Profile image
Story Views

Last Hour:
Last 24 Hours:

The Psychological Reasons Why American Soldiers Would Fire On American Citizens

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 5:50
% of readers think this story is Fact. Add your two cents.



kent state 1We live in chaotic times. Many feel that our fragile economy could come crashing down at any time. One devastating terrorist attack, false flag attack or natural disaster could lead to an unprecedented disaster and martial law would be declared. Some Americans would take to the streets and the only remaining question is whether or not American soldiers, called to the scene, would restore order by firing upon American citizens when ordered to do so?

kent state 2This scenario and the resulting public execution of American citizens for engaging in protesting has happened many times in our past. For those old enough to remember, the 1970 Kent State massacre should come to mind as the Ohio National Guard opened fire on protesting college students on the campus of Kent State University. But for those who believe that this was merely an anomaly, let’s examine what the field of psychology has discovered about the answer to this question.

kent state 3

The Oath Keepers Cannot Save Protesters

Some our citizens are deluded into a false sense of security by the group known as Oath Keepers. It is a well-intentioned effort to remind both law enforcement and the military to uphold the Constitution and to disobey unlawful orders which would bring harm to American citizens. Under this false sense of security, many in the American public really believe that American troops will not fire upon American citizens. Unfortunately, the field of psychology demonstrates why only a minority of soldiers will actually resist committing atrocities against the American people.

Conformity to Group Norms: The Solomon Asch Experiment

Do you think of yourself as a conformist or a non-conformist? If you ask most people the same question, you would find that most people consider themselves to be a non-conformist and would be able to stand up to a group when they know they are right. However, can nonconformists actually resist the peer pressure to blend in with the rest of their peers?

In the 1950’s, Polish born psychologist, Solomon Asch, conducted a conformity study. The participants signed up to participate in a psychology experiment in which they are asked to complete a vision test. This was a deception. The real experiment attempted to answer the question, can people resist peer pressure to conform to a false belief?

Seated in a room with the other participants, the research participants are shown a line segment and then asked to choose the matching line from a group three segments of different lengths.

Asch conformity experiments - Image courtesy Nyenyec

The experimenter subsequently asked each participant individually to select the matching line segment. On some occasions everyone in the group chooses the correct line, but occasionally, the other participants unanimously declare that a different line is actually the correct match. Unknown to the main subject of the experiment, everyone else in the experiment is a confederate and their answers have been preplanned for the purpose of determining whether, or not, the participant’s answer can be determined by the people deliberately giving the wrong answer.

Nearly 75 percent of the participants in the conformity experiments went along with the rest of the group at least one time. After combining the trials, the results indicated that participants conformed to the incorrect group answer approximately one-third of the time.

At the conclusion of the experiments, participants were asked why they had gone along with the rest of the group. In most cases, the students stated that while they knew the rest of the group was wrong, they did not want to risk facing personal criticism. A few of the participants were so weak-minded that they suggested that they actually believed the other members of the group were correct in their answers.

These results suggest that conformity can be influenced both by a need to fit in and a belief that other people are smarter or better informed. Given the level of conformity seen in Asch’s experiments, conformity can be even stronger in real-life situations where stimuli are more ambiguous or more difficult to judge. For example, a soldier, in attempting to decide if they will fire upon innocent civilians, will be forced to weigh their own risk. If they fail to obey the command to fire upon American citizens, will they face disciplinary action, or even death?


Asch also found that having one of the confederates give the correct answer while the rest of the confederates gave the incorrect answer dramatically lowered conformity. In this situation, just five to ten percent of the participants conformed to the rest of the group. Allies, committed to a central belief, is what drives many in the alternative media to relentlessly pursue the truth and then inform as many people as will listen.




The Milgram Experiment and Group Think

The world of psychological research provides the definitive answer as to whether we should fear our military in the coming storm ahead in the form of a phenomenon called group think. Group think is often described as a decision-making process whereby the group members go along with what they believe is the consensus. Group think has also been used to describe individual acquiescence to authority even when the authority has limited power to enforce compliance. Group think often causes groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s leadership and balance.

Just how far will people go to please authority figures and subsequently do what they know to be immoral? The first known laboratory test for groupthink occurred in 1963 by Yale professor, Stanley Milgram. Subjects for this landmark study were recruited for the Yale study through newspaper ads and direct mail. The participants were men between the ages of 20 and 50, from all educational backgrounds, ranging from an elementary school dropout to participants with doctoral degrees.

Milgram wanted to determine what percentage of people would willingly administer enough progressive electric shocks which would result in death simply based on the orders of a perceived authority figure (i.e., the experimenter).





