Civil disorder

Civil disorder, also known as civil disturbance or civil unrest, is an activity arising from a mass act of civil disobedience (such as a demonstration, riot, or strike) in which the participants become hostile toward authority, and authorities incur difficulties in maintaining public safety and order, over the disorderly crowd.[1][2] It is, in any form, prejudicial to public law and order.[2]


A protester holding Molotov Cocktail seen as the clashes develop in Kyiv, Ukraine. Events of February 18, 2014-2
A protester with a Molotov Cocktail in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Feb. 18, 2014

According to the U.S. Code, a person is engaged in civil disorder if he:

(1)"...teaches or demonstrates to any other person the use, application, or making of any firearm or explosive or incendiary device, or technique capable of causing injury or death to persons, knowing or having reason to know or intending that the same will be unlawfully employed for use in, or in furtherance of, a civil disorder which may in any way or degree obstruct, delay, or adversely affect commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce or the conduct or performance of any federally protected function;  or...

(2)...transports or manufactures for transportation in commerce any firearm, or explosive or incendiary device, knowing or having reason to know or intending that the same will be used unlawfully in furtherance of a civil disorder;  or...

(3)...commits or attempts to commit any act to obstruct, impede, or interfere with any fireman or law enforcement officer lawfully engaged in the lawful performance of his official duties incident to and during the commission of a civil disorder which in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or adversely affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce or the conduct or performance of any federally protected function."[3]


Radically oriented protesters throwing Molotov cocktails in direction of Interior troops positions. Dynamivska str. Euromaidan Protests. Events of Jan 19, 2014-2
Euromaidan Protests.

The basic human element that ignites civil disorder is "the presence of a crowd."[1]

Individual behavior is affected in a crowd because it provides a sense of anonymity.[1] Members of a crowd often shift their moral responsibility from themselves to the crowd as a whole. The desire to imitate becomes stronger in a crowd, where those who are the least disciplined, or those who are weak in their convictions, will conform to a crowd's behavior. This is true for both the crowd and the authorities in a civil disorder situation.[1]

Mass demonstration in Iran, date unknown
Mass demonstration in Iran.

Any number of things may cause civil disorder, whether it is a single cause or a combination of causes; however, most are born from political grievances, economic disputes or social discord, terrorism, or foreign agitators.[1]

Civil disorder arising from political grievances can include a range of events, from a simple protest to a mass civil disobedience. These events can be spontaneous, but are usually planned, and start out being non-violent. However, these events can turn violent when agitators attempt to provoke law enforcers into overreacting.[1]

Civil disorder arising from economic disputes and social discord is usually emotionally charged.[1] For example, impoverished people may protest actual, or perceived, injustices against them in respect to law enforcement, community services or political influence. The emotion of this protest is often amplified if cultural differences are present, which creates an atmosphere of scapegoating, animosity and mistrust. For example, tension between ethnic groups competing for jobs can erupt into civil disorder, which can be exasperated if jobs are scarce. In such emotionally charged environments, the likelihood of violence increases.[1]

Disaffected groups may organize civil disorder with the intent of provoking authorities to overreact, in order to embarrass the government, gain attention, or generate sympathy for their cause.[1]

Foreign nations may use surrogates to direct civil disorder, in order to advance a nation's interests. Surrogates can use overt or covert means to accomplish this end e.g. fund-raising, membership drives, infiltrating disaffected groups to increase their potential for violence, vandalism, crowd manipulation, etc.[1] The goal is to provoke a target nation into overreacting, which creates a narrative of government repression, which can be used as propaganda.[1]



Tear gas used against protest in Altamira, Caracas; and distressed students in front of police line
Tear gas used on students in Altamira, Caracas

Exploiting a crowd's mood, radicals can manipulate and weaponize a crowd, using skillful agitation to coax the crowd's capacity for violence and turn it into a vengeful mob, directing the crowd's aggression and resentment at the agitator's chosen target.[1]

