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Distrust, Mobilization and Elections after the Madrid Bombings of 2004: The case of the 13-M Political Flash Mob

Cristina Flesher Fominaya
National University of Ireland, Galway
Cristina Flesher Fominaya
National University of Ireland, Galway
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper analyzes the “flash mob” protests immediately preceding the March 14 Spanish General Elections of 2004, following the 11-M terrorist bombings in Madrid. The government’s insistence that ETA were the main suspects despite contradictory evidence led to a crisis of legitimacy for the Popular Party, who were perceived as deliberately misleading the public as to the authorship of the bombings for electoral purposes. The national mass media was also perceived to be failing in its democratic duty to keep the public informed. This sparked the indignation and mobilization of thousands of citizens on March 13, 2004, in an illegal unprecedented “flash mob” protest. Contrary to the two main explanations in the literature, I argue that the 13-M protests were neither purely spontaneous manifestations of public opinion, nor were they the result of PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker Party) machinations. Autonomous social movement activists used cell phones and internet to mobilize previously established networks for a protest that quickly spread as the frames resonated with an important segment of public opinion. Frame analysis of the protests suggests that although anger at Popular Party support for the invasion of Iraq did resurface as a result of the bombings, the most salient protest frame was outrage at perceived deliberate misattribution of the bombings to ETA in order to win the elections. Drawing on ethnographic, primary and secondary data, this analysis provides an inside look at the mobilizing structures and motives behind a political flash mob in times of crisis.