing their absolute best to be as prepared as they can be but unfortunately, we keep tying their hands. We impose ridiculous legal and equipment restrictions on them. They don’t have enough ammunition, weapons, training time, and they face tactical restrictions that make it almost impossible for them to truly be ready for attacks.
Schools themselves have done an inexcusable job of being prepared for anything. To be honest, the schools here in America have not done a credible job of being tactically prepared for just student shootings in their schools. And that’s something that keeps happening here. Our cops have done a good job. They’ve stopped a number of them. But now it’s not a lone shooter, it’s five.
The last one that was stopped was five kids. Those are huge odds, especially for one SRO with two magazines for his or her sidearm. These kids have not yet worked up the courage to attack a school with an armed uniformed police officer, but someday they will. They will just walk up to that cop and hit that cop before he or she even knows what’s happening.