Tactical agitators can use media, and social media, to connect with potential crowd-members, and incite them to break the law, or to attempt to provoke others into doing so, without having any direct personal contact. Conversely, a skilled leader person can also calm, or divert, a crowd using strategic suggestions or commands, or appealing to them with reason in order to deescalate a situation.[1]

Emotional contagion greatly influences crowd behavior by providing the crowd a psychological sense of "unity." This sense may provide the crowd with the momentum to absorb a mob mentality, and to take on mob behavior. Crowd-members feed off of each other's excitement, which produces a high state of collective emotion. The ideas crowd leaders rapidly transmit throughout the group, and also to bystanders, rubberneckers, and mass media.[1]

When emotional contagion prevails, raw emotion is high while self-discipline is low. Personal prejudices and unsatisfied desires – usually restrained – are unabashedly released.[1] This incentivizes crowd membership, as the crowd provides cover for individuals to do things they want to do, but would not dare try to do alone. This incentive can become greater for the crowd than its concern for law and authority, leading to unlawful and disruptive acts. Once the crowd engages in such acts, it effectively becomes a mob – a highly emotional, unreasonable, potentially violent crowd.[1]


G-20 Toronto June 2010 (28)
G-20 Toronto. June 2010

Crowd behavior is the emotional needs, fears, and prejudices of the crowd members.[1] It is driven by social factors such as the strength, or weakness, of leadership, moral perspective, or community uniformity, and also by psychological factors of suggestion e.g. imitation, anonymity, impersonality, emotional release, emotional contagion, panic, etc.[1]

During civil disorder, any crowd can be a threat to law enforcers because it is open to manipulation. This is because the behavior of a crowd is under the direction of the majority of its members. While its members are usually inclined to obey the law, emotional stimuli, and the feeling of fearlessness that arises from being in a crowd, can cause crowd members to indulge in impulses, act on aggressions, and unleash rage. When law enforcement limits the full realization of these actions, the crowd will channel this hostility elsewhere, making the crowd a hostile and unpredictable threat to law enforcers.[1]

Crowds want to be directed, and can become frustrated by confusion and uncertainty; therefore, leadership can have a profound influence on the intensity and conduct of a crowd's behavior.[1] The first person to authoritatively direct a crowd will likely be followed. Opportunity for radicals to take charge of a group emerge when no authoritative voice emerges, and the crowd becomes frustrated without direction.

Panic, which is extremely and quickly contagious, also affects crowd behavior by influencing their ability to reason, lending to frantic, irrational behavior that cannot only endanger the crowd, but also others.[1] During civil disorder, panic can set in when a crowd member realizes –

  • He is in danger and fleeing is necessary to escape arrest or harm
  • Few escape routes exist
  • The few escape routes are congested with traffic
  • His actions have caused harm to others
  • When he has not dispersed the scene quickly enough, that his life, or freedom, is at risk from encroaching law enforcement agents[1]


White supremacists clash with police (36421659232)
Far right protesters and police at Unite the Right rally
ABr170613PZ 6227
Protesters occupy the roof of the National Congress of Brazil
Masked and hooded protesters holding Molotov Cocktails seen during clashes in Ukraine, Kyiv. Events of February 18, 2014
Protesters with Molotov Cocktails. Kyiv, Ukraine. 2014

The goal of demonstrators is to spur law enforcers to take actions that can be exploited as acts of brutality in order to generate sympathy for their cause, and/or to anger and demoralize the opposition.[1] Crowds can use a range of tactics to evade law enforcement or to promote disorder, from verbal assault to distracting law enforcers to building barricades. The more well-planned tactics occur, the more purposeful the disorder. For example, crowds may form human blockades to shut down roads, they may trespass on government property, they may try to force mass arrests, they may handcuff themselves to things or to each other, or they may lock arms, making it more difficult to separate them, or they might create confusion or diversions through the use of rock throwing, arson, or terrorist acts, making law enforcers seems forceful or excessive when trying to remove them.[1] Also, sometimes, terrorist elements.[1]

