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Powderkeg Crowd
"This crowd was waiting uncertainly for news that it was going to become a riot."

Something is seriously wrong, and a crowd of people — usually common, lower-class, etc. — has gathered. They are discontented and angry, but not really whipped up. They don't really have a plan in mind, unless they are protesting something, in which case the overt purpose is usually Waving Signs Around.

This can last a long, long, long time, with no overt effect except some hostile looks, but eventually something will happen.

  1. Someone provokes them, possibly from more-or-less legitimate fear of how bad it could get. Particularly likely when a Blue Blood doesn't take them seriously. Then the mob really is whipped up. Lots of damage all around. Although most of the dead are likely to be in the crowd, it really does get that bad. (Torches and Pitchforks is not likely; the mob is not focused and will likely destroy whatever they get their hands on, which means they are often far more destructive than Torches and Pitchforks.) If the crowd has weapons, it may become a Blast Out or a Molotov Cocktail throw-fest.

  2. Or, conversely, someone can calm them, soothing them and sending them going. This can be Shaming the Mob, or it can be convincing them that things are being handled properly.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Wild Series, every time the manbeasts go into human settlements, the humans start getting suspicious and violent because they subliminally pick up the destructive power the manbeasts are capable of. This in turn makes the manbeasts lose their control and involuntarily react, escalating the situation.
  • It's not exactly easy to animate a riot scene. Unless of course, computers take away the drudgery. They pulled it off with Metropolis and one of the Animatrix shorts.

    Comic Books 

    Film 
  • Toward the end of Do the Right Thing, Mookie intentionally turns an Angry Mob into a full-blown riot by picking up a trash can and throwing it through a diner window (the owner having been very distantly connected to the death of one of his friends).
  • Also toward the end of Hot Rod, a crowd of people are following the protagonist through the streets, to the sound of 80's power rock music. Everything's great, people are singing, everyone's getting hyped up for The Big Jump. When, all of a sudden, someone throws a trashcan through a window. Riot police appear of nowhere, and eventually, it's a full-scale riot.
  • Carefully explained by the detective in V for Vendetta as the little girl with the broken glasses is shot, leading to the first type of result. Then the same thing is set up with the crowd at the houses of parliament.
  • This seems to be a common theme in Soylent Green, especially in the marketplace when masses of people (disgruntled over a shortage of Soylent Green) break out into a riot.
  • In the Book Of Eli post-apocalyptic world, this seems to happen in the town bar/pub on a regular basis.
  • Illustrated very well in the 2012 film version of Les Miserables. A crowd has gathered for the funeral of a popular military figure, General Lamarque. The atmosphere is charged, more so when a group of young revolutionaries start up an anthem and hijack the funeral cortege. Suddenly a soldier fires on a bystander. Uproar ensues.
  • In The Hunger Games, a crowd in District 11 is shown watching the Hunger Games. When Rue dies and Katniss salutes her, an angry man in the crowd starts attacking the guards, provoking a full scale riot.

