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OPINION: Mob mentality with consequences

by Robert Box | November 10, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

Have you ever been involved with a mob? Well, I have and it wasn't a good experience. Many years ago, when I was a sophomore in high school, my older brother and I were the recipients of mob activity. The details are unimportant. What is important is how so many of our classmates suddenly changed from friends to angry individuals threatening us both with bodily harm and killing us.

I will never forget how the entire student body of our small Midwestern high school gathered at the door leading into the school from the parking lot to prevent us from entering. My older brother, who was around six feet four inches tall and extremely athletic, didn't appear to be worried. Luckily, his best friend, a guy who made my brother look small (he was a strong farm boy who was six feet 10 inches tall and weighing around 235), drove up at the same time and joined us. Me? I was scared out of my wits.

The mob dispersed as we approached it and allowed us to enter our high school. And, as the mob mentality also dispersed, apologies were said, and by the middle of the morning it was as if nothing had ever happened. Even though it was never mentioned again during my time at the high school, it did happen and it left a scar on my emotions that has never completely disappeared.

Fast forward to January 6, 2020. The New York Times recently carried a story on October 17 about seven different men from seven different states who are currently on trial for their actions on January 6. The interesting part of their arrest lies in the superlatives relatives and friends have heaped upon them, describing them as good neighbors, church goers, good fathers and good citizens. For the most part, they went to D.C. just to take part in the rally and to see President Trump; but then everything changed when the rally turned into a mob.

There was Ray Mullins, a self-made businessman from Kentucky devoted to keeping his small church alive. He didn't smoke, drink alcohol, or curse, and almost didn't even go to the rally; and a bearded truck driver from Conway, Ark.

The others were: Logan Barnhart, a heavy-machine operator from Michigan; Michael Lopatic, a former marine and father of four who volunteers at his church; Ronald McAbee, a young sheriff's deputy from Tennessee; Jeffrey Sabol, a Colorado geophysicist, a conservative with three children; and Jack Whitton, a former fitness trainer from Georgia who embraced conspiracy theories. The fiancée of Jack Whitton said about the event: "Everything was fine. Everything was great. It was a happy experience the entire day. And then -- I don't know." These peaceful men joined others that day and did some awful things they would normally have never considered.

Volumes have been written about "Mob Mentality," but words tend to fail us until we are directly involved. I know personally that there is something that happens whenever people get caught up in a movement, a cause, and then forget all about what is right or wrong, and become different people. Those caught up in a mob say and do things not normally in their character, and often regret them ever happening. I seriously doubt that these seven men normally would have even considered beating a policeman with the American flag, knocking people down and forcing entrance into our Capitol building with the intent of hurting our elected representatives; but they did, and they will have to face the consequences for their actions.

There have been many different mob scenes throughout our country's history, and the results of those mobs have injured and even killed people, too many of whom have been totally innocent. We can only hope that inquiries into what happened on January 6 will also include helping us to better understand mob mentality with the hope that it never happens again.

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Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 29 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and not the agencies he serves.

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