On Mobs: A Cautionary Tale


On Mobs: A Cautionary Tale

Would that the mob that prompted this post was one that held placards bearing hearts. Would be that the mob that prompted this post was once that chanted “enough.” Would be that the mob that prompted this post was not a group calling themselves patriotic Americans who want to “take America back.”

I work to keep this post non-political, although the composition of the crowd (I will forswear the term “mob” here) was blatantly political, and proud of it, it appeared. But my thoughts are about what happens to ordinary individuals once they become part of, once they identify with a larger group. So, this is what I observed: middle-aged to elderly white men, mostly in short-sleeved white shirts and ties that bore some iteration of the American flag, middle-aged to elderly white women in spectacularly unbecoming straw hats banded in red, white and blue, the kind of people that you’d see in an advertisement for a 4th of July picnic in Iowa (sorry Iowans, I know it’s a stereotype) gazing upward with rapt adulation at Chris Christie (and Chris, I used to admire your chutzpah, no longer, however) exhorting them with the chant “lock her up, lock her up.” I sat spellbound – like when you see a train wreck about to happen and you can’t avert your eyes. The energy of the crowd was palpable, even through the TV screen. So much hatred, and so much glee in being able to scream a slogan in the midst of thousands who agree with, and reinforce, exactly how you feel. I could not look away, even as a wave of nausea, which has yet to leave entirely, coursed through my body.

So in my mini-research on mobs, it seems that belief, and identification with, a leader can easily transform a person’s behavior to model that of the leader, while their own, perhaps dissimilar values, become submerged. Group think, group action.

Would that a leader have emerged who would have called up higher instincts, an antidote to hatred and fear. The group I saw this week was angry. Most of the people I’ve talked with, who don’t share those views, are scared.