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In this lesson you will learn to describe the nature and causes of disaffection and social unrest; define the potential for social unrest in the United States; identify the types of confrontations; define crowd behavioral and psychological influences; identify patterns of disorder.


ACTION: Learn the behavioral aspects of social unrest: nature and causes; types of confrontations.
CONDITION: You will have this subcourse, paper and pencil.

To demonstrate competency of this task you must achieve a minimum score of 70 percent on the subcourse examination.


The material contained in this lesson was derived from the following publication: FM 19-15.


Civil disturbances may be riots, violent uprisings, or unlawful actions. As a member of the military forces, you may be ordered under certain conditions to help restore law and order and protect property. The National Guard is likely to face most of the violence during demonstrations. To gain successful control of a civil disturbance, it will require an understanding of the reason for social unrest and basic human behavior patterns. Planning control strategy depends on knowing why people behave as they do. Group behavior sets the scene for civil disturbances. However, it is individual behavior which in the end is the most important.

A study of past civil disorders shows that civil disturbances will follow definite stages. Understanding individual attitudes and behavior factors which influence these basic stages will be helpful in stopping civil disturbances.


Behind all disturbances is a cause which can be traced to one or more existing problems in a particular community. Causes change with the times. For example, economic and nuclear control are the main new issues for the 80's. It matters little whether the problem is real or imagined. The impact is the same. Problems can be divided into two basic categories: political-ideological and socioeconomic.

1. Political-ideological. Protests and demonstrations can be traced to the political spectrum. (See Figure 1-1.) The people not represented in government are from the left or right of the spectrum. To gain representation, such groups must bring about sympathy and support for their cause. Political-ideological causes are associated with frustration or when a certain group feels threatened by changes in society.

Leftist anti-war groups who actively supported North Vietnam during the war have reorganized. New issues have been adopted. Many of the leaders of these groups are now the leaders of groups supporting economic and antinuclear issues.

2. Socioeconomic. These causes may include substandard living conditions, i.e., housing, health care, and education. Unemployment, poverty, poor educational facilities, police brutality, and under representation in the political arena, all provide for disorder.


1. Disaffection. Disaffection is the attitude or state of mind of persons who are concerned about, alienated from, or dissatisfied with the operation of socioeconomic and political systems. This disaffection produces a desire to change the system itself. These individuals believe in and have faith in the present form of government and the present values of American society. Their desire may be for some small or major change of a wrong that they believe exists within the social structure. Still having faith in society, they believe that their concerns can be achieved through the proper channels or through lawful protest activities. These people still support the system, i.e., the establishment, democracy, and capitalism. Since their attitudes develop over a number of years, it is thought to be a changing process.

2. Radicalism. Some elements of our society feel that reform will only take place as a result of hostile action, forcing society to change the system. Within this radical group, there are those who do not want to change the system, but want to destroy the system completely in order to build a new system. Radicalism can be explained as a extreme extension of disaffection. Radicalism and disaffection are useful tools, or concepts, to help us understand the difficult social problems which are happening within our society.


1. Collective Behavior.

Collective behavior refers to the actions of a group of persons in situations where normal standards of conduct may not be practiced. The crowd is the most common form of collective behavior.

2. A crowd.

A crowd is defined as a large number of persons gathered temporarily together. There are many types of crowds which are based on their reasons for getting together.

a. Causal crowds. This type has no common bond other than the immediate reason for being present. An example would be a football game or a symphony orchestra performance where the only bond is enjoyment.

b. Planned crowds. Planned crowds are likely to be more organized. A leader will call a meeting to establish a goal in which members have a common interest.

Normally, when a crowd is orderly, not violating any laws and not causing a threat to life or property it does not represent a problem. Crowds, however, are subject to control by skillful troublemakers and therefore capable of violence and disregard for law and order.

3. Mob. The extreme crowd behavior is a mob. A mob is a crowd whose members have lost their concern for law and authority and follow their leaders into unlawful and disruptive acts.


Crowds tend to change the normal behavior pattern of a person which is usually different when that person is alone. Both psychological and outside conditions will influence this type of behavior.

1. Anonymity. As an individual in a crowd, one loses his own identity and assumes the faceless role of the crowd. He is protected from recognition by the number of people around him. This loss of identity gives a person the feeling that he will not be recognized and cannot be blamed or punished for his actions, since he feels moral responsibility has been shifted from him to the crowd.

2. Impersonality. Group behavior is impersonal. Each member of a certain group is considered to be as good or as bad as other members of the same race, ethnic, or interest group. In this regard, individual acts of violence on the part of a single person in a crowd may well cause an unnecessary act by a group.

