BLM/Antifa Communists have become particularly notorious for tactics like mobbing innocent white Americans in restaurants and demanding that they “raise the fist” in solidarity or utter the sacred mantra “Black Lives Matter.” This summer, a brave Washington DC diner called Lauren Victor famously refused to comply, despite being surrounded by people, noticeably other women, who raised their fists [BLM protesters accost white diners for not raising fists, by Kenneth Garger, New York Post, August 25, 2020].
Does mobbing of this kind work as a tactic—to the extent of helping to ensure that Joe Biden will be elected president? Unfortunately, the answer is “potentially, yes”—at least in a close contest. (But read to the end to see a caveat).
There is abundant research on how the mob mentality can force people to conform, at least when in the presence of the mob. According to research by Damon Centola of the University of Pennsylvania and his team, when you are part of a group you will tend to conform—even to the extent of stating something to be true which you on some level know is not true—once you witness about 25% of your group do so [Experimental evidence for tipping points in social convention, by Damon Centola et al., Science, 2018]. This percentage seems to constitute a “critical mass”; a “tipping point” after which the rest of the group will migrate over to the minority opinion, especially if fervently expressed, because this opinion appears to be the future, the opinion of the “winning team” that you want to be on.
Centola’s research group demonstrated this effect experimentally by getting groups of people to reach a consensus about the name of someone shown in a particular picture. Group members were then individually exposed to a confederate who promoted a different name as being the correct one. When the number of dissenting confederates was approximately 25% of the group, the opinion of the majority could be “tipped” to that of the minority.
When the number of dissenters was below 25%, only small numbers migrated over, but when it was above it, the migration was dramatic.
The researchers also commented that their result was quite similar to other studies that have found that once 30% of a previously mainly male workplace becomes female then “established norms” will start to be overturned very quickly, because 30% is the “tipping point” [From a small to a large minority: women in Scandinavian politics, by D. Dahlerup, Scandinavian Political Studies, 1988].
So, we can understand what happens when a group of diners are surrounded, and often recorded on cell phones, by an intimidating mob demanding that they raise their fist in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. The first to give in are likely to be those who are the highest in the personality trait called “Neuroticism.” This trait predicts mental instability, feeling negative feelings (such as fear) strongly and generally being an anxious type of person. Research on religious conformity has found that people who are high in this trait score strongly in “extrinsic religiousness” (outwardly conforming) but low in “intrinsic religiousness”—really deeply believing it [Primary personality trait correlates of religious practice and orientation, by Peter Hills et al. Personality and Individual Differences, 2004].
True believers in BLM, among the diners, will also raise their fists. But those who are not easily intimidated will hold out until they sense that approximately 25% of diners have raised their fists. At that point, people that are mentally stable but who are reasonably high in the personality trait Agreeableness (altruism and empathy) can be expected to rapidly conform, because they like cooperating and making other people happy [Sex of researchers and sex-typed communications as determinants of sex differences in influenceability, by Peter Eagly et al., Psychological Bulletin, 1981].
What we would be left with would be people who were low in Agreeableness, meaning that they thrive on conflict and on being non-conformists, and those who were low in Neuroticism, which tends to predict traditional religiousness—something which might incentivize them to oppose the Marxist, atheistic BLM [Primary personality trait correlates of religious practice and orientation, by Peter Hills et al. Personality and Individual Differences, 2004].
Interestingly, one of the anarchists actually asked Lauren Victor “Are you a Christian?”
Women tend to score higher in Neuroticism, Agreeableness [Age differences in personality traits from 10 to 65, by C. Soto et al., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011] and social conformity than men, consistent with anecdotal evidence that they are more likely than men to “conform” when confronted by the mob.
However, there is a difference between immediate conformity to an intimidating mob and actually changing your thinking when outside that specific context. The research presented by Centola and his team would imply that women who “raise the fist” when accosted by BLM protestors will not necessarily agree with them and, therefore, won’t necessarily vote the way which the mob would want them to, that is against Donald Trump.
That said, it is possible that people who are extremely high in certain aspects of Neuroticism, such as fear, might become concerned about widespread violence—including against them personally as white people—if Trump wins, and so vote for Biden out of fear of this eventuality.
Thus, unfortunately, there may be a level on which a fanatical minority of threatening individuals could, in a very tight race, make a difference to the result.
This is the kind of tactic that is seen in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2008, then Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s mob would make clear to villagers that if their village voted for the opposition then there would be consequences for the entire village ['Vote Mugabe or you die'. Inside Zimbabwe, the backlash begins, by Chris McGreal, The Guardian, April 10, 2008]. Unfortunately, people who are easily intimidated, and strongly empathetic, might, therefore, think that they had better vote Democrat or there might be “consequences” for their immediate neighborhood, as the voting patterns can be obtained for specific districts.
Thus, if Trump narrowly loses in crucial states, there is a case for arguing that BLM mobs should be cited as evidence that the vote was not “free and fair”—at least not for female voters, these being more Neurotic, more Agreeable and so more easily intimidated.
Which means that Trump and his advisers made a disastrous mistake in not showing strength and crushing BLK/ Antifa riots at their outset.
But my caveat: it has to be said that even totalitarian societies proved unable to remold people in the way that George Orwell suggested in his novel 1984. In the Soviet Union, religion and national identity survived 70 years of very real terror.
There may be enough people who are high in the personality trait Conscientiousness (impulse control, rule-following, a desire for order) who recoil in absolute horror from the chaos BLM has caused and vote Trump because of it.
It’s still possible that Trump’s wait-and see approach will be vindicated, just as Charles De Gaulle waited out the 1968 rioters in France.
Lance Welton [email him] is the pen name of a freelance journalist living in New York.