    Literature 
  • Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust climaxes with a Hollywood movie premiere at which the crowd of star-gawkers gets more and more restless and agitated, and finally explodes into a full-scale riot after a young child actor gets stomped to death.
    • It's disturbing enough in the book, but John Schlesinger's movie version takes it to the level of full-on Nightmare Fuel.
  • The provocative case occurs off stage in Terry Pratchett's Night Watch and results in many deaths. The defused kind turns up when Vimes expends a great deal of effort ensuring that it doesn't happen at his post.
    • Another instance occurs in Guards! Guards! when an angry crowd surrounds Lady Sybil's dragon sanctuary; on this occasion Vimes manages to calm them down.
      • It should be noted that it's been repeatedly said that Ankh-Morpork exists in a perpetual state of "proto-mob".
    • In Unseen Academicals, the Shove is always a Powder Keg Crowd. Neatly defused by Nutt at the climax.
    • In Thud!, trolls and dwarfs. Even, alas, in the Watch. At one point, Vimes notices how rumor is spreading through a crowd of dwarfs, and thinks "This crowd was waiting uncertainly for news that it was going to become a riot".
  • In John Barnes' One for the Morning Glory, Prince Amadeus faces such a crowd and manages to persuade them that they had come to draw matters to his attention, and that he would deal with them.
  • In Stephen King's Wizard and Glass, Roland recounts his backstory where he lost his One True Love. He lost her due to a Powder Keg Crowd whipped into a killing frenzy by Rhea of the Coos. Said crowd literally burned Roland's love alive.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel Nightbringer, when a crowd is pressing in on the governor, a sergeant orders the Arbites to open fire, over his captain's orders, killing many, until the captain manages to override them. Later, a demonstration is deliberately fired on by men disguised as Arbites, and the resulting riot kills thousands and spreads destruction about the city.
  • In A Clash of Kings, King Joffrey and the other Lannisters are riding through a resentful crowd of starving peasants on their way back to the castle. Someone throws dung at Joffrey. Furious, Joffrey orders the Hound to cut his way through the crowd and retrieve the offender. This triggers a riot that spreads throughout the city.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Necropolis, Vervunhive Commissars attempt to stop refugees from going into sealed off areas. When throwing about "State of Emergency" doesn't work, they shoot several to scare them off. Not a good idea when the odds are six armed troopers facing several hundred unarmed refugees.
  • The main character in Invisible Man has a knack for manipulating these crowds towards what he hopes will be the best possible course of action. Ras, the resident Dark Messiah, just gets them to destroy things.
  • The Rifter: In Gisa, when the prisoners accused of witchcraft are due to be taken to the Payshmura temple by a troop of rashan’im soldiers, a huge crowd gathers in front of the prison gates, singing and shouting to the soldiers to go home. The guards at the gate don’t interfere. Even the soldiers hesitate, but the situation is hanging on a knife-edge between them leaving or starting a massacre, when The Cavalry arrives in the form of kahlirash’im warrior-priests who turn out to not agree with the Payshmura priests at all. The rashan’im turn tail.
  • In Stephen Hunt's The Court of the Air, when a crowd gathers about the castle, the figurehead/scapegoat king comes out on the balcony to let them throw fruit and rubbish at him, sating their desire to riot.
  • From the 1632 series:
    • At the end of 1633, one of these was gathering in Magdeburg after word of the death of Hans Richter reached the general public. Mike Stearns and company defuse the situation before it actually blows up, though.
    • Examined in 1635: The Cannon Law, where it is made blindingly obvious that the crowd is only there because somebody who thinks he's The Chessmaster paid them to do so. Several of them aren't even sure what they're gathering around angrily protesting, just that they're getting a nice bit of gold to stand in the square and yell incoherently.
    • In 1635: The Dreeson Incident, what was supposed to be a protest against vaccination at a Grantville hospital turns into a protest against autopsies (a much bigger religious issue at the time). When a policeman takes offense at the insults being thrown, he draws his gun and fires, killing a protester. The policeman is then killed by the furious crowd and a major riot erupts with multiple deaths on both sides.
  • Sword of Truth: The moment in Faith of the Fallen where a large crowd has gathered around the statue created by Richard, on their knees and weeping with pure joy, only for an official of the Imperial Order to force Richard to destroy it. This doesn't go down well.
  • The crowd in Lewis Carroll's 'Sylvie and Bruno. Who, among other things, shout "Less! Bread! More! Taxes!"
  • It is mentioned at some point in the Persian part of The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar that as a result of an economically disastrous recent war with Russia, all of Persia - and especially Tehran - has been teeming with all the right ingredients for such a powder keg. Needless to say, it turns out to be a Chekhov's Gun.
  • In Tamora Pierce's book Bloodhound the combination of rampant counterfeiting of silver, and a potential blight in a major grain crop turn the entire capital into this with a massive riot starting after a shop owner doubles the price for bread in the slum district.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "The Scarlet Citadel", reports of Conan the Barbarian's death stir up this, which erupts into violence, though Trocero manages to put it down, with violence.
  • Shadows of the Apt: In Blood of the Mantis, the news of the queen's death puts Szar into this, although the Wasps foolishly think they can suppress it.
    • Solarn appears to be a city of intrigue and politics, but with the arrival of the Wasps, violence erupts. Che thinks it's been a power keg all along.
  • Scaramouche: Andre-Louis constantly lights the powder keg crowds of the French Revolution.
  • P. G. Wodehouse's books had plenty of these. In the Jeeves and Wooster stories, Bertie would typically run for his life while Jeeves gave them some Verbal Judo.
  • In Jack Campbell's Lost Stars novel Tarnished Knight, the loss of the security forces brought about this. Drakon acts quickly to contain it, publicly reminding the population that they weren't out of the woods yet and people urging violence and destruction may be ISS agents, and setting guards on crucial locations.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel "For the Emperor", the regiment. It does erupt in a murderous riot, and coping with it puts him to the test. After he's dealt with that, he then has to deal with a much larger version of this when the regiment's assigned to a whole planet which is in this state thanks to the Tau's attempts to annex it (in their usual Bread and Circuses fashion). It quickly turns out that someone is trying to set off the civil war. It turns out to be a Genestealer cult trying to sew disorder before a Tyranid invasion.
  • The striking mill-workers in North and South, who angrily swarm up to employer John Thornton's house and very nearly start to riot.
  • Happens a couple of times in the Provost's Dog books by Tamora Pierce. In Terrier, Beka is deeply unsettled by an unnaturally quiet crowd that gathers to witness the evidence of a horrible crime, which breaks out into a riot not long after. In Bloodhound, a crowd of people angry over rising bread prices turns into a mob that breaks both of Tunstall's legs.