There were three participants in the experiment:

 - Image courtesy Wapcaplet

1. The Teacher was the real subject in the experiment. Their role was to administer shocks for each wrong answer provided by the learner. How far would they go, was the true subject of the experiment.  Would they actually kill a person for failing to provide the correct answer on a word pair test? Would they mindlessly follow the orders of the experimenter to continue with the abuse, regardless of the results and obvious harm being perpetrated upon the pretend victim in the experiment?

2. The second participant, the Learner, was actually a plant in the experiment. The Learner would sit in an adjacent room and pretend to be shocked for each wrong answer that they would purposely give. Eventually, they would cry out for help and beg the Teacher to stop administering the electric shocks. Their cries included pleas of mercy that were often based on an unknown level of self-expressed cardiac distress that they were pretending to experience.

3. The Experimenter was a stern looking fellow who carried a clipboard, wore a lab coat, and would urge the Teacher to continue regardless of the make believe pleas of the Learner.

The “Teachers” were told by the experimenter that they would be participating in an experiment to test the effects of punishment on learning. However, as has already been stated, this was not the goal of the experiment.

The “Teacher” was given a list of word pairs which was used to teach the Learner. The Learner was actually a confederate, or a plant, in the experiment. The Teacher would then read the first word of each pair and read four possible answers. The Learner would deliberately press the wrong button to indicate his response. Since the answer was incorrect, the Learner would receive an electric shock, with the voltage progressively increasing with each wrong answer. Therefore, the
subjects believed that for each wrong answer, the Learner was receiving an ever increasing level of actual shocks which would eventually result in death.

In reality, there were no shocks. After the confederate (i.e., Learner) was separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with the electro-shock generator, which played pre-recorded sounds of pain and distress for each successive level of shock. After a number of voltage level increases, the Learner would bang on the wall which divided him from the subject (teacher). After several instances of banging on the wall and complaining about his heart condition, the learner provided no further responses to questions and no further complaints. The fate of the Learner was left to the imagination of the teacher. The silence was met with the command to continue with the experiment. Although the Learner was not being harmed, the Teacher believed that they were administering progressively dangerous shocks. From the instrumentation panel, the Teacher could clearly see that their shocks were approaching the level of lethality. Was the Teacher being forced to capitulate and continue with the experiment? Quite the contrary was true, the prompts to continue administering shock were encouraged by minimal prompts and absolutely no threats were offered by the Experimenter.

If at any time the subject hesitated or expressed a desire to discontinue the experiment, the subject was given a planned and verbatim succession of verbal prompts by the experimenter:

1. “Please continue.”

2. “The experiment requires that you continue.”

3. “It is absolutely essential that you continue. ”

4. “You have no other choice, you must go on.”

If the Teacher still wished to stop after having listened to four successive verbal prompts, the experiment was discontinued. Otherwise, the experiment was terminated after the subject had administered the lethal 450-volt shock three times in succession.

Milgram expected that less than one percent would actually administer a fatal electric shock. The actual results were so stunning that he decided to film the results on the final day, fearing that nobody would believe his results. And what were the results? Despite expressing some measure of discomfort and the minimal use pressure, in Milgram’s first set of experiments, 65% (26 out of 40) of the subjects administered the experiment’s final and hypothetically fatal 450-volt shock. Amazingly, no participant steadfastly refused to give further shocks before the 300-volt level!

Milgram’s results were confirmed when Dr. Thomas Blass performed a meta-analysis on the results of repeated performances of the experiment. Blass found that the percentage of participants who were willing to administer fatal voltages remains remarkably constant, between 61% and 66%.

The results of Milgram’s and Blass’ work are stunning in their final conclusion which demonstrated that almost two-thirds of all Americans will mindlessly follow the commands of a “perceived” authority figure even when the authority figure has no real power over the people. Can you imagine how the 65% rate will dramatically climb when they authority figure had “real” power over the people being ordered to fire upon American citizens?





The Zimbardo Prison Study

In 1971, psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues set out to create an experiment that looked at the impact of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. Zimbardo, a former classmate ofStanley Milgram was interested in expanding upon Milgram’s research. He wanted to further investigate the the impact of situational variables on human behavior.

The research question the researchers asked was how would the participants react when placed in a simulated prison environment? Zimbardo had previously speculated that, “Suppose you had only kids who were normally healthy, psychologically and physically, and they knew they would be going into a prison-like environment and that some of their civil rights would be sacrificed. Would those good people, put in that bad, evil place, or, would their goodness triumph?” The results of the experiment haunt many of us in the psychology field, today, as we ponder how far would Americans go in the enforcement of a brutal and vicious tyranny?