3. Suggestibility. In group situations, certain persons will likely look to others to justify their actions, especially if a suggestion is made by a person(s) who speaks with authority. These suggestions are often carried out without thinking about the end result. Only a strong willed person can resist the need to go along with the group.

4. Emotional Contagion. The emotional build-up which members give to one another is a dynamic feature of group behavior. A continuation of stimulation occurs. One excited person stimulates excitement in another person, who in turn, stimulates a third person, who may in turn stimulate the first person to a higher degree of excitement. Individual self-discipline tends to be low; the release of inner feelings is encouraged and ordinary behavior is not permitted or encouraged by elders and stronger members of the crowd. Emotional contagion provides the crowd with psychological unity. This unity is based on common emotional responses, but it may be the only momentum a crowd needs to turn into a mob.

5. Released from Repressed Emotions. The prejudices and unsatisfied desires of a person, which are normally controlled, are readily released in a mob. This temporary release is a powerful motive for a person to participate in a crowd because it gives him an opportunity to do things which he has always wanted to do but would not try to do alone.


1. Rumors. Nothing can increase the tempo of disorder or change an orderly demonstration into violence more than the circulation of an irritating rumor.

a. Responsible agencies must recognize the importance of an information center to counter the rise of tension inside and outside the riot area. Such an operation can drive away the fears of people asking about the welfare of relatives and friends in the disorder area and also counter false and irritating rumors.

b. Rumor control centers can function as a source of information for the intelligence-gathering units.

2. Publicity. Through the use of extensive publicity, leaders can influence crowds to gather at a location decided upon in advance, to protest their grievances. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and specially prepared bills are widely used means of publicizing a cause.

3. Forceful Speech. A forceful speech is probably the most effective method of raising the pitch of a mob to the point where it can be led to violence. A well-trained speaker using strong words and phrases, can take advantage of local prejudices, changing facts, and using body movements to influence persons to do things they would not normally do.

4. Appearance of Provocative Personality or Symbol. The appearance of a personality who is well-known for his dislike of the system can be used to increase the strong feelings of the situation. This is usually done as a climax of a speech in order to totally control the emotions of a crowd.

5. Control Force Response. Members of the control forces who have contempt for certain parts of society must be careful not to express such contempt in certain situations, since it could stimulate mob reaction and cause further violence.


Knowledge of the five stages through which a civil disturbance may evolve will prove very helpful in managing a crisis. Proper identification of the stage will greatly increase the control force's ability to select and perform appropriate activities in order to control the situation. The evolutionary stages are discussed below:

1. Basic Problems. As discussed earlier, all civil disorders can be traced to real or imagined problems within a community. The problems may be socioeconomic or political in nature but are potentially threatening when they become emotional community issues.

2. Rise to Tension. Problems that have not been solved can cause a great rise in tension. Disorder can happen spontaneously after a build-up of frustration and tension. Violence is usually sparked by a routine incident which is not the true cause of the disorder, such as a police officer making an arrest of a criminal suspect in an area where tension has built up over police brutality. Outside troublemakers often take advantage of such opportunities and build the momentum of the disorder, thus you have disaffection and radicalism behind a disorder.

3. High-Tension Occurrences/Confrontation. A confrontation is likely to occur in a high tension situation between the community and the direct or indirect object of their anger. In high-tension situations, the police have perhaps the most direct impact. Local departments must be sensitive to rise in tensions and the high-tension environment. If tension exists in a community, especially between residents and the police, a routine event can be the beginning of a disturbance. In such instances, the crucial factor is how the high-tension situation is handled by the individual police officer and the decisions he makes. The actions he takes may be the deciding factor as to whether the situation will increase into the initial violence stage.

4. Initial Violence. The next stage involves the commission of an initial act of violence on the part of those who have gathered as a result of the high-tension happening. The violence will certainly be the result of either psychological factors, outside factors, or radicalism. The violence will be directed against personnel or property which are the direct or indirect objects of frustration. The initial violence may be the act of one or several persons.

5. Spread of Violence. The final stage of disorder involves the spread of violence over a wide area, i.e., violence moves beyond the scene of the initial high-tension happening and includes more and more people as it spreads. As previously discussed, rumors, publicity, strong speeches, and radical troublemakers may cause the disorder to spread. At this point, the type of violence will change and include:

a. Vandalism. The act of maliciously destroying property.

b. Looting. Stealing of property in the middle of a disorder. Looting at first was done with a purpose in mind, but it quickly became without purpose and spread to any type of establishment.

c. Arson. Purposely fire bombing buildings or other property. Fire service operations are sometimes held back by crowds thus allowing the fire to spread.

d. Sniping. Gunfire and sniping cause a great deal of confusion among the control forces as well as the crowd. Innocent bystanders may be injured and control force operations are slowed down. Return of gunfire by control forces may greatly increase existing tension, also.

e. Bombing. Purposely using explosive devices against buildings or other property, to include the control force.


