Posted in theology

Crowd Manipulation: They play dirty

by Elizabeth Prata

Rob Curran, cc from Unsplash

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death. (Matthew 27:20).

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking that he was dead. (Acts 14:19).

When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, (Acts 21:27)

And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away, and brought him before the Council. (Acts 6:12)

But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. (Acts 13:50)

But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brothers. (Acts 14:2)

But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; (Acts 17:5)

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking that he was dead. (Acts 14:19).

Were you surprised to see so many times that the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes had been successful in their crowd manipulation? It doesn’t take much to turn us into unreasoning beasts. Sigmund Freud knew that, but misidentified the cure. He thought psychotherapy was the answer to offering a cure toward rationality, morality, and emotional health. It wasn’t.

"Crowd manipulation is the intentional use of techniques based on the principles of crowd psychology to engage, control, or influence the desires of a crowd in order to direct its behavior toward a specific action", explains Adam Curtis in his BBC documentary The Century of the Self. 

Crowd manipulation is different from crowd control, which is a security function. It’s also different from propaganda, which is a lengthy, enduring effort by a government or organization to instill an idea or philosophy onto the crowds in a mass belief. Crowd manipulation is a brief call to action, usually on the back of a propaganda effort that has already sown the seeds, explains Wikipedia. Propaganda is the firewood, crowd manipulation is the match.

Crowd manipulation through words was well known to the Pharisees. They were men of letters, studied, and intelligent. The Art of Rhetoric was laid out by many an ancient orator, such as Quintilian, Cicero, Aristotle, who is considered the father of Rhetoric, all no doubt would have influenced the men who opposed Jesus. They themselves were lawyers, skilled in speech. We see Paul gather up his intellect, skills, and speaking skill to persuade for the name of Christ in proclaiming the Good News. His skill before Felix, in the Areopagus, at Mars Hill, and in Ephesus is well-known. The difference with Paul is, he persuaded by the truth, not rhetorical tricks or crowd manipulation techniques.

For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is our witness—(1 Thessalonians 2:5)

John Eadie wrote "He did not stretch away into the region of ultimate truths, did not prelect on the “deep things of God,” though his great mind had strong likings for the profound, and he loved to tread on the borders of the incomprehensible. But he restrained himself, and set before the Corinthian minds the simplest truths, the clearest facts of redemption. He did not amaze them with compacted argument, or dazzle them with glowing imagery, or transport them with rhetorical displays. Man’s sin and Christ’s salvation were the twin-truths which he illustrated,...He addressed the Corinthians out of the fulness of his own soul, uttered before them all his convictions, spoke from the heart, in the hope of reaching the heart" Source: Paul the Preacher: or, A Popular and Practical Exposition of his discourses and speeches as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. By John Eadie, Professor of Biblical Literature to the United Presbyterian Church 

Once you see how often the Pharisees manipulated crowds, you can’t unsee it. It happened a lot. In fact, they walked two day’s walk from place to place, like from Jerusalem to the Jordan to see what John the Baptist was doing, or from Philippi to Thessalonika to dog Paul’s steps. Some, like the Judaizers just followed behind Paul from town to town. It’s a sad but enviable thing- they were so dedicated in opposition to Paul that they walked all over Asia Minor to make sure that their philosophy won.

Edward Bernays is considered the ‘Father of Public Relations’. He set up shop in New York City in 1912. Life magazine included Bernays in its 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century list. Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew and was extremely influenced by him. Bernays said, and Freud also believed, “The mechanism of the mass mind is unrationality.” Freud and Bernays thought that the human’s mind was incapable of sustained rational thought, that the thin veneer of rationality would dissipate in a nanosecond and man’s unrationality would emerge at any time. This was very likely to happen when a human was in a crowd, they said. More than likely, probable. They thought man was a brute beast. Freud had said, “The unconscious, aggressive forces in human beings could be triggered when they are in crowds.”

Freud believed he had underestimated the aggressive instincts within human beings; they were far more dangerous than he had originally thought, as it’s stated in The Century of Self.

Bernays described the masses as irrational and subject to herd instinct—and then went on to outline how skilled practitioners could use crowd psychology and psychoanalysis to control them in desirable ways. This theory was presented in his 1923 book, Crystallizing Public Opinion, a book from which the Pharisees seem to have taken a page (if they lived 2000 years later). Walter Lippman, a man who is said to have founded modern journalism, also mentioned how easily crowds can be manipulated. He called the mass, “The Bewildered Herd”. Bernays and successive crowd manipulators showed how people could be persuaded easily by emotion aimed at their desires.

This sounds just like the false converts will heap up false teachers to suit their desires, and the teachers only too happy to massage those desires, so that the money keeps flowing. (2 Timothy 4:3, 2 Peter 2:3).

As far as Christians go, we know that one’s desires rule the unsaved and make a play for ruling the saved. Praise God we have the Holy Spirit to help us slay those unwanted passions and to stir our affections toward Godly things.

Man is a slave to his passions. It’s worse when we gather together in masses. Perhaps this is why the Lord said to disperse over the earth, and he confused the languages at Babel and spread humans out after we disobeyed and gathered anyway.

We saw last summer how man easily succumbed to the theory of the moment and Black Lives Matter and crowds demonstrated themselves to be unreasoning herds, brute beasts intent on destroying.

We should not be surprised that people can easily whip up a crowd and in herd mentality, urge them to do a deed that the whisperer desires. Bernays easily overcame a universal taboo of women smoking by simply inciting a woman’s innate desire to usurp, i.e. feminism, and called cigarettes “torches of freedom.” They bought it.

The Pharisees easily manipulated crowds, time and again – most sadly of all when Jesus was before Pilate and they got the crowd to say ‘crucify Him!’ If people still wonder how the antichrist will be able to manipulate the world to come against Christians and to force everyone to take the Mark of the Beast, well, just ask Freud, Bernays, and Lippman how easy it is.

In a sad postscript, Freud was correct about man’s innate ‘badness’. Freud banked on psychotherapy to cure that. He was hopeful that he could instill in man rational desires and strategies to avoid giving in to base desires. Man can achieve a short-term morality, so for a while it looked like Freud’s clients had success. But in the end, they failed, and Freud was upset and depressed all the rest of his life that it seemed to him, psychotherapy did not work.

Christians know the only cure for man’s depravity is Jesus Christ.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.