At the same time, impulsive violence is usually less likely to occur in crowds with some social structure and internal organization. The civil rights movement protests were tactical and organized as early as the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, many sit-ins were against nuclear power and the Vietnam War. Windows were broken, there were clashes with the police, but spontaneous chaos was not the rule.
“At that time, there is now Kent State, urban riots and civil rights marches,” said Calvin Morrill, professor of law and sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. “And the idea of the group mind does not give social scientists any space to explain the different levels of organization behind all these protests and what they mean. Since then, nonviolent or nonviolent protests have incorporated tactics, strategy – and training – precisely to ensure that the crowd doesn’t lose focus. “
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. personally trained many groups of Freedom Riders, explaining how best to respond to police provocation and what to say (and not to) when arrested. These lessons continued. 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 being hit by police officers and to wear boots instead of sneakers. (Sneakers slip off when pulled.)
Such training is of course not reserved for non-violence groups, and includes specific roles for people with special skills and some kind of middle management layer. The provocation-oriented protest groups, whether left or right, often include so-called violence experts – young men who are ready to move to get things going.
“Absolutely they are trained, trained to go to the line and mix them up and then fall back,” said Dr. Morrill. “There is a long, long tradition of this tactic.”
Depending on the protest and the mission, organized protests may also include marshals or leaders who help bring people around and so-called affinity groups – squads who take on some leadership responsibility as the protest progresses. In its demonstration in Tampa, Florida last summer, Black Lives Matter reportedly had nearly 100 marshals in fluorescent vests patrolling the crowd, as well as medics all communicating on walkie-talkies and trained in de-escalation tactics.
“They speak of groups of four to ten people, protesters, often friends, who come from another city to care for injured or freaked out people,” said Alex Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College Affinity Groups. “And these groups will coordinate with each other, and if the crowd is attacked or dispersed, they can decide, ‘What should we do next?'”