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Exuberance, Faith, Panic and Politics:

The Fuel that Runs Crowd Dynamics




By:  David Deschesne

Editor/Publisher, Fort Fairfield Journal

January 1, 2020


  When it comes to crowds and group dynamics, the whole is in many ways greater than the sum of its parts. 

    Crowds and group dynamics have been seriously studied for the past one hundred years, usually gaining new interest every time there’s a mass death due to a crowd crush at a stadium, all the way to corralling the minds of social groups into believing a particular political narrative, regardless of how incorrect, illogical or destructive it might be.

   There are three aspects to consider in crowd dynamics; 1.) the physical; 2.) the psychological; and 3.) the political.


The Physical Aspects

   At about one person per square meter, people start to behave as a crowd as their individual options for choice become reduced and lines of sight become obscured by the people around them.  As large crowds move, most people just follow along with the people in front of them because they 1.) can’t see where they’re going otherwise; and 2.) the people behind them are pushing them along.  This situation is normal and non-threatening in most large public events, but can become deadly when the crowd - functioning as an individual organism - perceives danger, begins to panic and in a bid for self-survival ends up unintentionally killing many of its own members.

   It has been found that people are generally patient when cueing in a line to an entrance or exit, but after about eight minutes they begin to get agitated.  It’s when that agitation turns to panic that deadly results can occur.

   When individuals turn into a crowd, unstoppable physical forces can be unleashed.  An average 180 pound man isn’t much weight for a building, set of bleachers, or a small exit.  But when you multiply that by even 1,000 people - the average capacity of a local school gymnasium in this area, that’s potentially 180,000 pounds - or 90 tons  of mass - all moving in one direction.  In a mass panic, those at the front of the line can become the victims of a crowd crush where they can suffer from direct, untenable physical contact with those around them; from the effects of a structural failure in the building containing them; or a combination of both.

   In May, 1985 the Italians were playing England in the European Soccer Cup final at a stadium in Belgium.   Among the supporters of both teams were gangs of “hooligans” who had been fighting with each other and police all day.  Shortly before the game began, a group of hooligans from England’s side rushed into an area reserved for Italian fans.  The Italians retreated in panic, some desperately tried to climb over a high wall which eventually collapsed under the weight of the people.  In that crowd crush, 39 people were killed by Constrictive Asphyxia.  In other words, they suffocated to death; as they exhaled, there wasn’t enough physical room for them to inhale because of the weight of all the people around and on top of them.   Interestingly, nobody died as a direct result of hooligans fighting.

   In knee-jerk reaction style, typical of most politicians and police who try to solve problems without thinking them through, stadiums in Europe were redesigned with caged cattle-pen style audience areas.  Spectators were divided up from each other in large cages topped with razor wire, similar to a prison.

   Fencing was a crude design solution to a complex social issue and led directly to the worst stadium disaster in Western European history.

   On April 15, 1989 Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England was hosting a soccer game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.  The stadium featured the typical crowd pens and high fences of the anti-hooligan designs of the time.

   Well before the 3:00pm kickoff, the central pens behind the Liverpool goal net became dangerously overcrowded.  Stadium officials were not monitoring the capacities of the pens, but just let people go where they wanted.  By twenty minutes before the game, the two audience pens were already filled to twice their safety certificated capacity - so full, people were jammed into each other shoulder to shoulder with no room to move, no walkway to leave the area.  Some were beginning to panic.

   On the outside, stood 10,000 ticket holders still waiting to get into the game, which was to start in five minutes.  A dangerous crowd crush was developing at the entrance gates, too, since only a tiny number of entrances were allocated to such a large number of people (using the math of our previous example, that would be 900 tons - or 1.8 million pounds of human flesh).  That was when officials there made a deadly miscalculation - they opened up a large gate reserved for exiting the crowd after the game.  The mass of people then swarmed through the gate and headed for the most popular spectator site - the pens behind the Liverpool goalie net - unaware of the already life-threatening overcrowding situation there.