Most participants of civil disorder engage on foot. However, organized efforts, often implore the use vehicles and wireless communication.[1]

Participants have been known to use scanners to monitor police frequencies, or transmitters to sabotage law enforcement communications.[1]

If a crowd turns violent, effectively becoming a "mob," it may execute physical attacks on people and property, such as by throwing homemade weapons like molotov cocktails, firing small arms, and planting improvised explosive devices.[1] If the violence is not pre-arranged, a crowd may resort to throwing rocks, bricks, bottles, etc. If violence is pre-arranged, the crowd can hide their weapons, or vandalism tools, well before the crowd formation, catching law enforcement by surprise.[1]

Crowds may arm themselves with:

A mob may erect barricades to impede, or prevent, the effectiveness of law enforcement. For example, they may use grappling hooks, chains, rope, or vehicles, to breach gates or fences.[1] They may use sticks or poles to limit law enforcement's use of billy clubs and bayonets.[1] They may overturn civilian vehicles to impede troops advancing to engage them, or vandalize law enforcement vehicles to try to spark over-reaction from law enforcement, or to incite further lawlessness from the mob.[1]

Mobs often implore the use of fire or hidden explosive devices e.g. strapped to animals, masked in cigarette lighters or toys, rigged to directed vehicles, etc.[1] Not only can they be used to create confusion or diversion, but they can also be used destroy property, and mask looting of mob participants, or provide cover for mob participants firing weapons at law enforcement.[1] If law enforcement engages with the mob, in returning fire, any innocent casualties resulting from the chaos usually make law enforcement look undisciplined and oppressive.[1]

Law enforcement behavior

Riot Cops (2823225195)
Riot Cops

Like mob participants, law enforcers are also susceptible to crowd behavior. Such tense confrontation can emotionally stimulate them, creating a highly emotional atmosphere all around.[1] This emotional stimulation can become infectious throughout law enforcement agents, conflicting with their disciplined training.

When emotional tension is high among law enforcement agents, they may breach their feeling of restraint and commit acts, against people in the mob, that they normally would suppress.[1] The emotional atmosphere can also make them highly susceptible to rumors and fear.[1]

Like mob members, law enforcement agents, acting as a group, can also lose their sense of individuality and develop a feeling of anonymity.[1] Under emotional instability, individual prejudices, that any individual law enforcement agent may harbor against the mob, or against individual participants of the mob, may influence the behavior of the law enforcement agent.[1] Like the mob, these conditions make law enforcement actors more likely to imitate the behavior of each other, which can result in a chain of biased, excessive, or otherwise, dangerous, behavior in which law enforcement agents act upon mob agents as impersonal threats and not as human beings.[1] Such action is heightened in which law enforcement agents are monolithic, across race and ethnicity, as law enforcement will become more susceptible to framing the disorder as a confrontation between "them" and "us."[1]

Actions by law enforcement agents, motivated by emotion and prejudice, is often used as evidence against their ill will toward a crowd, or a mob, with their behavior only further inflaming confrontation rather than reducing it.[1]

Under such situations, law enforcement agents are rarely held accountable for all their actions against a crowd.[1][4]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar "Field Manual No. 19-15: Civil Disturbances" (PDF). United States Army. Retrieved 3 Feb 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Glossary: Civil Disturbance". Federal Emergency Management Agency. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  3. ^ "18 U.S.C. § 231 - U.S. Code - Unannotated Title 18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure § 231. Civil disorders". The Code of Laws of the United States of America. Retrieved 3 Feb 2018.
  4. ^ David A. Graham. "What Can the U.S. Do to Improve Police Accountability?". The Atlantic.