There are two civil disturbance environments of interest to military forces. They are domestic and foreign.

1. Domestic Areas of Conflict.

Domestic areas of conflict include those areas most likely to become the main point for disturbances.

a. Urban areas. Community problems in low socioeconomic areas and the vast ethnic make-up of various residents.

b. Nuclear power plants. Three Mile Island and Diablo Canyon.

c. Federal Installations. Seneca Army Depot and Rock Island Arsenal.

d. Refugee camps. Fort Chaffee, Arkansas and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin--Cuban, Haitian, and Vietnam Boat People. We must also be careful to not only relate the word "refugee" to person(s) from other countries. Natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornados can result in American citizen's becoming "refugees."

e. Other government facilities.

2. Overseas Areas of Conflict.

Foreign areas of conflict present special legal consideration for control forces. Military forces should seek to avoid becoming involved in civil disturbances in foreign countries due to the possible international political consequences. Still, there are instances where US military forces will provide control forces to protect US property and items vital to national interest. Commanders should consult their Staff Judge Advocate for explanations of Status of Forces Agreements in order to fully understand the extent US control forces may become involved in foreign civil disorder. Host nation authorities should be used to confront demonstrators wherever possible. Lack of host nation support may make the situation impossible for US forces to control. A graphic example is the Iranian capture of the US Embassy in Iran. Areas of concern include:

a. DOD installations.

b. US consulates.

c. US embassies.


Civil disturbances, in the past, have been directly identified with illegal activities. However, it is also used to include a broad range of confrontations which varies from a peaceful assembly in a public place to violent destructive attacks on people and property. Many demonstrations are legal with legitimate permits authorizing assembly. Regardless of the purpose of a group the possibility always exists for such a group to become disorderly. Responsible agencies must understand the characteristics of each type of confrontation in order to plan, train, and conduct successful control force operations. The types of confrontations include:

1. Mass Demonstrations. Mass demonstrations involve hundreds or thousands of people. The vast majority are simply concerned citizens who are practicing their individual rights to protest, and not necessarily inclined towards violence. They are publicly displaying concern about some social, political, economic or other conditions.

2. Idealistic Protests. This type confrontation involves dedicated participants who have very strong feelings about a cause and are not easily discouraged by the threat of arrest or use of force. These individuals are prone to acts of violence such as sniping and bombings.

3. Terrorism. Terrorism involves extremely violent attacks on society seeking to overturn existing institutions, at any price.


1. Civil Disorder Similarities.

Studies of civil disorder have revealed some important similarities. Most disturbances have increased from minor incidents, i.e., police issuing a traffic ticket in lower income areas, such as Watts. A minor disturbance can spread quickly and gain in strength and force. One must always be aware that any crowd, regardless of its purpose, is a potentially violent group. Violent civil disturbances can be described as arson, rock throwing, and looting.

2. Examples of Civil Disturbances.

a. In Shay's Rebellion 1786, angry Massachusetts farmers protested the state's decision to foreclose on mortgages and give prison sentences to debtors. The militia was called in to prevent the riots.

b. In 1892, union members fought with plant guards in Homestead, Pennsylvania, The Carnegie Steel Plant shut down rather than meet union demands, the Pennsylvania governor ordered the National Guard to break up the rioters.

c. In Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957, the State National Guard was federalized to make sure that court ordered school desegregation was carried out in the midst of an angry mob.

d. In April, 1968, federal troops were employed in Washington D.C. after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to control mob action.

e. At Kent State University, May 1970, National Guard troops were used to control student demonstrations in protest of President Nixon's decision to increase the Vietnam War by extending operations into Cambodia. Four students were killed by National Guard troops.

f. At Seneca Army Depot, NY in 1983, Federal troops were sent to the depot to increase security in the wake of nuclear arms protests by a combination of peace groups. This resulted in a nonviolent demonstration involving civil disobedience where the demonstrators trespassed on restricted federal property.

g. In April 1993 at Los Angeles, CA, federal troops were used to help restore "law and order" after riots erupted due to "Not-Guilty" verdicts in the trial of four policemen accused of beating Rodney King.


Practice Exercise


Page last modified: 27-04-2005 07:37:19 Zulu