The Mind of the Mob: Ugly Lessons We Should Never Forget

From the 1880's through the 1920's - literally thousands died at the hands of mobs in the United States. Most were racially motivated and many were examples of citizenry taking the law into their own hands. The victims included African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics Americans and European Americans.
These mob decided hangings, burnings, and murders were sometimes instigated by the racist reporting in local or regional newspapers, inflamed by shock or fear mongering tales from distant places, or ignored by local news all together.
Usually, these mobs rode the hot blood of recent death or some incident deemed inappropriate and fear fanned the flames of racisim. Sometimes, though, the intent was with willful planning and cold intent. Wearing masks or sheet these mobs had one purpose - social control at any price. They usually targeted blacks but were not above putting whites in their place (as they saw it). They were judge, jury and executioner with a callous disregard for the law, justice, or fairness.
Examining some of these old newspapers a trend can sometimes be found, especially in areas subject to influences from the south. The stories of "bad negroes" being burned at the stake or hung by a raging mob are recounted with a detectable note of glee. Predictions of probable lynchings someitmes had an almost hopeful tone (the inference almost seeming to be that a community would lynch if it were worth its salt). Then, when the horrid and despictable act was accomplished in an upclose and personal manner that underscored its basic beastial elements, the same writer or editor would step back, rachet down the tone, and then wonder how this thing had happened?
A common feature of those distant days when news was sparse and far between and todays' 24/7 news cycle is news sells. Those responsible for "whipping" up emotions, providing examples of actions with out thought of those who might copy the acts, and sending mixed signals as to the worthiness of an action cannot step back and wonder what happened. They cannot fall back on the blank faced assumption that they had no part in the act. The laid the groundwork, provided the examples and the sense of righteous motive, and then reported the 'worthy' act in their newspapers.
In researching several lychings, I saw this pattern repeated enough to lay partial blame at the feet of thoughtless and perhaps greedy editors and publishers. Some were more than thoughtless because the canker of ugly heartless racism was the engine driving their actions. Such a level of hatred for a fellow human being should never be allowed. Over and over I also saw these instigatin voices replaced by new journalists who asked probing questions, demanded fairness and laid blame on the mob mentality that robs a society if its virtue.

In our so civilized modern time we must guard against the same senseless motives and actions in their new modern guises: politics, gang and drug murders, recreational crime, and more.

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