Inciting a Riot

Urging or instigating other persons to riot, but shall not be deemed to mean the mere oral or written (1) advocacy of ideas or (2) expression of belief, not involving advocacy of any act or acts of violence or assertion of the rightness of, or the right to commit, any such act or acts.” 18 USC

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In a riot, offenses occur rapidly enough to overwhelm the police. From the rioter’s viewpoint, there is safety in numbers. The point at which an unruly crowd becomes a riot, is when the police lose control. In the Los Angeles riot, the police actually pulled back from the trouble when it became obvious to everyone, including themselves, that there was nothing constructive they could do.

Police will often consider a protest that gets a little bit rowdy a “riot” and overcharge the offense as something more serious that what really occurred. These attempts to calm down or disperse the crowd will frequently have the opposite impact.

What is Inciting a Riot?

A riot is essentially thought of as mob mentality. A riot can occur as the direct result of many things, and can certainly be blamed on one individual. Noted historical psychological authority, Sigmund Freud viewed crowds as crazed, criminal, unanimous masses of anonymous individuals who had ceded psychological control of themselves to the group mind and whose behavior was being directly controlled by the mob.

The notion of mob psychology and riots, still lives on. But in general, riots, and race riots specifically, are incidents in which all those involved have a motive for participating. Everyone involved in rioting makes purposeful choices about their own behavior, but  they are sometimes coordinated by an individual or group of individuals, and those are the people who are usually charged with inciting a riot.

A typical inciting a riot charge is nowhere near as dramatic as it sounds. Being rowdy and angry within a group could be enough to get you arrested and accused of this criminal offense.

Engaging in a Riot

This is usually a lesser charge than inciting, but is merely “participating” with some number of people, typically 5 or more.

The language under one state law in North Dakota defines it as “by tumultuous and violent conduct creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons or substantially obstructs law enforcement or other government function.”

It is a low-level misdemeanor offense.