Been thinking about what drives people to extremism, about how seemingly normal people can take on attitudes and perform actions that seem completely out of Character for them. The kind of thing we’ve seen in recent years here where people retreat into online venues that echo back their fears and prejudices in a way that magnifies them beyond all reality. That online virtual world of fear and hatred eventually finds its way out into the real world and an extremist mob is formed. Such was the case on January 6.
This all reminds me of a post from back in 2009 that I reran in 2017. It seemed like a good time to run it again. It features Henry Fonda who, for me, is the voice of the American conscience on film. His characters in Young Mr. Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath, 12 Angry Men, My Darling Clementine, Mr. Roberts and the film featured below, The Oxbow Incident, were men of character, principle, and great conscience.
They tried to do what was right even when it went against the mob. Even when its futile.
I urge you to watch the short clip from the film. It speaks volumes. Then and now.
I don’t like crowds.
Maybe it’s just some sort of neurosis like agoraphobia or maybe it’s just having developed a sense of uneasiness from seeing how individual people could react differently after becoming part of a group.
It always confounded me from an early age how the dynamics of a group could change the behavior of an individual person, bringing out characteristics that might be undetected in one-to-one interactions. It’s as though the protection of the group brings out extreme attitudes that would otherwise be stifled. The whole moral compass is pushed further from the center and whatever sense of conscience that is present becomes diluted.
I was reminded of this feeling when I saw a short film about the actor Henry Fonda that talked of the parallels between his character’s experience in the movie The Oxbow Incident , where his character was the lone voice of reason against a mob that lynches three men without evidence of their guilt and those of a being witness to a horrific episode as youth in Nebraska.
As a 14 year-old boy in Omaha, Nebraska in 1919, he witnessed a mob storm the courthouse that was located across the street from his father’s printing business. They were inflamed by allegations made by a white woman that she had been assaulted by a black man. A suspect had been taken into custody and was in the courthouse. The mob, whose size was estimated to be between 5000 and 15000 people, exchanged gunfire with police in which two of the mob were killed.
The mayor of Omaha tried to intervene and was beaten and himself lynched before being saved. The suspect was not so lucky.
The accounts of this mob rule are horrific. Fonda carried this memory with him for the rest of his life and it informed many of the roles he had over his career. In The Oxbow Incident his character confronts the lynch mob afterward in a bar and reads them a letter written by one of the hanged men to his wife. I could go on and on but I think the clip says it all…