What Turns A Shopping Crowd Into A Mob Frenzy?

If you’ve ever seen that video where all those customers stampede into Walmart, knocking people over and even knocking one woman’s weave off, you may have wondered what causes people to go bezerk like that. I’m reading Among The Thugs by Bill Buford, reporting on English soccer hooligans first-hand, and this passage gives insight:

I am attracted to the moment when consciousness ceases: the moments of survival, of animal intensity, of violence, when there is no multiplicity, no potential for different levels of thought: there is only one—the present in its absoluteness.

Violence is one of the most intensely lived experiences and, for those capable of giving themselves over to it, is one of the most intense pleasures. There on the streets of Fulham, I felt, as the group passed over its metaphorical cliff, that I had literally become weightless. I had abandoned gravity, was greater than it. I felt myself to be hovering above myself, capable of perceiving everything in slow motion and overwhelming detail. I realized later that I was on a druggy high, in a state of adrenaline euphoria. And for the first time I am able to understand the words they use to describe it. That crowd violence was their drug.


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  1. squatchie44 says:

    Maybe they are just fat people running towards donuts, sales are there too sure, but really its the donuts on sale that is the ultimate.

  2. dakotad555 says:

    I saw this once at a ‘black Friday’ sale at Comp USA. Two ladies almost got into a fist fight over a $499 laptop. I was amazed to see how frantic people were to save $200 by treating those around them like garbage. Probably most of those same people have massive credit card debt, and are unwilling to save a LOT MORE money by following a budget.

    Sadly, we live in a world overcome by greed. People behaving like pigs is nothing new, and shouldn’t surprise anyone.

  3. Git Em SteveDave loves this guy--> says:

    To quote Kay from Men in Black: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.

  4. Maglet says:

    This is why I do most of my Black Friday shopping online at 12 am! People are crazy as hell.

    I’d rather miss the deal and pay a few more dollars than to get knocked the eff out. :)

    • Diet-Orange-Soda says:

      @Maglet: No kidding. I just stay up until the deals hit online and sleep in Friday morning.

    • Ragman says:

      @Maglet: I second that! That was the only way I was able to get my $200 22″ LCD last year. The door busters aren’t worth camping in line for a day to get.

    • DiscipleRyan says:

      @Maglet: I’m with you on this one man. My wife goes out in the madness every year and I get dragged along. I don’t know if she wants me there for my opinion or protection but waking up that early in the morning to wade through a mob of crazies in not my idea of fun.

  5. JayCor says:

    I read this for a European History class in college. Very vivid and disturbing. To this day, I remember a passage for a seemingly normal person swept up as a football hooligan decides to snack on someone’s… er… visual organ by doing their best imitation of a Hoover.

    • Maglet says:


      Yeah, forgot to say that the excerpt gave me the willies. That’s sick.

      • JayCor says:

        @Maglet: The original quote is reprinted here. (First citation, under “Blasted”). Linking because it’s even more disturbing than my cleaned-up version above.

        • brent_r says:

          @JayCor: And that’s why I’ll always feel safer in the US than England with their helpless unarmed police.

          Soccer hooligans should not exist.
          But the UK does pretty much nothing to stop them.

          I take solace in the fact that, here in the US, the type of scum who is capable of that would have been shot dead by the police long before he had the opportunity.

          • Aladdyn says:

            @brent_r: But it was a reportedly normal decent person who did it, thats the interesting part. If it was just a scumbag who did it, it wouldnt be a big deal now would it.

          • OhYeahAlright says:

            @brent_r: Along with a bunch of innocent people who may have just spooked the officer or are, ya know, protesting like its their legal right to do. Lethal weapons don’t belong in the hands of cops in most situations. In a crowd situation rubber bullets other techniques must be used before it turns into a full on blood bath.

            • god_forbids says:

              @OhYeahAlright: No. The fear of being the one unlucky bastard the bullets strike if a crowd goes nuts keeps most people from participating in/near unruly crowds. Rubber bullets just make hooligans wear thicker jackets and laugh at police. I, for one, don’t want castrated police here in America (may be fine in France).

          • Hyman Decent says:

            @brent_r, OhYeahAlright, god_forbids: Within the past few years, didn’t someone die after being struck by a rubber bullet during rioting by Boston sports fans?

          • Green Goth Brit Chick - AlternatEve says:

            @brent_r: Our Police are not helpless, and Soccer hooliganism does not just exist in England – I’m sick of the misconception that it does.

            Two Leeds United fans were KILLED by Galatasaray supporters. [news.bbc.co.uk] There’s a lot more citations than that but that was the first that came to mind. My grandmother was a lifelong Leeds supporter and never got into any trouble (Although I think that had more to do with the fact anyone even trying to start something around her got the Granny Weatherwax treatment than anything else).

