The History Behind ‘Mob’ Mentality

At the same time, as a rule, impulsive violence is less likely to occur in crowds that have some social structure and internal organization. The protests of the civil rights movement were tactical and organized, as far back as the 1950s. So were many sit-ins in the 1960s and ’70s, against nuclear power and the Vietnam War. Windows were broken, there were clashes with police, but spontaneous mayhem was not the rule.

“During this era, you now have Kent State, urban riots, civil rights marches,” said Calvin Morrill, a professor of law and sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. “And the idea of the group mind does not give social scientists any room to explain the different levels of organization behind all those protests and what they meant. Ever since then, protests, whether nonviolent or not, have included tactics, strategy — and training — precisely to make sure the crowd does not lose its focus.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. personally trained many groups of Freedom Riders, detailing how best to respond to police provocation and what to say (and what not) if arrested. Those lessons carried forward. Many protesters at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant site in New Hampshire, in 1977, and at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in California, in the late 1970s and early ’80s, had learned to go limp to avoid blows from police officers, and to wear boots rather than sneakers. (Sneakers slip off when you’re being dragged.)

Such training is not reserved to groups pledged to nonviolence, of course, and it includes specific roles for individuals with special skills, and a kind of middle-management layer. Protest groups bent on provocation, whether left-leaning or right, often include so-called violence experts — young men willing to take some swings to get things started.

“Absolutely they are trained, trained to go right up to the line and mix it up, then fall back,” Dr. Morrill said. “There’s a long, long tradition of these tactics.”

Depending on the protest, and the mission, organized protests may also include marshals, or guides, helping shuttle people around, and so-called affinity groups — squads that take some leadership responsibility as the protest evolves. In its Tampa, Fla., demonstration last summer, Black Lives Matter reportedly had almost 100 marshals in fluorescent vests patrolling the crowd, as well as medics, all communicating with walkie-talkies and trained in de-escalation tactics.

“You’re talking groups of four to 10 people, protest participants, often friends who come in from another city or town to look after people who are injured or freaking out,” said Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, of affinity groups. “And these groups will coordinate with each other, and if the crowd is assaulted or scattered, they’re capable of deciding, ‘What should we do next?’”

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U.S. Rush to Declare Houthis Terrorists Threatens to Halt Aid to Yemen

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s rush to declare Houthi rebels in Yemen a terrorist organization leaves humanitarian aid workers and commercial importers vulnerable to criminal penalties, officials said Monday, risking future shipments of food, medical supplies and other assistance to the impoverished country.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced the terrorism designation late Sunday, said officials were “planning to put in place measures” to ensure that the aid continued.

But that failed to assure a number of lawmakers, diplomats and aid groups who accused the administration of rushing to issue the policy before President Trump leaves office next week, and said clear-cut legal protections should have been enacted in tandem with the terrorism designation to prevent another barrier to assisting one of the world’s poorest states.

The terrorism designation “makes it harder to deliver lifesaving assistance in a country already experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” said Representative Gregory W. Meeks, a New York Democrat who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“People will suffer and die, and those deaths are entirely preventable,” Mr. Meeks said.

The terrorism designation, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced late Sunday and takes effect Jan. 19, imposes new economic and travel sanctions on Houthi rebels who overthrew the Yemeni government six years ago and have been fighting a war against Saudi Arabia since 2015.

It largely aims to hobble Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor, by discouraging weapons, supplies and other support that Tehran has been sending to the rebel movement as part of a Middle East proxy war.

Mr. Pompeo said the action sought “to advance efforts to achieve a peaceful, sovereign and united Yemen that is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors.”

He also noted concerns that the designation would limit aid to desperate Yemenis, but said if the Houthis “did not behave like a terrorist organization, we would not designate it.”

That did little to assure aid workers and other commercial importers who demanded clarification on seemingly contradictory standards of liability.

“It is hard to imagine that in the last days of the Trump administration, a bolt of lightning is going to hit them and they are suddenly going to figure how hot to keep these designations from taking an agonizing toll on Yemen’s civilians,” said Scott Paul, the humanitarian policy lead for Oxfam America. “We can’t count on that happening.”

Congressional aides voiced similar concerns after being briefed on Monday by officials from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Houthis, who call themselves Ansar Allah, or the Partisans of God, are the de facto government in a swath of territory where the majority of Yemen’s population lives, including the capital city, Sana, and the country’s biggest port.

