by David Safier
At Giffords' Tuesday town hall Tuesday night, one of the questioners said he was angry that people like him were being referred to as a mob. His words were greeting by loud cheers from the mob.
Maybe he was confused. "The Mob," meaning an organized crime group, is a carefully structured organization of people who have a clear, focused agenda. That's not what these crowds who pack town halls are about. They're closer to the primary dictionary definition: "a large or disorderly crowd; especially: one bent on riotous or destructive action."
Wednesday I talked with someone who was at the town hall. She said as she sat there, she feared violence would break out. I was sitting in the midst of a group of shouters, and I honestly never felt it was a dangerous group. They were attending a party, an entertainment, and they were having a great time. They loved it.
I tried to draw an analogy. Is this like a group of fanatical supporters at a sporting event? No, it wasn't like anything I've ever seen in the U.S. Maybe the soccer hooligan crowds in England and elsewhere are close, I don't know, but it didn't feel to me like any sports crowd I was familiar with.
The closest I could come was the audience at a wrestling match. "The Ayatollah" comes strutting into the ring, and the audience boos the bad guy. The more he talks, the more they boo. Then the good guy walks in, and they cheer wildly. The boos and cheers continue through the match and through the evening.
The shouters at the Town Hall had come to an event where you cheer the good guy (They went nuts with joy when Dr. Carmona simply mentioned the name George Bush in passing), and boo the bad guy (they drowned out Carmona a few minutes later when he said there would not be a "single payer plan," simply because he uttered the phrase "single payer.") They were reacting on cue to words and phrases, and enjoying themselves immensely.
But then I thought, isn't that what it means to be a mob that could potentially become a violent mob?
A wrestling match turns the participants into a harmless mob of people who participate in a few hours of theater, then go home tired and happy. And this town hall turned them into a more politically focused mob, but again, they meant no physical harm. I doubt if there was so much as a shoving match before, during or after the event.
But isn't this the kind of group that can turn into a lynch mob in the hands or the right leader, or a mob sent storming down a street, breaking windows and upending cars? Can't a mob enjoying the vocal expression of its rage turn into a mob inflamed to violence and destruction?
So here are my two minds. Those people whose boos drowned out other's ideas weren't dangerous Tuesday night. No one had reason to fear for their immediate personal safety. But this movement has the potential of growing into a very angry, very dangerous force in this country. If they keep evolving in a straight line, they can become a nationwide mob which presents a clear and present danger.