Zimbardo set up a mock prison in the basement of Standford University’s psychology building, and then selected 24 undergraduate students to play the roles of both prisoners and guards.  The assignment of roles was accomplished through random selection. The participants were selected because they had no criminal background, lacked psychological issues and had no major medical conditions. Therefore, the participants in the study were far more psychologically and physically healthy than any group of modern day military force, police force or FEMA camp guards. The volunteers agreed to participate for a one- to two-week period.

Prisoners were to remain in the mock prison 24-hours a day for the duration of the study. Guards, on the other hand, were assigned to work in three-man teams for eight-hour shifts. After each shift, guards were allowed to return to their homes until their next shift. Researchers were able to observe the behavior of the prisoners and guards through the use of hidden cameras.

The experiment was originally scheduled to last two weeks, but it had to be stopped after just six days due to what was happening to the student participants. The guards became exceptionally abusive and the prisoners began to show signs of extreme stress, anxiety and nervous breakdown.

The prisoners and guards were allowed to behave in any manner they chose. However, the interactions were generally hostile or even dehumanizing. The guards began behaving in an aggressive and abusive manner toward the mock prisoners. Subsequently, nearly all of the prisoners became passive and depressed. Five of the prisoners began to experience such severe and acute anxiety, that they had to be released from the study early.

Zimbardo later wrote in his book The Lucifer Effect that “Only a few people were able to resist the situational temptations to yield to power and dominance while maintaining some semblance of morality and decency; obviously I was not among that noble class” . Even Zimbardo lost his objectivity and the experiment was only halted when his girl friend at the time,  Christina Maslach, a graduate psychology student, voiced objections and threatened to break off her relationship with Zimbardo if the experiment continued.

The Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrates the powerful role that the situation can play in human behavior. Because the guards were placed in a position of power, they began to behave in ways they would not normally act in their everyday lives or in other situations. By putting a prison guard uniform on the participants, issuing sun glasses and a baton made the participant guards act in accordance with their perceived role. This has dire consequences for the ability of uniformed personnel to resist orders from their commanding officers to fire upon American citizens. People will act according to the role that they have been assigned to play. Finally, based upon the Zimbardo Prison Experiment, what kind of treatment could you expect at a FEMA camp?



Will American soldiers fire upon Americans in times of civil unrest? The evidence has been presented to you, what do you now believe?

kent state 4



Andersen, M.L. and Taylor, H.F. (2009). Sociology: The Essentials. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs, 70.

Blass, T. (2004). The man who shocked the world: The life and legacy of Stanley Milgram. New York: Basic Books.

Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). Study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. Naval Research Reviews, 9, 1–17. Washington, DC: Office of Naval Research

Morris, W., & Miller, R. (1975). The effects of consensus-breaking and consensus-pre-empting partners of reduction in conformity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 11, 215-223.

O’Toole, K. (1997, Jan. 8). The Stanford Prison Experiment: Still powerful after all these years.The Stanford News Service. Found online at

The Stanford Prison Experiment:A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment Conducted at Stanford University. Found online at

Zimbardo, P. (2007). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York, NY: Random House.


We encourage you to Share our Reports, Analyses, Breaking News and Videos. Simply Click your Favorite Social Media Button and Share.

Report abuse


Your Comments
Question   Razz  Sad   Evil  Exclaim  Smile  Redface  Biggrin  Surprised  Eek   Confused   Cool  LOL   Mad   Twisted  Rolleyes   Wink  Idea  Arrow  Neutral  Cry   Mr. Green

Total 14 comments
  • Jonmart

    This guy has some kind of ax to grind regarding the Oath Keepers. The Oath Keepers are NOT presenting themselves as being able to save protesters and I do not see a clear reason why this author even brings that into the conversation. Suggest people learn about them before claiming to know what they are all about.

  • MrAnthony

    Blah-blah-blah. More BS from “common sense.” As the LA Rodney King riots and Ferguson showed, even cops are reluctant to fire live rounds at people rioting and looting. American soldiers are very patriotic and will not obey illegal orders to fire on Americans. Citing Kent State is silly–first, there was no order to fire; second, the guardman were being pelted with rocks and debris and feared for their lives; finally, there is some belief that someone fired a gun prior to the Guardsmen opening fire. Crowd control has come a long way since the 1970′s. Since “common sense” likes citing old history, why not cite the Boston Massacre? Oh wait, those guys were in fear of their lives too. And outside the U.S., Russian soldiers wouldn’t fire on Boris Yeltsin during that revolution. Psychology? Just more BS from CS.

