Significant terror management research has examined the impact of mortality salience on evaluations toward in‐group versus out‐group and attitudinally similar versus dissimilar others. However, relatively little research has examined evaluations when group membership is disentangled from attitude similarity. The current research examined the impact of mortality salience on evaluations toward in‐group and out‐group critics when people are less likely to rely on group membership as a heuristic. In Experiment 1, the results showed that in the control condition, participants rated an in‐group member who provided unjustified criticism more positively than an out‐group member who provided the same criticism. Under mortality salience, the reverse occurred: An in‐group member who provided unjustified criticism was rated more negatively than an out‐group member. Experiment 2 showed that under mortality salience, the derogation of an in‐group critic who provided unjustified criticism was mediated by perceptions of threat. Implications for reactions to group‐directed criticism as well as mortality salience effects are discussed. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.