There have been more incidents over the last two weeks of irrational, vitriolic mob behaviour among demonstrators in America. At the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, demonstrators who had gathered to protest against Trump’s presidency verbally and physically assaulted a street preacher who had nothing to do with the Republican Convention. Sam Bethea was simply holding a sign saying, ‘Jesus saves’, and was talking about God’s love to anyone who would listen when he was set upon by the angry mob. They doused him in oil, flour, glitter and silly string, while hurling abuse at him.
Sam was not at the Convention because of any political leanings. He says he has turned up for every rally and demonstration in uptown Charlotte for the last six years, whatever the occasion, simply as a way of sharing the gospel with anyone who will listen. Sam is passionate about his faith because of the way Jesus turned his own life around. Before his conversion he had been in jail 29 times. He is now a gentle, good-natured giant of a man who dedicates his life to share the good news that Jesus can turn anyone’s life around.
The action of the crowd in assaulting him as they did was abominable. Sadly, it is indicative of the irrational behaviour that is dominating many of the current demonstrations in America and elsewhere There is a strange transformation that comes over people when they come together in a mob. The anonymity of a crowd gives people permission to do and say things they would never dare to do as individuals. The sheer weight of numbers and the incremental reinforcement of mob-like behaviour seems to draw out the darker side of human nature that resides untapped and dormant within many people. Like a self-generating storm, mobs seem to create a frenzy of self-fuelled violence and vitriol, often directed at people and things that are completely unrelated to the issue they are demonstrating about.
Take, for example, the attack launched upon restaurant diners last week by Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Washington DC. Lauren Victor was enjoying a quiet meal at a sidewalk table of a Washington restaurant on Monday, when she was confronted by an aggressive crowd of BLM protesters. They surrounded her table, holding their fists in the air and screaming at her to show her solidarity by raising her own fist. When she refused, the angry crowd became even more hostile, screaming at her, inches from her face, and crowding her so closely that she ended up having to lean back in her chair against the wall of the building to avoid being physically assaulted. It was a disgusting display of bullying and intimidation and the youtube video of the incident has gone viral.
What is ironic about the attack on Lauren Victor is that she says she has been a supporter of the BLM movement and has even marched in some of their previous demonstrations. But she refused to raise her fist with them on this occasion because she did not believe they had the right to bully and intimidate people in this way.
She’s right. They don’t have the right to engage in this kind of behaviour. But this is what mob behaviour does. Mobs create storms of senseless aggression. They also provide anarchaists with an anonymous means of acting out their desire for mindless violence and destruction. Anarchists will happily attach themselves to any large crowd, whatever the cause, if they think there is a chance of insinuating themselves into the crowd, piggybacking on the crowd’s emotions and whipping them up into senseless violence. Sadly, that seems to be what is happening at the moment.