Research Shows the Public's Psychological Response to Riots Is Bad News for the Riot's Cause

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
AP featured image
Demonstrators start a fire as they protest the death of George Floyd, Sunday, May 31, 2020, near the White House in Washington. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Not long ago, I wrote that riots end up distracting people from the issue that started the riot in the first place and, in the case of the murder of George Floyd, silenced the legitimate black voices that need to be heard when it comes to the black community’s relationship with the law enforcement community.

(READ: Riots Silence Black Voices)

At the time, I didn’t realize that this obvious result from destruction and violence had a developing scientific study behind it, and thanks to The Federalist, it’s now come to the surface:

The study, which conducted six experiments with 3,399 participants, was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In sum, it concludes Americans stop caring about causes when protesters riot.

Using a handful of conservative and liberal causes, including the Black Lives Matter movement, animal rights, and the pro-life movement, researchers examined how different protest actions influence support for the various movements. (In their report, they refer to the pro-life movement as the “anti-abortion movement,” suggesting the authors are not conservative.)

Across the board, researchers found “protest behaviors perceived to be harmful to others, highly disruptive, or both — typically reduce support for social movements.” They also concluded that “these effects were largely independent of individuals’ prior ideology or views on the issue.”

The destruction and violence become something of a turn-off to Americans, and the more extreme the action, the more unfavorable the cause becomes, reported The Federalist:

“We found extreme anti-Trump protest actions actually led people to not only dislike the movement and support the cause less, but to be willing to support Trump more,” said Matthew Feinberg, the corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto. “It was almost like a backlash.”

One solid example would be the death of 77-year-old retired police officer David Dorn who was murdered by a gang of rioters while defending his friend’s pawn shop. His murder seemed to mark a turning point in the public’s already weakening view on the riots. His death was viewed live on Facebook, and while the mainstream did their level best to ignore the slaying of Dorn, his death sent shockwaves throughout America.

As the destruction and death mounted, people began to wonder if the senseless violence and destruction of lives due to the riots were even for the cause that started it. Dorn’s death was clear that the riots weren’t about black lives, and that those participating certainly didn’t think black lives mattered much.

Violence has its uses to be sure, but when you use violence against innocent people while proclaiming you represent these same innocent people, the integrity of your cause beings to dissolve from the inside. Those in support of the riots, whether they like it or not, are reducing the validity of their supposed cause in the eyes of the people.

Rioters look more like terrorists than freedom fighters or human rights advocates.

In short, if this is actually about black lives, then stop destroying them with lootings, burnings, and violence. The peaceful protesters who wish to make a real change should denounce these rioters wholesale, and how little to no sympathy for them.


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