   As they continued to jam pack themselves into those two pens, panic increased by those already trapped there.  Young children in the pens were handed up to spectators on the balcony above who assisted them to the safety of the less-crowded area.  Some in the pens tried to scale the fence, unable to breathe when compressed into the dense crowd of people.  Police misinterpreted this fence climbing as more hooliganism and beat them back down into the crowd.  Before police and stadium officials became aware of the dire overcrowding situation, 96 people died of suffocation and 400 were injured.

  There have been many other instances of crowd crushes where people died of suffocation.  At another, in 1996, 76 people died at a World Cup qualifying match in Guatemala as a result of a crowd crush.

   Sporting events are not the only areas large crowds can become deadly.  On Memorial Day weekend in 1977, at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky panic incurred when a small fire broke out.  About half of the 2,500 patrons in attendance were crowded into the Cabaret Room awaiting the appearance of the singer, John Davidson.  A fire that started in a small banquet room near the front of the building burned undetected until it got out of control.

   When smoke appeared, people began to exit the large room in an orderly fashion until the flames rushed in.  Panic ensued as patrons trampled each other to get to the exits.  At the end of the day, 165 people died - all but two of them were within thirty feet of the two exits.

   If social planners have learned anything over the past few decades, it’s that crowds cannot be expected to look after themselves, they need to be managed by a person, or people who have a better vantage point and can make objective decisions about their safety.


Some Beneficial Aspects

   Not all large groups of people are necessarily bad in and of themselves.  For example, a corporation, ball team or scout troop are all composed of groups of people gathered together for a common goal.

   There are several mechanisms by which groups can be maintained;

1.) Group Locomotion: where uniformity is desired and a common goal is sought - such as a basketball team;

2.) Group Maintenance: where standards are decided upon by the group in order for it to maintain its existence and conduct itself cordially and efficiently, such as a business meeting or club membership;

3.) Social Reality: this mechanism is perhaps the one most fraught with potential for disaster.  It  presents pressures by members within the group in order to support a particular belief or idea through consensus - often not based in logic, evidence or reality.  Some examples of this are political parties and religious cults. (ref.: Group Dynamics: Research and Theory 2nd ed., ©1960 Harper & Row, pp. 169-70)


The Psychological Aspects

   The physical danger of crowds has been addressed in the previous discussion on crowd crushes.  I touched upon the psychological aspect in reference to panic situations and will now expand upon it.

   In addition to panic, crowds can become dangerous when there is a break in morality, or a perceived threat that nobody has done anything about.  This can result in the worst form of the psychological aspect of crowd behavior - the riot.

  Akin to the lynch mobs of yesteryear where mobs of people would band together and, without a trial or conviction, hang somebody by the neck till dead simply because they perceived them to have done some wrong, riots focus more on “lynching” property and innocent bystanders as a means of expressing their anger and frustration.

   One of the most famous riots of recent U.S. history were those of Los Angeles after a group of white LAPD officers were caught on video beating a prone, unresisting and quite black Rodney King nearly to death after a high speed chase with him.  The jury of eleven white people and one Asian found all the officers innocent of any wrongdoing.  A subsequent riot by blacks who felt disenfranchised and wronged then ensued within minutes after the verdict.  That night, mobs set fires to businesses; looting and arson commenced in wholesale fashion.  After three nights of rioting, 4,000 fires had been set and more than 30 people killed.  President Bush had to deploy the 7th infantry and federalize the California National Guard in order to attempt to bring some order to the area. 

   The California riot was the bloodiest since the War of Northern Aggression of the 1860’s (some call it the “Civil War”).  In the Los Angeles riot, fifty four people were killed, 2,328 were treated in hospital emergency rooms and around $1 billion in property damage was caused.

   Some of the more mundane and perhaps less destructive of the psychological aspects of crowd behavior manifest themselves in fads and fashion.  Those who have been alive more than three decades can remember the  changing hair and clothing styles (as a teen from the 1980’s I sure am glad the girls got over that leg warmer fad!)