External links

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The 1990 Temple Mount riots, or the Al Aqsa Massacre, also known as Black Monday, was an event that took place at the Temple Mount, Jerusalem at 10:30 am on Monday, 8 October 1990 before Zuhr prayer during the third year of the First Intifada. They began after a decision by the Temple Mount Faithful to lay a cornerstone at the site, and Arab rioting against Jewish worshippers. The riots resulted in the death of over twenty Palestinians, with more than 150 people injured, including Palestinian civilians and worshippers. It was condemned by UN Security Council resolutions 672 and 673.

1999 Latakia protests

The 1999 Latakia protests (or 1999 Latakia incident) were violent protests and armed clashes, which erupted in Latakia, Syria following 1998 People's Assembly's Elections. The violent events were an explosion of a long-running feud between Hafez al-Assad and his younger brother Rifaat. Two people were killed in fire exchanges of Syrian police and Rifaat's supporters during police crack-down on Rifaat's port compound in Latakia. According to opposition sources, denied by the government, the protests left hundreds of dead or injured.

2016 Tshwane riots

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Atlanta prison riots

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Battle of Cable Street

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Battle of Liberty Place

The Battle of Liberty Place, or Battle of Canal Street, was an attempted insurrection by the Crescent City White League against the Reconstruction Era Louisiana state government on September 14, 1874, in New Orleans, which was the capital of Louisiana at the time. Five thousand members of the White League, a paramilitary organization of the Democratic Party, made up largely of Confederate veterans, fought against the outnumbered New Orleans Metropolitan Police and state militia. The insurgents held the statehouse, armory, and downtown for three days, retreating before arrival of Federal troops that restored the elected government. No insurgents were charged in the action. This was the last major event of violence stemming from the disputed 1872 gubernatorial election, after which Democrat John McEnery and Republican William Pitt Kellogg both claimed victory.

Among those injured in the fighting at Liberty Place was Algernon Sidney Badger, superintendent of the New Orleans Metropolitan Police. Born in Boston and a veteran of the Union Army, he had been living and working in New Orleans since the end of the war.

Biennio Rosso

The Biennio Rosso (English: "Red Biennium" or "Two Red Years") was a two-year period, between 1919 and 1920, of intense social conflict in Italy, following the First World War. The revolutionary period was followed by the violent reaction of the Fascist blackshirts militia and eventually by the March on Rome of Benito Mussolini in 1922.

Camilla massacre

The Camilla massacre took place in Camilla, Georgia on Saturday, September 19, 1868. It followed the expulsion of the Original 33 black members of the Georgia General Assembly earlier that month. Among those expelled was southwest Georgia representative Philip Joiner. On September 19, Joiner led a twenty-five-mile march of several hundred blacks (freedmen), and a few whites, from Albany, Georgia to Camilla, the Mitchell County seat, to attend a Republican political rally on the courthouse square.. Estimates of the number of participants range from 150 to 300. The local sheriff and "citizens committee" in the majority-white town warned the black and white activists that they would be met with violence, and demanded that they surrender their guns, even though carrying weapons was legal and customary at the time. The marchers refused to give up their guns and continued to the courthouse square, where a group of local whites, quickly deputized by the sheriff, fired upon them. This assault forced the Republicans and freedmen to retreat into the swamps as locals gave chase, killing an estimated nine to fifteen of the black rally participants while wounding forty others. "Whites proceeded through the countryside over the next two weeks, beating and warning Negroes that they would be killed if they tried to vote in the coming election." The Camilla Massacre was the culmination of smaller acts of violence committed by white inhabitants that had plagued southwest Georgia since the end of the Civil War.The massacre received national publicity, prompted Congress to return Georgia to military occupation, and was a factor in the 1868 presidential election."The Camilla Massacre remained part of southwest Georgia's hidden past until 1998, when Camilla residents publicly acknowledged the massacre for the first time and commemorated its victims."