          • maddiesdad says:


            Errm that’s not true, the police are not exactly helpless and as any ‘football’ goer will tell you they have done an awful lot to stamp out hooliganism in the UK, pretty much to the point where it doesn’t exist around stadia anymore.

  6. ManicPanic says:

    I am extremely afraid of this as I am going to the Running of the Brides at Filene’s Basement on Friday. I want to be there for the doors to open but I don’t want myself or anyone in my group to get their head ripped off over a wedding dress. If they’ll do this to save $200 on a computer imagine what they’ll do to save thousands on a wedding dress!

    • thepassenger says:

      @ManicPanic: I’ve lived in the Boston area for over 25 years. The Running of the Brides is always on the news when they have this event, and I do not recall hearing of a single episode of injury. My impression (I’m male, so not a wedding dress wearer) is that while it’s intense, it’s also a group with a common goal, and people help each other find proper sizes and such. Good luck.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @ManicPanic: The best course of action is to give the people in your group basic guidelines, and to hone in one the one who has awful fashion taste and keep that person from holding up 80s monstrosities.

      Good luck.

  7. axiomatic says:

    MOB Mentality… whats new about it?

  8. Whitey Fisk says:

    Among The Thugs is a wonderfully disturbing book. Enjoy.

  9. theblackdog says:

    I saw this at a Black Friday at Wal-Mart, and it was to get $100 TV’s with DVD players built in (13 inch TVs so not that great a deal), $5 cheap made in china toasters and blenders, and lord knows what else, it was just a nuthouse.

  10. costanza007 says:

    Principal Skinner: “There’s no justice like angry mob justice”

    • JayCor says:

      Assistant: Sir, there’s an unruly mob here to see you.
      Quimby: Does it have an appointment?
      Assistant: [consults clipboard] Yes, it does.
      Skinner: I phoned ahead!

  11. Jnetty says:

    Saw same thing at a CompUSA Pre-Black-Friday sale on thanksgiving day.
    Sale started at 9pm. Arrived early and got in line. By 8:30pm the line was huge, but people were getting in line and following order. 10 minutes before small pockets of people started breaking line and started making their own lines. When the doors open it became mayhem. being inline did not matter at that point.

  12. forgottenpassword says:

    I’d bet real money that woman who lost her weave sued walmart.

  13. TonyTriple says:

    How else are the desperate supposed to make up for their bad parenting skills in a matter of minutes? What, do you expect them to be good parents all year?. Pfft.

    Seeing you kid’s face light up after getting that thing they wanted = erasure for 1 year’s worth of neglect + broken promises.

    • Sugarless says:

      @TonyTriple: Or people with low incomes trying to get presents for their kids at a discount.
      Because someone’s in line at a sale doesn’t make them a bad parent.

      I hate when stores do these kinds of sales. They share in the responsibility of creating the hype that drives people to behave poorly.

  14. Burgandy says:

    Saw 2 guys beat the crap outof each other at Walmart on Black Friday, good fight! Neither of them got the TV they wanted but they did get some nice new pictures courtesy of the local PD!

  15. YoungTexasConsumer says:

    Once, after staying in line at Fry’s all night to get a $399 laptop on Black Friday, I witnessed a woman who had been at the front of the line basically get trampled for making the mistake of needing a basket. On a different day, I might have stopped to help her, but I “needed” that deal. To this day I am sufficiently ashamed, but still proud of my conquest.

  16. NotYou007 says:

    I think anyone that gathers outside in the cold for long hours to save a tad of money is just plain nuts. It never goes well and the parents that fight over the toys are the biggest asshats of them all. There is not a toy out there that my daughter must have come christmas morning.

    Yes you can get great deals and save a lot of money but dealing with the asshats that show up to these types of events are just not worth a couple hundred dollars in savings.

  17. Xerloq says:

    Black Friday was better when they had surprise specials. I got my pre-obsolete $99 HD-DVD player because I was in the right place at the right time.

  18. TheSpatulaOfLove says:

    Rule #1 of Black Friday shopping: Forge alliances with as many people around you as possible. Remember all their names and in casual convo, ask what deal they’re going for.

    I’ve been a BF veteran for years, and each year it gets easier.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @TheSpatulaOfLove: Definitely. My last BF experience was 4 am outside a store for a Wii. Struck up conversation with a guy and his mother (we felt kind of like wusses for being shivering cold when there was a 70 year old woman standing like it was 80 with a breeze). When we all filed in to get our Wiis, there was no anger, or rioting, or anything like that…there was barely any conversation because the staff kept trying to sell warranties and stuff.

      This BF I don’t think there’s anything I want, unless there are special deals on kitchen supplies.

  19. MercuryPDX says:

    That crowd violence was their drug.

  20. Outrun1986 says:

    Um, won’t the medical bills from getting hit or knocked over while trying to get that 500$ laptop that will break in a year add up to more than the actual savings of the item you are trying to get? As others have mentioned previously on this site you can get the same deals throughout the year if you just shop around online.