   Rumors and urban legends also seem to grow and have a life of their own among large crowds and societies.  However, due to the aforementioned effects of the Social Reality mechanism of Group Dynamics, some people will continue to believe a rumor or myth - even with copious amounts of evidence to disprove it - simply to maintain an identity with their chosen group. 

   A perfect example of this is the two camps that developed after the 911 attacks in the U.S.  First, there is the group that has bought the government’s and mainstream media’s version of the events and being programmed into believing they might be labeled “unpatriotic” to think otherwise, they refuse to look at any of the mountains of evidence that have  accumulated which refutes, disproves, or even calls into question the government’s “official” version of events - no matter how weak their position is.  To an impartial, objective observer, it is almost embarrassing how much faith a group of people will place in a government-sponsored fairy tale, such as 911, while not only refusing to look at the scientific and physical evidence that destroys the government’s story, but also lash out at those who attempt to disseminate that information, calling them “unpatriotic,” “pinheads,” or other derogatory names.


The Political Aspects

   The recent impeachment charade produced by the Democrat party was a veritable Petri dish of social programming designed to examine the political aspects of crowd dynamics.

   Like a sports team (or as I liken it, to a World Wrestling Entertainment spectacle) the nation was divided into supporting either the “Red Team” or the “Blue Team.”  Tucked under the surface noise of the impeachment (which I paid very little attention to, myself, because it was a distraction) was an overlooked feature of the Hegelian Dialectic being covertly deployed on behalf of both political parties.

   The Hegelian Dialectic is composed of three parts and is designed to sway a group or opinion in a particular direction.  It is Thesis, Anti-thesis and Synthesis.  Simplified, it means if I want vanilla ice cream, my friend wants chocolate and we only have enough money between us to share one flavor, we both end up compromising on a third flavor - neither of us getting what we originally wanted.

   Politicians have been using the Hegelian dialectic for years in order to cajole the American people into a mindset where giving up their rights to self-defense seems “reasonable” and “common sense.” Unfortunately, it’s working on a lot of people, but I digress.

   Back to the topic.  President Trump is loved by many and hated by as many.  Most people who hate him don’t really know why, all they know is what the mainstream media has programmed them to believe.  The subtle Hegelian dialectic comes into play when a segment of society that does not like Trump, but is not necessarily identified as belonging to the Democrat party, puts all their support behind the Democrats because they are the group most vocal in opposing and inflicting some sort of pain or punishment on a man they’ve been programmed to perceive as somehow “bad,” - think back to Orwell’s “fifteen minutes of hate” against the fictional Goldstein.

   While lending support to the Democrats, those on the (let’s call it) “Blue Team” overlook the glaring illegal problems, lack of evidence and malevolent political tactics deployed by Democrats in order to secure an impeachment against the President (an impeachment is like a grand jury indictment, it is not a conviction).  Those on the Blue team are then predisposed to giving a wink and a nod to any illegal or fraudulent activity so long as it is used to support their position or the position of the group they perceive gives them a voice and power in the political process.

   Likewise, Trump was used by the Geopolitical controllers to galvanize the “Red Team” behind him.  No matter who goes against Trump, they have been trained to rally to his defense.   The danger behind this is when Trump bows to his geopolitical controllers (yes, they are there and they control both political parties) by advocating for some form of gun control or confiscation scheme, or some mandatory vaccination scheme that could damage millions of people - the Red Team supporters will be preconditioned to stand up and support their guy to the end - being programmed to lump any opposition to the Blue Team’s side.

  Whether in sports, or politics, the crowd of onlookers is being played and exploited using knowledge that has been gleaned from the study of Group Dynamics and crowd control.  Most people are crowd followers and easily manipulated.  The controllers at the top of the geopolitical power structure have learned how to win the political game regardless of which political party comes out on top.


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