Social Media

Armed Flash Mobs: insurrectionist crowd dynamics, technology and guns in the storming of the US capitol on January 6, 2021

In understanding the storming of the capitol one year ago today I’d like to focus on the framework of the “armed flash mob,” a term used by scholar Darrell Miller that connects with concepts introduced to me by Bill Wasik, an article in Wired magazine 10 years ago. I’m also drawing on the 40 minute NY Times’ documentary Day of Rage: How Trump Supporters Took the U.S. Capitol (published June 30, 2021) that offers minute by minute analysis of January 6, 2021 drawn from thousands of primary sources including a lot of video from the rioters themselves.

I’ll look at each term in the phrase “armed flash mob” in detail in the context of that day.

Mob – Insurrectionist crowd dynamics

We’ll begin by understanding how the insurrectionists on January 6 functioned in ways familiar to scholars of mob behavior. One of the key moments in the storming of the capitol happened at 12:50 pm. “Day of Rage” covers this moment in detail starting at about 10:00 in the video. They emphasize the role of the Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs and his brief conversation with Ryan Samsel, a Trump supporter who was the first to approach the police and challenge them. While leaders like this played an important role, it is important to understand the broader context of the crowd dynamics (both in this moment and as things escalted) to violently attack police. (more…)

Social Media as a tool for holding those with power accountable

Grashopper on a blade of grass

This blog post was originally published on my blog for The Mennonite two years ago.

In his address to graduating students at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) on May 2, President Loren Swartzendruber complained about social media. On May 2, the Daily News-Record quoted him:

“Here’s the challenge we face,” he said, “namely the question of how we engage in meaningful, life-changing, civil conversations in a world that’s impatient for quick answers … and is all-too ready to vilify those who disagree.”

He said important discussions “are extremely difficult to conduct via social media,” and require intra-personal relationships.

There’s plenty of reasons to be concerned about social media, but there’s a story and a pattern behind this complaint that needs a closer look. Swartzendruber’s critique comes after months of pressure on his administration around its handling of Luke Hartman’s employment at EMU. Social media played an important role in that pressure.

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