Mob mentality

I prefer to stay away from being topical. One reason is that I wish to understand a subject before commenting on it, another is because I detest being part of a herd jumping on every facet of a topic. While this post might be considered topical, as it is inspired by recent events, the trait is as old as the first crowd.

Last week at the Boston Marathon, two explosives were detonated near the finish line, killing three spectators, wounding at least one hundred seventy. Many of the wounded lost limbs or had other life altering injuries. One of the dead was eight years old.

Big news. A pending nuclear attack from North Korea disappeared from the headlines in the media hurricane. And a hurricane it was, twenty four hour news outlets bored of repeating the same five minutes worth of information grasping at anything to get an edge in the ratings. Speculation and misinformation opening the door for the conspiracy seekers, who see any conflict of statements as disinformation. Reports were broadcasted that a Saudi had been arrested, then changed to state that he was a “person of interest”, then reported that he was visited in the hospital by the first lady, then reported that he was on a terror watch list and had been deported. A humming sound can be heard near Edward R. Murrow‘s grave as he spins faster than a CD.

One man’s speculation becomes another man’s “facts”. As one reporter speculates that the culprits are terrorists, another picks up the story and reports it as fact. It was blamed on left wing extremists, right wing extremists, Al-Qaeda, and a government false flag operation. Video of the scene, ubiquitous in a world of cell phones and digital cameras, reveals “suspects”. Suddenly everyone is a forensic photo analyst. The entire city of Boston was CLOSED for two days, while armored personnel carriers brought thousands of “troops” (it still isn’t completely clear under whose command they served). Neighborhoods were searched door to door by armed troops. Hysteria was the mood of the moment.

When the two suspects are located, one is shot and the other escapes. The troops fire over a half million rounds during the pursuit, [the source for that data has acknowledged that his estimate was based on recent ammunition purchases at DHS] and the subject is taken alive. Think about just that for a second. Assuming 147 grain bullets, that’s over five tons of lead. Spontaneous crowds cheer the troops as they transport the suspect. The Justice Department states that it will not advise the suspect of his Miranda Rights, citing public safety and “imminent threats” (considering he wasn’t conscious for forty eight hours, it doesn’t appear that anything was imminent after he was able to speak).  The idea of treating him as an “Enemy Combatant” is tossed around, but just can’t squeak through the hysteria, seeing that he is an American Citizen on American soil. He is eventually charged with using a weapon of mass destruction, by the same people who insist that Saddam Hussein didn’t have any WMDs.

Only a few days have passed, no new tragedy has taken its place, so the mob turns inward, and starts to eat itself. The discussion over civil rights abuses becomes arguments over compassion. Somehow the youngest victim being eight years old is more important than the fact that all the victims were random. The people who consistently go in the “what if” direction miss the point that it could have been anyone. The level of response gets the Monday morning quarterback treatment, again, the victim being the justification. No balance with the hundreds of children killed in urban settings every year.

The suspects weren’t Arab, but at least they were Muslim. The question becomes not if they are connected to Al-Qaeda, but how they’re connected. It comes to light that one was questioned by the FBI at the request of the Russian government. He was on a terrorist list (this “being on a list” bit is getting a little scary). No one seems to understand that the Russians wanted him questioned because they are concerned with Chechen terrorists. We didn’t care, as long as we didn’t think he was anti-American.

In the midst of all this the crazies of opportunity hit the fan. An Elvis impersonator sends envelopes laced with Ricin to Washington DC. A plan to disrupt train service in Canada is linked to Al-Qaeda. A totally unrelated chemical explosion takes place in Texas, twenty years to the day after the Branch Davidian massacre. The conspiracy theories travel over the internet at the speed of light. Everyone has something to be afraid of.

In the aftermath, there is so very much to be learned, but very few people willing to learn. Reddit has apologized for identifying people at the scene of the bombing after they turned out to be innocent bystanders who then faced a witch hunt. “Witch Hunt” was the phrase that started this post fermenting in my mind. The mobs of passionate individuals looking for an answer, and unable to look for that answer in the mirror. No other networks have apologized for their reckless behavior, whipping up the frenzy. There’s no reason that anyone should learn the lesson of Richard Jewell. Apology or not, once published those inaccuracies are still alive, floating about the internet, like a nude picture from Spring Break. Next month those reports will be someone’s “proof” of an already dis-proven theory.

The security of the herd allows us to say things we would never say to someone’s face, do things we would never do, even support ideas that we would never, under normal circumstances, believe. We have to be careful about what we say or write. It doesn’t go away, and is always waiting around the corner to hurt someone that we had no intention of harming. What is worse to me, is that it clouds the truth. With so many inaccuracies to shift through, finding the truth gets more and more difficult. There are some conspiracy theorists who believe that is the point.

Good day, and good luck.

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