Watching the public take in the story of Harry and Meghan’s ordeal in NYC on May 16th has been equal parts illuminating and triggering for me.
As a teenager, walking to and from school, I was routinely threatened by a crowd of teenaged girls. It got so scary that I stopped walking anywhere alone. I needed the security of my friends around me because I knew, instinctively, that they could do me actual harm. And I was right.
Gangs of people can easily turn into swarms and swarms can be deadly.
Decades have passed and I thought all of that was well behind me but hearing the story of Harry and Meghan’s night in New York triggered a familiar tension. Fear of being targeted by a mob is real and it is justified and people should understand it but it seems they don’t.
It’s frustrating to me because this is a perfect opportunity for Harry and Meghan to explain the difference between an eager press out there working hard to get a good story and a dangerous mob out for blood (whether the mob knows it or not)
But the whole incident sits in my brain chattering away primarily because it’s clear to me that language is what is causing the problem here. Harry and Meghan have clearly hired an incompetent communications team and it’s causing them real problems.
The public is receiving their story of being “chased” through the streets of Manhattan with understandable skepticism. When we see the word, “chase” we envision running which always equates to speed. You can’t speed in NYC. You certainly can’t speed if you’re being chased by a gang in cars, on scooters and on motorcycles. People are understandably offended by the suggestion that anyone could.
The thing is, what happened to Harry and Meghan was objectively terrifying and absolutely wrong but it was not a chase. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were swarmed.
As recently as 2022, swarming has been in the news in Canada. It is the preferred attack method of teen girl bullies, my teenaged story was not exceptional swarming is old-school threatening behavior. We sometimes compare it to flocks of chickens establishing a pecking order but it is worse than that because we’re supposed to be able to think more clearly than that. Swarming often results in injury, always results in terrorizing the victim and sometimes results in death.
Google Reena Virk, or read this: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ken-lee-toronto-swarming-family-1.6719316 I don’t even have to spend a minute on google to find examples of deadly swarms. It is one of the oldest forms of human violence.
Swarms can chase people but the chase is not the primary danger posed by the swarm. The danger of a swarm comes from the fact that a swarm has no moral center. Every member of the swarm can credibly claim that they would never have harmed their victim. They point to other people within the swarm as leaders when in fact a swarm has no leader. A swarm has no moral center because each member of the swarm justifies their bad behavior by the measure of the bad behavior of the next member of the swarm. See how that works? Every person gets just a little more dangerous than the next, and it goes in a downward spiral from there.
The mob at the Capitol on January 6th was a swarm. That is how they were able to justify their violence against police. Police attacking BLM protests adopted mob mentality under Trump. Trump seems to have an instinct for stirring up a swarm. He does it a lot. That’s what makes him dangerous.
Anyway, after Harry and Meghan left the awards ceremony on May 16th, unsatisfied members of the paparazzi chose to follow them in order to get an exclusive, candid photo to sell to the British media. Harry and Meghan are top sellers in the UK.
As each one went to more elaborate lengths to get the proximity they needed, their colleague one-upped them. Soon, the car was mobbed by people on scooters and bikes, motorcycles were zooming in and out of oncoming traffic whilst their riders were distracted by trying to drive a bike and shoot a photo at the same time. Cars jumped the cub and drove, distracted by seeking that perfect shot, on the sidewalk, scattering pedestrians and causing dangerous chaotic conditions on the streets of Manhattan.
What happened was dangerous and wrong. Harry and Meghan have no blame in it. They did their best. They gave red carpet photos. They owe us nothing.
Harry is right in his assertion that this incident was far too close an echo of the chase that ended in his Mother’s death.
However, their publicist owes the world an apology and a clarification because this was not a “chase” it was a swarm. And swarms are much, much worse.