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A riot is, in the most general sense, a refusal to accept authority. It may therefore be seen as encompassing a range of behaviours from civil disobedience to a violent organized attempt to destroy established authority. It is often used in reference to armed resistance against an established government, but can also refer to mass nonviolent resistance movements. Those who participate in riots are known as "rebels".
Throughout history many different groups that opposed powers were called rebels. In the U.S, the term was used for the Continentals by the British in the Revolutionary War and the Confederacy by the Union in the American Civil War. It also includes members of paramilitary forces who take up arms against an established government.
Not all riots per se are attempts to undermine authority. For example, the Boxer Riot was an uprising against Western commercial and political influence in China during the final years of the 19th century, therefore being more of a Chinese cultural response to foreign influence rather than an uprising against the Imperial government at the time. Another example is the Jacobite Risings which attempted to restore the deposed Stuart kings to the thrones of England and Scotland were called the Jacobite Riots by the (then new) government.
During the Twentieth Century, the term riot carried an expectation of futility: a revolution, by definition, succeeded in establishing a viable government; while a riot, by definition, failed to do so. Perhaps this was due to the history of the American Civil War, which did create a new government, the Confederacy, for the southern part of the United States, but that new government failed to sustain itself after losing a long and bloody war, due both to economic weakness and to internal contradictions.
Types of riot
A violent riot is sometimes referred to as an insurgency while a larger one may escalate into a civil war. There are a number of terms that fall under the umbrella of "rebel", though they range from those with positive connotations to those that are considered pejorative. Examples, in rough order from sympathetic to pejorative, are:
- "Nonviolent resistance" or "civil disobedience"
- "Resistance" carried out by freedom fighters, often to an occupying invader
- "Revolution" by revolutionaries, often meant to indicate a desired change in the form of government and/or economic system
- "Uprising" by militants
- "Insurgency" or "insurrection" by insurgents
- "Revolt"- A localized riot, whose leaders, while wanting some form of change, lack the foresight that a revolution's leaders have. While they might overpower the local forces, they more often then not fail to defeat a major army, if they do it, tends to evolve into a full scale revolution.[unverified]
- "Mutiny" by mutineers, normally of military or security forces to commanders
- "Subversion" by subversives
- Civil disobedience
- Nonviolent resistance
- Slave riots
- List of revolutions and riots
- List of fictional riots