  • Anonymous

    but what about the observer that changes the outcome.

    just a fact that is over looked in the results of this kind of experiment

    the observer will change the results

    nothing is absolutely certain and some will use the guns that the bad govt issued to stop the killing of citizens

    then they will witness how foolish this plan was .

    one independent man is more versatile than an organized force

    or should i say 100 million armed independent thinking men will change the battle faster than a bunch of weak minded idiots fighting for nothing.

  • dexter60

    The author clearly wishes us to be believers in Psychology as if it were a science.
    Rather interesting set of ‘experiments,’ however, it may equally apply to the participants of this regime rather than even the average Joe — there is a big difference between those in the military and the other two groups it seems to me.
    To draw a more striking picture, the theoretical limits never match up to what war imposes — no one can suggest any of this construct applies to Jihadis or ‘the uncooperative class.’
    There is a tendency still by some to condemn all military, not individual soldiers or the prosecution of the war by the Political Class, for My Lai. No different to me than the mind-set of those who, never having seen real action as a matter of life and death, than those seduced by a determined mathematician or paid professional ‘friend.’ Soldiers by and large can smell death and betrayal (not common traits in most in a society dominated by high-density urban dwellers) because they know first hand real sacrifice.
    These are the same sort of people in government who gave us the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, much less than the 30% who adhere to this regime or the two thirds needed to put us into another created war without the manipulations of a dictator.
    Perhaps we need some ‘testing’ of those in Congress or the Executive branch because their performance begs for greater up-front and personal attention rather than re-election after excuses about VA.

    Unfortunately, these days since William Randolph Hearst, there is far more truth to be found in the bottom of a bird’s cage than is printed on the newspaper that lines it and the TV that gives us an unending Govt. Infomercial.
    Is this screed one of those?
    One last question:
    Are we to fear our own army, in the face of terrorists at home and abroad, or must we send negotiators to our volunteers to beg for mercy?

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for that, Professor Jackwagon.
      “You’re crazy, our soldiers would NEVER shoot us!” – German citizen 1939
      “You’re crazy, our soldiers would NEVER shoot us!” – Chinese citizen 1947
      “You’re crazy, our soldiers would NEVER shoot us!” -

  • Bossmanrocks

    I basically agree with all the previous posters but I have one question. What about the attack on the Bonus marchers? Google it. MacArthur and Patten ordered troops to attack protestors (WWI veterans) and the troops obeyed.

    • dexter60

      What is being thrust upon us is orders of magnitude worse than The Depression, something you have only read about.
      You might well ask yourself, what can come from attacking soldiers with the intent of doing bodily harm? blame the soldiers, given awful orders? righteous protestors, pressed to the limits of endurance?
      Or rather the actions of those who refused to listen to some tens of thousands of loyal patriotic citizens who were left again betrayed by the Political Class — it may come to a hundred million in these times and circumstances, with the active military included as victims of the regime — not much of a parallel.
      Putting trust in such dim predictions is as good as a politician’s promise and the politicians are the very ones that should be read the Riot Act.
      Think good thoughts and have a nice day.

  • Publius40

    Where was the LEO’s conscience when the set up Randy Weaver on the shortened shotgun barrel charge? and were was FBI sniper, Lon Horochi’s conscience when he blew Vickie Weavers head off as she held a baby? Even though the State of Idaho wanted to try him for murder, federal U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ruled that under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution the sniper could not be tried. He said “. . . Mr. Horiuchi did no more than what was ‘necessary and proper’ for him to carry out his duties . . . .” You see, even though a citizen can go to jail for lying to a federal agent, a federal agent can not only lie to you, but he can kill you if it falls withing “his duties” and get away with it.

    The FBI tried to cover up the evidence and that got one in trouble. Former high-official of the FBI E. Michael Kahoe was sentenced to serve eighteen months in prison, to pay $4000 in fines, and to be placed on probation for two years for obstructing justice during an investigation into the Ruby Ridge incident. The Justice Department found no other person criminally responsible in the deaths and possible cover-up of the facts as known by the FBI or the guidelines that allowed for the FBI “sharpshooter” killing of Weavers’ wife.

    Where is the outrage when a flammable tear gas banned for use in war was inserted in the structure with the men, women, and children in Waco and they were burned alive? Read well documented facts the government controlled MSM never told you at:

    As the federal agents machine gunned thousands of rounds into the 2 X 4 built structure filled with women and children, did any of them refuse? Do you think the person responsible for acquiring the heavy armor used in the attack against the Davidians had a tinge of conscience when he had to blatantly lie that they had evidence there was a drug lab being operated there because he could NOT acquire the use of the armored attack vehicles if he told the truth?

