What You Need To Know About Mob Violence In American History

The Rise of The Mob

Recently there has been a documented upsurge in mobs becoming belligerent and hostile in the public arena. Mob violence is not as common today as has been seen in the past, but the examples shown on media sites recently reveal a disturbing similarity to what has passed as mob thuggery in the past.

In 2016 we saw small groups of Americans gather near poling stations with guns. The excuse given at the time was that they were protesting for gun rights. The display of weapons at a voting place, however, sends a chill through the minds of voters. Such tactics smack of the worst dictatorships of the last one hundred years.

Trump supporter sporting a handgun outside a voting station in Leesburg, VA

The Rise of Bullies

A recent study by the University of Virginia was able to correlate the election of Donald Trump to a rise in bullying in schools in the state. While this may be ignored or dismissed by some media as “fake news”, the study adhered to scientific principles and clearly connects the leadership of the current president to the behavior by students to target and harass others in school.

In the report, School Teasing and Bullying After the Presidential Electionthe authors Francis Huang and Dewey Cornell wrote,

In localities favoring the Republican candidate, there were higher adjusted rates of students reporting that (a) they had experienced some form of bullying in the past year (18% higher) and (b) “students in this school are teased or put down because of their race or ethnicity” (9% higher). For these two outcomes, there were no meaningful differences prior to the election. These results provide modest support for educator concerns about increased teasing and bullying since the 2016 presidential election in some schools and warrant further investigation.


The evidence reveals that the leadership of the nation can have an influence on the behavior of citizens, even younger citizens.

As Michelle Goldberg wrote in her opinion piece in the New York Times,

“The adults that voted for Trump are much more likely to emulate Trump and be supportive of attitudes that we saw turned into bullying and teasing in middle school,” said Cornell. “I suspect it’s an indirect effect of the social environment that kids are in. It may be their parents, it may be other adults, it may be the adults in schools.”


More recently we witnessed a display of mob harassment when student surrounded Native Americans and taunted them, while proudly wearing MAGA caps from Donald Trump’s campaign.

There have been many apologies and counter arguments made why the students behaved as they did. The point here, however, is that the behavior mimicked what was revealed by the UVA study, and that there is a history of this type of mob violence in American history.

The History of Mobs In America

Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, on her way to school.

For example, during the desegregation campaign in Little Rock Arkansas, the experience of Elizabeth Eckford was surrounded by an angry white mob, who were determined to prevent her from attending the previously all-white Central High School.

She was mocked and harrassed, with the same racial bigotry as was on display in Washington D.C. Critics of the Little Rock None would have called out the same tired excuses as were used to defend the students in D.C. obviously, the critics would have announced, she provoked the anger. “She was deliberately insulting the white citizens of Little Rock with her arrogance.”

Reason Magazine defended the students by blaming cultists:

Far from engaging in racially motivated harassment, the group of mostly white, MAGA-hat-wearing male teenagers remained relatively calm and restrained despite being subjected to incessant racist, homophobic, and bigoted verbal abuse by members of the bizarre religious sect Black Hebrew Israelites, who were lurking nearby. 


Lynch Laws and Mob Violence

History offers us a more sinister tradition to use to understand what is happening with mob violence in America.

There is a dark and disgraceful tradition of using mob violence to achieve racial dominance by white in the nation. It has been documents for over one hundred years, in fact.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Ida B. Wells for her tireless reporting of this tradition.

Lynch Law

By Ida B. Wells

Ms. Wells says it best:

“Lynch Law,” says the Virginia Lancet, “as known by that appellation, had its origin in 1780 in a combination of citizens of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, entered into for the purpose of suppressing a trained band of horsethieves and counterfeiters whose well concocted schemes had bidden defiance to the ordinary laws of the land, and whose success encouraged and emboldened them in their outrages upon the community. Col. Wm. Lynch drafted the constitution for this combination of citizens, and hence ‘Lynch Law’ has ever since been the name given to the summary infliction of punishment by private and unauthorized citizens.”

NAACP Poster, circa 1926

This law continues in force to-day in some of the oldest states of the Union, where courts of justice have long been established, whose laws are executed by white Americans. It flourishes most largely in the states which foster the convict lease system, and is brought to bear mainly, against the Negro. The first fifteen years of his freedom he was murdered by masked mobs for trying to vote. Public opinion having made lynching for that cause unpopular, a new reason is given to justify the murders of the past 15 years. The Negro was first charged with attempting to rule white people, and hundreds were murdered on that pretended supposition. He is now charged with assaulting or attempting to assault white women. This charge, as false as it is foul, robs us of the sympathy of the world and is blasting the race’s good name.


It has been accepted after the Civil War, that it is a crime for an African American to attempt to “rule white people.” Certainly this is any feeling of inferiority felt by whites when African Americans behave with dignity or equal status in their presence. This is what we saw with the Little Rock Nine, and what the recent increase in bullying represents.

The white majority feels threatened by the expression of other races in their midst. Pushing back, as Donald Trump has done, is acceptable behavior to many who fear their lost status as the white majority.

Men Who Own The Telegraph

Wells continued…

The men who make these charges encourage or lead the mobs which do the lynching. They belong to the race which holds Negro life cheap, which owns the telegraph wires, newspapers, and all other communication with the outside world. They write the reports which justify lynching by painting the Negro as black as possible, and those reports are accepted by the press associations and the world without question or investigation.

Here Wells lays blame at the feet of the the men who “own the telegraph wires, newspapers and all other communication with the outside world.” Today, we see defenders of white bullying in conservative media outlets like Fox News and Breitbart.

David Brooks tweet on the Covington HS students

Death At The Hands of Parties Unknown

Aside from the apologists for white supremacy and mob thuggery, we should note that it is a harbinger of darker omens. The increase in the brazen display of mobs of white bullying minorities in the united States can only lead to the violence that is traditional of such mobs. Ida B. Wells reported on that violent tradition.

The mob spirit had increased with alarming frequency and violence. Over a thousand black men, women and children have been thus sacrificed the past ten years. Masks have long since been thrown aside and the lynchings of the present day take place in broad daylight.

The sheriffs, police, and state officials stand by and see the work done well. The coroner’s jury is often formed among those who took part in the lynching and a verdict, “Death at the hands of parties unknown to the jury” is rendered.

As the number of lynchings have increased, so has the cruelty and barbarism of the lynchers.

Three human beings were burned alive in civilized America during the first six months of this year (1893). Over one hundred have been lynched in this half year. They were hanged, then cut, shot and burned.


This medieval violence was a celebration, and not a sinister dark happening. In the tradition of mob violence in America, it was something to be proud to partake in. It affirmed the supremacy that comforted the fearful conscience of whites whenever they felt threatened by minority advancement.

The challenge of future diversity

It is difficult to imagine a society, and not just a few bad people, participating in a tradition of mob violence that could be so proudly violent and dismissive of humanity. It is hard to imagine that this tradition may yet be reappearing in the United States. As the increase in diversity progresses over the next decades, to the point where white are a minority for the first time in U.S. History, we need to be vigilant of the mob tradition.

Please watch the BBC documentary on the tradition of American lynching. Be warned, however, as it is graphic in nature and difficult to forget.

Please comment on this blog post. It would be interesting to read if you see the development of mob violence as something other than a manifestation of the tradition of lynching in America. I certainly hope it doesn’t come to happen. I would be interested in knowing how this behavior might be something other than what I have argued here.



Author: Tyler Rust