Election riot of 1874

The Election Riot of 1874, or Coup of 1874, took place on election day, November 3, 1874, near Eufaula, Alabama in Barbour County. Freedmen comprised a majority of the population and had been electing Republican candidates to office. Members of an Alabama chapter of the White League, a paramilitary group supporting the Democratic Party's drive to regain political power in the county and state, attacked black Republicans at the polls.

They killed at least seven and wounded 70, while driving away more than 1,000 unarmed blacks at the polls. In attacking the polling place in Spring Hill, the League killed the 16-year-old son of a white Republican judge. They turned all Republicans out of office and declared the Democrats as winners.

Hamburg massacre

The Hamburg massacre (or Hamburg riot) was a key event in South Carolina during July 1876, leading up to the last election season of the Reconstruction Era. It was the first of a series of civil disturbances, many of which Democrats planned in the majority-black/Republican Edgefield District, to disrupt Republican meetings and suppress black voting through actual and threatened violence.Beginning with a dispute nominally over free passage on a public road, this incident was based on racial and political grounds. A court hearing attracted armed white militia numbering more than one hundred, including members of Red Shirts paramilitary groups. They attacked about 30 black militia of the National Guard at the armory, killing two as they tried to leave that night. Later that night the Red Shirts murdered four freedmen of the militia while holding them as prisoners, and wounded several others. In total, the events in Hamburg resulted in the death of one white man and six freedmen; several more blacks were wounded by the white mob. Although 94 white men were indicted for murder by a coroner's jury, none was prosecuted.

The events catalyzed parties to the volatile 1876 election campaign. There were other episodes of white violence in the months before the election, including an estimated 100 blacks killed during several days in Ellenton, South Carolina, also in Aiken County. The Democrats succeeded in "redeeming" the state government and electing Wade Hampton III as governor. During the remainder of the century, they passed laws to establish single-party white supremacist rule, impose legal segregation and "Jim Crow," and disenfranchise blacks by a new constitution in 1895. This exclusion of blacks from the political system was effectively maintained into the late 1960s.

Jamaican political conflict

The Jamaican political conflict is a long standing feud between right-wing and left-wing elements in the country, often exploding into violence. The Jamaican Labor Party and the People's National Party have fought for control of the island for years and the rivalry has encouraged urban warfare in Kingston. Each side believes the other to be controlled by foreign elements, the JLP is said to be backed by the American Central Intelligence Agency and the PNP is said to been backed by the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro.

Kirk–Holden war

The Kirk–Holden War was a struggle against the Ku Klux Klan in the state of North Carolina in 1870. The Klan was using intimidation to prevent recently-freed slaves from exercising their right to vote. Republican Governor William W. Holden hired Colonel George Washington Kirk to handle the matter. He also suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and imposed martial law in Caswell and Alamance counties in response.

New Orleans massacre of 1866

The New Orleans Massacre of 1866 occurred on July 30, during a violent conflict as white Democrats, including police and firemen, attacked Republicans, most of them black, parading outside the Mechanics Institute in New Orleans. It was the site of a reconvened Louisiana Constitutional Convention. The Republicans in Louisiana had called for the Convention, as they were angered by the legislature's enactment of the Black Codes and its refusal to give black men the vote. Democrats considered the reconvened convention to be illegal and were suspicious of Republican attempts to increase their political power in the state. The massacre "stemmed from deeply rooted political, social, and economic causes," and took place in part because of the battle "between two opposing factions for power and office." There were a total of 150 black casualties, including 44 killed. In addition, three white Republicans were killed, as was one white protester.During much of the American Civil War, New Orleans had been occupied and under martial law imposed by the Union. On May 12, 1866, Mayor John T. Monroe was reinstated as acting mayor, the position he held before the war. Judge R. K. Howell was elected as chairman of the convention, with the goal of increasing participation by voters likely to vote Republican.The massacre expressed conflicts deeply rooted within the social structure of Louisiana. It was a continuation of the war: more than half of the whites were Confederate veterans, and nearly half of the blacks were veterans of the Union army. The national reaction of outrage at the Memphis riots of 1866 and this riot nearly three months later led to Republicans gaining a majority in the United States House of Representatives and the Senate in the 1866 election. The riots catalyzed support for the Fourteenth Amendment, extending suffrage and full citizenship to freedmen, and the Reconstruction Act, to establish military districts for the national government to oversee areas of the South and work to change their social arrangements.

