Sure, it sounds like a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, showing up at some random park or train station, doing something totally bizarre with a bunch of random strangers, and then going about your day.
Basically, you want to be part of a flash mob just for the hell of it.
But what’s the deal with flash mobs from a legal standpoint?
Can you really gather with hundreds of strangers in a public place without a permit?
Isn’t that unlawful assembly?
The answer is technically “yes, a flash mob can be against the law” almost everywhere (including every state in the U.S.).
So, before you join a flash mob, you should be aware of what laws apply.
Riots and Flash Mobs
Most states in the U.S. define a riot as “a specific number of people (usually 3 or 5) or more who gather to threaten public safety.”
While that all seems very cut-and-dry and non-applicable – flash mobbers aren’t there to threaten public safety – there are a lot “yeah, buts” and ambiguous wording thrown into the mix.
Some states’ use “tumultuous disturbance” to define a riot.
Other states define riots as “gatherings which include ‘reckless’ behavior that threatens to ‘disturb the public peace’.”
Still others define riots as any gathering which “poses a risk to persons or property.”
Even just “disturbing others” can constitute a riot in a few states.
Obviously, none of these terms are absolute, and so they can be subjectively applied.
So, even if you are gathering in a completely harmless fashion – to perform the “Nutcracker Suite” on stilts, for instance – you could potentially be arrested and charged with a crime.
And the consequences for that crime can vary substantially.
Flash Mob Riot Law Punishments
If you are arrested for unlawful assembly or some other similar crime, you will almost certainly be charged with a misdemeanor.
If you are arrested for participating in a riot, it may be a misdemeanor as well.
But in some circumstances and in some jurisdictions, being arrested for participating in a riot may be charged as a felony.
It’s really up to the legal justice system in the municipality where your flash mob takes place what kind of charge they might bring.
Like the laws themselves, the charges for participating in a flash mob can be subjective, and are heavily based on the circumstances.
Flash Mobs Are Just Harmless Fun
The good news for flash mobbers, legally speaking, is that when flash mobs are done with good intention and for entertainment, they typically go off without a hitch.
Translation: Police tend to leave flash mobs alone.
Occasionally, police have been called in for flash mobs.
But this typically happens when a mob overwhelms a place of business or in some other way breaks the law.
If you do a flash mob as it’s meant to be done – gather, do your fun thing that has no potential for harm to people or property, and then disperse – it is very unlikely the law will intervene.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have the authority or laws, however.
So, just keep that in mind.