    Last year for Black Friday I wanted a few things, the sales on many websites actually started on Thanksgiving day so while I was waiting for the turkey to cook I bought my items online and had them on their way to me and no getting up the next day and fighting the crowds!

  21. MsAnthropy says:

    Sounds like yer average IKEA store opening to me.

    I would post links, but… just Google “IKEA” and “crush” or “riot” or somesuch, and you should get the picture.

  22. Tansis says:

    Under United States federal law, a RIOT is defined as A public disturbance involving (1) an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons, which act or acts shall constitute a clear and present danger of, or shall result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual or (2) a threat or threats of the commission of an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons having, individually or collectively, the ability of immediate execution of such threat or threats, where the performance of the threatened act or acts of violence would constitute a clear and present danger of, or would result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual. 18 U.S.C. §2102.

    Yeap sounds like a RIOT to me.

  23. MightyJoe36 says:

    It isn’t just “Black Friday” that brings out these idiots. I worked in a gas station in the late 70s during the so called “energy crisis.” The way these morons scratched and fought for a gallon of gas at .68 a gallon was a hoot. You can only get as much as your car’s tank will hold. What are you gonna do, hoard it?

    Ever go to Lowe’s or Home Depot or WalMart, or even the grocery store when they’re predicting bad weather? You could up the price of snow shovels to $100 and still not keep them in the store.

    That’s the thing I always wondered; all these people who run on the stores at the first snow and buy up the snow shovels, then next year it’s the same thing. What do they do with the snow shovel they bought last year? Throw it out?

    When I was a kid, my mother was big on “sales” – back to school, blue-light specials, you name it. Those mobs of people used to scare the crap out of me. I thank God for online shopping. I do 99% of my xmas shopping online (come to think of it, I do most of my regular shopping online, pay most of my bills that way too), and do my grocery shopping during off hours. Crowds of frantic, mindless people scare the crap out of me.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      @MightyJoe36: My parents sale techniques have thankfully been passed down to me and I thank them for it. Its not so much the crowds but the overall mentality of I MUST HAVE IT NOW cause the holiday or whatever is tomorrow. The holiday stuff that we need to buy is purchased after the holiday as the retailer is practically giving it away then it is put away for next year, you mean to tell me its that hard to store a box of decorations, or do you have so much crap you don’t know where to put it. We have had the same Xmas wrapping paper rolls for a while now and likely have a 5 year supply in our closet, we don’t need to buy more just cause its in the store.

      The worst is the mall during back to school shopping, your kid doesn’t need their entire fall and winter wardobe in one trip. I see parents walking with bags and bags of overpriced clothes, coats and everything when its still 80-90 degrees out. Clothing prices are at their highest during this time too, and since you have at least 2 months to go till that winter coat is used what if your kid outgrows it in that time, then you are screwed and have to go out and get another one.

      Another time I see this is with air conditioners in the summer, you could charge 1k for one and people would still buy it on the first 90 degree day of the year and you wouldn’t be able to keep it in stock. Now I live in an area where the heat tends to come on fast so yes its understandable if you have a broken air conditioner and need to replace it, but there is such a thing as watching the forecast and going out a few days before the heatwave to get your air conditioner. Also what did all these people do with their air conditioners from last year, mine is over 15 years old and its still going, in my area we only use it for a couple months then it gets put away so there is no need to buy an air conditioner every season.

  24. gonz says:

    Pineapple!!! Pineapple!!! Pineapple!!! Pineapple!!! (the “Chuck” fans)

  25. howtragic says:

    Good God, modern humans are just the saddest, most pitiful cre

  26. howtragic says:

    Good God, modern humans are just the saddest, most pitiful creatures on the planet. The day I get up at 5 a.m., stand outside in the cold and wait for a Wal-mart to open so that I can save a few bucks on some Chinese crap that I don’t need, is the day I leave this planet for good. I just cannot fathom being this pathetic. Get some dignity, people. Unite against this!

    No wonder the media and politicians refer to us as The Consumer. We’re not Citizens. We’re not Human Beings. Not People. Nope. We are Consumers. Apparently, all we are good for is consuming.

    Let’s all band together and stop shopping. Don’t be made to feel like it’s a bad thing that we are going to have low-key holidays this year. It’s a good thing.

  27. ELC says:

    And this always give credence to people like PETA who think humans are no better than animals. Very sad commentary on someone who will give themselves over to violence just for the rush of it. :(

  28. SacraBos says:

    Some friends of mine and I call this the “Group IQ Theory”. In this theory, the IQ of a group is equal to the average IQ of the members of the group, divided by the number of the people in the group.

    So a group of 50 individuals, each having an average IQ of 100, would put the Group IQ at 2. At which point, there is no reasoning with that mob.