Today’s Americans probably know little about lynching, mob murder of someone they take a dislike to. For the reader who is not familiar with this blot on American history, I suggest Lynching in the United States. Between 1880 and 1951 the Tuskegee Institute recorded 3,437 lynchings of African Americans, as well as 1,293 whites.
René Girard talks about mob violence in his book, The Scapegoat. Girard’s thesis is that pressures in a community build up, and through an act of violence opposing forces can unite at least for a time, and some sense of relief can be found.
At this time in American history with the economy in shambles, two wars, high profile public figures shown corrupt, and threats of terrorism and global ecological disaster, there is no shortage of pressure. When the mob chooses a victim, they pick someone who is “different”. To many Barack Obama is “different” because of his race, the fact that he’s mixed race, lived in Indonesia and doesn’t pass the right-wing litmus test on anything.
Of course, no one can lynch the President, but the language of violence and the mob frenzy is there., the dancing glee expressed in visions of Obama being led off in handcuffs, the call for mass revolt in the military, and the creation of a “civilian militia”. Obscene images, and violent speech substitute verbal violence for physical violence. What you are looking at today both in the “birther” movement and in some of the virulent right-wing web sites is what a lynch mob looks like on the Internet.
Perhaps venting their anxiety and for a moment forgetting the real problems in America by focusing on Barack Obama will give some temporary relief and reconciliation. It won’t last. Violence is always just a temporary solution.
See also my previous article: The Angry Mob for examples of hate speech.