Opelousas massacre

The Opelousas massacre occurred on September 28, 1868 in Opelousas, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, United States. Beginning with the execution of 27 black prisoners, whites conducted widespread attacks of African Americans in the vicinity, and are believed to have killed up to 200-300. At the time, whites referred to events as the Opelousas Riot, as if caused by an outbreak of violence by blacks, and a minority of historians continue to refer to it by this name.

Pulaski riot

The Pulaski riot was a race riot that occurred in Pulaski, Tennessee, on January 7, 1868. While the riot appeared to be based in a trade dispute of the previous summer between Calvin Lamberth, a white man, and Calvin Carter, an African American, it was provoked when Lamberth shot a friend of Carter's over rumored comments about the former's black mistress.

After Lamberth shot Carter's friend, Whitlock Fields, numerous other armed whites came from nearby houses and attacked Carter and seven other black men at a nearby black-owned grocery store. Although the constable arranged a ceasefire, after the freedmen gathered at the door of the store, some eighteen whites rushed and shot at them at close range. They murdered one man, mortally wounded another, and injured four. No white was injured or prosecuted. The incident was investigated by the Freedmen's Bureau office of Nashville, Tennessee.

South Carolina civil disturbances of 1876

The South Carolina civil disturbances of 1876 were a series of race riots and civil unrest related to the Democratic Party's political campaign to take back control from Republicans of the state legislature and governor's office through their paramilitary Red Shirts division. Part of their plan was to disrupt Republican political activity and suppress black voting, particularly in counties where populations of whites and blacks were close to equal. Former Confederate general Martin W. Gary's "Plan of the Campaign of 1876" gives the details of planned actions to accomplish this.The following incidents took place mostly in counties where blacks were in the majority, but not significantly. The Upstate counties had majorities of whites and racial disturbances were uncommon, whereas the Lowcountry counties had an overwhelming black population. White militias were not so active there. In the Midlands, Edgefield District and Charleston area, Democrats exerted considerable effort to step up the Democratic vote and suppress black Republican voting by intimidation and violence, including outright murder and assassination of a black state representative.

In 1875 Charleston had a population that was 57% black, with a Charleston County population that was 73% black. Having had a tradition of a well-established class of free people of color in the city, African Americans organized to defend themselves during this volatile period.By suppressing the black majority in Edgefield County and election fraud (2,000 more votes were counted than the total number of registered voters in the county), the Democrats elected Wade Hampton III as the Democratic candidate by a narrow margin of slightly more than 1100 votes statewide. They also carried the state legislature.

Southern bread riots

The Southern bread riots were events of civil unrest in the Confederacy during the American Civil War, perpetrated mostly by women in March and April 1863. During these riots, which occurred in cities throughout the South, women and men violently invaded and looted various shops and stores.

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Tragic Week (Catalonia)

Tragic Week (in Catalan la Setmana Tràgica, in Spanish la Semana Trágica) (25 July – 2 August 1909) is the name used for a series of violent confrontations between the Spanish army and members of the working classes of Barcelona and other cities of Catalonia (Spain), assisted by anarchists, socialists and republicans, during the last week of July 1909.

It was caused by the calling-up of reserve troops by Premier Antonio Maura to be sent as reinforcements when Spain renewed military-colonial activity in Morocco on 9 July, in what is known as the Second Rif War. Many of these reservists were the only breadwinners for their families, while the wealthy were able to hire substitutes.

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