    New Media 

    Newspaper comics 

    Theatre 

    Video Games 
  • In the Game Boy Advance game Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars, Nadia (under Bolozof's orders) infiltrates a street protest and fires on the police mechs stationed there as crowd control, giving Bolozof's Acemos unit an excuse to move in and attack.
  • Halo 3: ODST has a crowd trying to get on a subway train that the corrupt police commissioner has commandeered. His men are shooting anyone that gets too close, and when it seems like he's about to accomplish what he's been trying to do for the entire audio story (rape the girl that the story centers around) her companion manages to get the crowd riled up enough to overwhelm the cops and break onto the train, ripping the guy to shreds. Literally.
  • In Suikoden V, the Prince finds out that Salum Barrows took advantage of one of these to steal the Dawn Rune
  • In Alpha Protocol, one of the Big Bad's plans is to produce one of these out of a pro-independence Taiwanese rally, aided by the assassination of the speaker. You can only stop one of the two plans, which will either lead to the death of one important politician or nationwide riots that kill hundreds. Chinese-Taiwanese relations hit rock bottom either way.
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, these crowds keep showing up: in the prologue, there's one waiting in Washington D.C. for the Senate hearing that Adam and Megan are heading to, and there was another one just outside the LIMB clinic in Detroit in the first act when Adam finally gets to the streets. A third crowd gathers outside Sarif Industries in the third act, and almost immediately explodes when the Illuminati leak "evidence" of terrifyingly unethical augmentation experimentation. Fully a quarter of Detroit is inaccessible as a result of the ongoing riot, and the rest of the area has massive police presence.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • In Tales of MU, one of these crowds caused the "demon riots" about 50 years previously, leveling the university.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons. The inhabitants of Springfield will do this at the drop of a hat. Lampshaded by Mayor Quimby in "Mayored to the Mob".
  • See The Venture Bros. episode "Tag Sale - You're It!"
    • Also happens in "Now Museum, Now You Don't", though everyone's discontented for different reasons.
    Dr. Venture: This is gonna be one of those things, isn't it?
    Brock: Uh-huh.
    Dr. Venture: I mean, you get a bunch of short-fused, costumed idiots together in one room like this, and what do you think's gonna happen? Any minute now, stuff's gonna start blowing up, guys'll be throwing each other at other guys.
    Brock: Yeah, probably.
    Dr. Venture: You know, when you're not the one in the middle of it all for once, it's actually totally, completely obvious.
    Brock: Welcome to my life.
  • Played for laughs in The Fairly OddParents, after a crowd celebrating a young Denzel Crocker's achievements has their memory of what he did wiped, leaving them confused as to why they are there. "Well, we're not celebrating anything... so we must be an angry mob!" Cue the Torches and Pitchforks directed at Crocker.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Bubble Buddy", a crowd of people become enraged at the eponymous bubble. Once they're set off, they tip over the the lifeguard stand and attempt to kill the lifeguard before focusing their rage on Bubble Buddy.
    • Bikini Bottom in general.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender in the 2nd part of The Boiling Rock.
    Chit Sang: HEY RIOT!
  • Recess. The students at Third Street Elementary are astonishingly easy to provoke.
  • According to The Boondocks, all it takes to turn a mildly disgruntled crowd - especially a Black crowd - into a full blown riot is someone throwing a chair. This starts off sounding like Riley's normal level of hyperbole, until he actually does so: the crowd stops, one guy yells "I'M MAD" and punches someone else at random, and it all instantly descends into an orgy of violence. This, despite the fact that it was Riley the crowd was angry at, and that the chair didn't even hit anyone.