Saudi Arabia and a number of Arab allies, which have pushed for the terrorism designation, have failed to restore the internationally recognized government as the war in Yemen has settled into a quagmire, birthing what United Nations officials have called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Millions of Yemenis rely on government institutions the Houthis control to receive basic goods. Ships bringing food must pay port fees at a Houthi-controlled port, and Western charities support teachers and health care workers who work for Houthi-controlled administrations, whether they support the group or not.

Mr. Pompeo pointed to a Dec. 30 attack on the civilian airport in the Yemeni city of Aden, killing 27 people, as evidence of the Houthis’ capability for terror. No one has claimed responsibility for that attack, and both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are both active in the area.

Many analysts believe the Houthis pose no direct threat to the United States, and have voiced skepticism that the sanctions will pressure the Houthis to negotiate an end to the war. The United States has supported the Saudi effort in the war, which has killed thousands of civilians in Yemen.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a senior member of the Houthi movement, scoffed on Monday at the designation that he said would result “in killing and spreading hunger.”

A spokesman for the incoming administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. did not rule out reversing the designation after Mr. Trump leaves office on Jan. 20.

Even diplomats who say the Houthis do not qualify as a terrorist organization, and objected to the designation, recognize that “they are certainly an odious group,” said Gerald M. Feierstein, the ambassador to Yemen during the Obama administration.

“So how do you remove the F.T.O. designation without suggesting that you sympathize with them or hold them blameless for the catastrophe in Yemen?” said Mr. Feierstein, now with the Middle East Institute in Washington. “It won’t be easy.”

Lara Jakes reported from Washington, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon. Edward Wong contributed reporting.

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More New Yorkers start receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.

New York on Monday began giving vaccines to residents aged 75 and older as well as a wider range of essential workers, as state health officials expanded the group of people eligible to receive the vaccine.

The updated inoculation guidelines came last week after days of pressure from Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City and an outcry over medical providers having to throw out vaccine doses because of challenges finding patients who precisely matched the state’s strict vaccination guidelines.

“We fought hard for the freedom to vaccinate,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference on Monday. “Now we have it.”

Among the essential workers now permitted to receive the vaccine statewide are police officers, firefighters, teachers and school administrators, public transit workers, public-facing grocery store workers and people living or working in homeless shelters who sleep or eat alongside others outside their household.

Mr. de Blasio said that 55,000 people had already scheduled appointments to be vaccinated at city-run sites. Overnight appointments between midnight and 4 a.m. were fully booked, he added.

In a television interview, the city’s police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, said that 400 police officers received a dose of the vaccine in the first hour of the department’s vaccination efforts.

City health officials planned to push particularly hard to inoculate older New Yorkers, who are at higher risk of severe illness from the virus. To assist in this effort, the city set up a new website and phone system (1-877-VAX4-NYC) to help connect people with appointments.

The city has also pushed in recent days to accelerate the pace of vaccinations. Mr. de Blasio said 101,799 doses were given last week, higher than the goal of 100,000 he had previously set.

This week, city health officials aimed to see 175,000 doses of the vaccine administered. Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, said the city had 230,000 doses on hand and expected another 100,000 delivered this week.

On Saturday, state health officials abruptly loosened guidelines, allowing medical providers to administer the vaccine to any employees who interact with the public if there are extra doses in a vial and no one from “the priority population can come in before the doses expire,” the new guidelines read. A pharmacy’s “store clerks, cashiers, stock workers and delivery staff” could qualify, the guidelines said.

The new, more forgiving guidelines highlight the difficulties the state has had in balancing the need to vaccinate vulnerable populations quickly with the imperative to prevent fraud and favoritism in the distribution process.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during his annual State of the State address that vaccinating the majority of New Yorkers would be one of the state’s priorities this year. To do so, the state will recruit 1,000 fellows for a New York State Public Health Corps that will facilitate vaccination efforts and establish an emergency response plan for future health crises.

Neil Calman, whose Institute for Family Health had to discard unused vaccine doses, hailed the state’s recent rule change, but argued for yet more loosening of guidelines to allow for vaccinations of at-risk patients with conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease who are younger than 75.

“We’re seeing them in our office, and it just seems like we’re turning them away today just so we can call them back in a week and say, ‘Now you can get your vaccine,’” Dr. Calman said.

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