    More and more our local police are being militarized and desensitized. Just look at the all the SWAT raids they are doing. The horror stories of innocents being maimed like just a couple weeks ago a small baby in his crib was severely burned by a flash bang grenade casually tossed in by local LEO, people are being roughed up, guns stuck in their face over a traffic ticket, pets being shot, and people getting killed with all the “no knock” home break-ins by the police. Read Cato Institute report, Overkill, at:

    The question is not, “Will agents of government fire on or attack the people of this country?” The answer is, “HELL, YES. THEY DO! The question should be, “How do we put these people back under the control of the Citizenry, and punish the ones who commit crimes against the general population?”

    An excellent, well documented, and academically acclaimed book by R.J. Rummel – Death by Government – proves approx. 174 million people have been killed by their own government is just the 20th century.
    Don’t be a fool and think wholesale slaughter can’t begin here.

    In America, “Since 9/11, and the subsequent militarization of the police by the Department of Homeland Security, about 5,000 Americans have been killed by US police officers. The civilian death rate is nearly equal to the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq. In fact, you are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist.”

    Better get a handle on this.

    • dexter60

      Very good points to express your dissatisfaction with the alphabet soup that passes for govt. today — but, as far as the military goes — off-topic, not mentioned once.
      People used to be drafted into the military, never into the Federal Bureau of Instigation, Criminals In Action or so many others that still yet have no name.
      Perhaps many of our problems are due to having a standing army — but that argument is not pertinent either.

      Discrediting the military ignores the fact that w/o them we would not even be here today and many gave their lives even for people with a poor attitude. The real issue is, nowadays, who do you trust? Some community organizer from nowhere or those that defend the flag and everyone under it ?
      Called upon to put their lives on the line, they deserve more credit than your fearful doubts.

  • railadvocate

    Thanks for this article that re-visits this most crucial human-behavior info. It mentions that some of the science/psych. community considered the studies unethical. Yet the same communities accept the practice of placebo use (where participants unknowingly and deceptively use a fake, while thinking it’s the real deal. So such complaints about ethics with regard to studies such as Milgram’s seem hypocritical. There are vast amounts of people that complain about cloudy weather or temperatures that cause physical discomfort. I’m sure that somewhere there’s someone who wants to be rich but would complain about having to go to the bank to cash the check for the money, or would complain about the denominations… It’s like we’re suppose to run and hide when someone evokes the ethics subject. Could it be that the hiding from the ethics issue is at the core of this very ethics problem?! Dealing with ethics issues has become alien to alot of us nowadays… So much of the public live, generation after generation, in artificial, man-made contrived environments that hard ethics decision making is like lunar green cheese. But up through the 19th century, American pioneers had ethics decision-making on an almost daily basis, the life-and-death or survival kind: -You do what you had to do and hope you had acted with sufficient “spiritual” (and otherwise) wisdom to do the best you could do. We have been for too long removed from the healthy lessons of ancestral wisdom and Nature.
    These behavioral phenomena studies should be shared as lessons for junior high level and higher grade levels. Maybe making it an ethics taboo dilemma is a tactic used by our handlers to keep us from learning important lessons. The Asch and Milgram studies should have the effect of being like a society-wide epiphany threshold, so that we can, thus enlightened, move forward, collectively and ethically. But without the wisdom from such understanding, we cannot genuinely progress in human context.

  • Anonymous

    I would tell all the wrong people that they are dumb asses and need to get their vision checked out!

  • Anonymous

    Why bring up the Oath Keepers? It’s not their purpose to save anyone but to inform others who have taken the Oath to uphold it.

    If American troops obey the unlawful order to fire upon American citizens without just cause, by that I mean, if they are being fired at from someone in the crowd. Then it is their right to defend themselves and that doesn’t mean they shoot the first person they see but the one who is shooting at them.

  • patriot47

    From experience, studies cannot predict what happens under combat conditions. The military tries to condition automatic response but the results are less than they would desire.

  • silverbutton1

    I’ll never forget watching the movie “Gangs of New York” when the elite/wealthy/powerful were playing pool and one of them commented something like “you can always get one side of the poor to kill the other side”. After giving it some thought, it made total logical sense (form their perspective).

    In the modern world, the poor aren’t even needed to keep the masses at bay. They can use a massive militarized police force to keep it under control. If need be, they bring in the National Guard and/or the regular armed forces.

    In a sense then, the very taxpayers will end up paying for their own oppression via paying taxes to pay the paychecks of the police. Very cunning indeed.

Top Stories
Recent Stories



Top Global

Top Alternative



Email this story
Email this story

If you really want to ban this commenter, please write down the reason:

If you really want to disable all recommended stories, click on OK button. After that, you will be redirect to your options page.