    Real Life 
  • Famously the Romanian revolution against Nicolae Ceauşescu. In a time of great public unrest it probably wasn't the smartest idea to round up "supporters" to attend a rally to promote loyalty to the regime. A few minutes into the presidents speech, the crowd got fed up with his delusional talk and everything went downhill within minutes, forcing Ceauşescu to retreat inside the building. To make things worse, the whole event was broadcast live on TV. The next morning the military joined the protesters and three days later Ceauşescu was executed.
  • During 1848, there was a string of nationalist revolutions, revolutionary attempts and riots all across Europe. England avoided violence. Historians suggest this is because the English police weren't given firearms when they were sent to overlook protests.
  • The 1863 New York City draft riots. People were annoyed at the draft (which allowed the wealthy to buy their way out) and the Emancipation Proclamation (many whites not thinking that abolitionism was a cause to die for, and many of the working class being pro-slavery). What was the spark? A fireman was drafted. Three days later, the riot ended. The total dead is still debated, with estimates ranging from 120 to 2,000.
  • On a similar note, the two Arab revolutions in 2011 that fully succeeded—Egypt and Tunisia—were ones in which the regime fired upon and otherwise brutalized the protesters (who were almost entirely if not entirely peaceful). Not for nothing did one Egyptian journalist write an article titled "Thank you for shooting at us!" The three protest movements that kind of just fizzled out—Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan—were the ones where the police did not fire into the crowd; the Moroccan police were specifically given strict orders to give the protesters a wide berth and not to fire.
    • Most analysts agree that the decision to fire on peaceful, unarmed civilians attracted sympathy for the protesters that would not otherwise have existed, which in turn led to increased turnout at the protests. This is borne out by the results in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, where the protest movement grew each time it was reported the police or army had fired upon civilians; this led Syria and Yemen into a state of vague turmoil, and led the Libyans to take up arms. The only way (it seems) for a strategy of brutal violence to work is if it is done whole-hog and very quickly; the Bahraini government managed to crush the protest movement, but only because hardliners did not hesitate to use the military to break up the sit-in at Pearl Roundabout and then call in Saudi and Emirati troops to quell the uprising once and for all.
    • Also, a government which won't fire on its citizens is a good candidate for genuine reform, while a regime which kills its own people kind of needs overthrowing.
    • Though this was, notoriously, inverted by the Tiananmen Square protests in China; twenty years later, there has still been no reform worth speaking of, let alone anything like overthrow.
  • The 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles.
  • The 1967 Detroit riots, which the city never fully recovered from, and the riots in Newark that same summer.
  • In Indianapolis, Bobby Kennedy defused such a situation the day Martin Luther King Jr. was shot: there was no riot.
    • The day after MLK Jr. was shot James Brown performed at the Boston Garden. Mayor Kevin White arranged to have the concert broadcast on local public television, and there was no rioting in Boston. Brown was thus given credit for saving Boston from burning.
    • In Chicago, the same day, the situation was not defused and rioting broke out. Three days later it was finally over, with 11 dead, over 500 injured and 3,000 arrested. Over 200 buildings were destroyed and nearly 1,000 were left homeless by fires.
  • The 1981 Brixton Riots in London.
  • The 1992 LA Riots. There was large amounts of tension even before the officers involved in the Rodney King incident were acquitted (due to an Asian Store-Owner who shot a black girl that she thought was shoplifting a $2 bottle of orange juice, being given only 5 years probation), as well as the rampant poverty in the area. The officers' acquittal was just the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak.
    • There were Powder Keg Crowds in many major US cities leading up the Rodney King verdict, and there was some rioting in all of them. The most violent aside from L.A. were across the South, from Dallas to Atlanta.
  • The riots in France in 2005.
  • To a certain degree, the 2005 Cronulla riots in Sydney.
  • The anti-austerity riots throughout Europe in 2011, most notably in Greece.
  • During Mao's Cultural Revolution in China, people were instructed to hunt down anyone suspected of being an "enemy of the people." Many of the victims were teachers, artist, doctors, religious followers. Those who were caught by Mao's Red Guard were dragged into the streets and publicly vilified by a jeering crowd. This was mandatory, and anyone not attending to these were considered enemies themselves.
  • The infamous French St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. It was intended (ordered by the king Charles IX of France after long pressures from his mother and her counsellors) to be the mere murder of the French calvinist leaders, who were then gathered in Paris because of the wedding of their chief (the future king Henry IV) with Charles IX sister. This elimination quickly went out of control and violent catholic mobs started to kill Parisian calvinists anywhere. This slaughter extended to the whole country the following days.
  • The Nica riots during the time of the Byzantines started off because of a chariot race. Emperor Justinian was actually planning to flee the city until Empress Theodora persuaded him to stay. Justinian did so and called out the army, and the riots ended several thousand dead people later.

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