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Staged Populist Uprising

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"It is a known fact that almost all revolutions have been the work, not of the common people, but of the aristocracy, and especially of the decayed part of the aristocracy."
Vilfredo Pareto (who would dub this phenomenon "Circulation of Elites"), Manual of Political Economy (1906)

There is a revolution against the King/Emperor/President claiming to be for the people. But wait, who's this? It's the disgruntled nobleman/Evil Chancellor, and he's giving the leaders of the revolution money and weapons and rhetoric. Do you still think it's for the people?

Many of the more cynical writers see all revolutions this way; it doesn't really help that most countries that have had their governments overthrown ended up with more tyrannical regimes than their predecessors, and that many rebel groups throughout history have been dependent on outside help for supplies, leadership, and funding.

See AstroTurf and Agent Provocateur for common tactics in such revolts. Often results in The Revolution Will Not Be Villified.

Subtrope of The Coup. Compare and contrast with Not in This for Your Revolution, when the lower-ranking members of the revolution are only in it for selfish reasons, and Resistance as Planned, where the King/Emperor/President is bankrolling La Résistance directly. A Military Coup is when the armed forces (or elements of them) take down a regime, and may sometimes result as a response to the astroturfed revolution.


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  • In Code Geass, when the Black Knights discover that Zero is Lelouch vi Brittannia, exiled prince of The Empire that they are fighting, they come to the conclusion that he was just using them. They're actually wrong, but since he has a death wish at that point, he does not refute them.
    • The Black Knights overthrowing Lelouch is another layer of this trope. They claim it's to free them from Lelouch's control but they're actually working in cahoots with Schneizel who promised them independence.
  • In the second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the Big Bad's plan is an artificially created version of the eponymous spontaneous event from the first season, created by brainwashing a few people. His aim is to make refugees rebel, making it appear that they had a nuke and thus being able to blow them all up with one. The first season had a subversion; while there was never a "Laughing Man" (Aoi, the "original" says he just came across an email some guy sent), he came about because of Memetic Mutation and Gossip Evolution. Not some huge conspiracy (although a few did crop up to take advantage of it).
  • One Piece: In an effort to take over the kingdom of Alabasta, the organization Baroque Works uses the illegal substance Dance Powder to cause a drought and frames the king for doing so, sparking a rebellion.
  • In The Rising of the Shield Hero a supposed peasant uprising in Melromarc was quickly found to be reliant on brainwashed people being manipulated behind the scenes by Malty, the Church of Three Heroes, and Itsuki's former companions who were also working in cahoots with various nobles.

    Comic Books 
  • For The Inhumans, the fact that uprisings of the Alpha Primitives never seem to stick is because they're setups by Maximus to try and grab power.
  • In one of the later issues of Transmetropolitan, Fred Christ admits that he was paid to start the Transient secession movement and the ensuing clash with the police by the Smiler, who thought a minority riot would kill the Beast's approval ratings in The City.

    Fan Works 
  • Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters: Both Nerissa and Cedric had roles in starting and stirring up the rebellion for their own agendas.
  • Kage: This story gives details on how Nerissa was involved in Phobos' rise to power and the rebellion against him.
  • The Night Unfurls: Between chapters 23 to 26, Eostia has to contend with an uprising that publicly denounces Celestine as a false goddess, exhorts men to join the Black Dogs, and demands submission under the will of the self-proclaimed "King" Vault. The uprising is later revealed to be sponsored by Archbishop Grishom of The Church (the "fall guy"), House Mandeville, and their cronies.

  • The Dark Knight Rises features Bane passing off a foreign terrorist occupation of Gotham as Gothamites liberating their city from outsiders.
  • In the Star Wars prequel trilogy, corruption and dysfunction in the Republic prompts a Separatist movement that leads to about half of its member systems, particularly rimward ones, to attempt to secede and form their own government called the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Unfortunately, not only is the lion's share of the Seps' fighting power provided by the same megacorporations that are largely responsible for the Republic's dysfunction in the first place, but the Sith are secretly Running Both Sides as the culmination of a long-term plan to overthrow the Republic and destroy the Jedi Order: Darth Sidious is publicly Supreme Chancellor Sheev Palpatine, while his apprentice Darth Tyranus is publicly CIS head of state Count Dooku of Serenno.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four claims that all revolutions are just the middle class using the lower class as tools to supplant the former upper class. Or at least, an In-Universe book claims this.
    • It's implied that The Party is actually behind the counter-revolutionary group known as "the Brotherhood", having staged the uprising itself in order to weed out dissidents... dissidents that they themselves recruited and molded from otherwise-loyal citizens.
  • The Conan the Barbarian story "The Phoenix on the Sword" features just such an uprising. Of the "Rebel Four," only the poet Rinaldo has no ulterior motives for supporting the assassination plot against Conan, with his reason for hating Conan, according to Ascalante, being that "poets always hate those in power." All of them are being manipulated by Ascalante, a schemer who wants the throne of Aquilonia for himself.
  • Jerry Pournelle's Falkenberg's Legion novel Go Tell the Spartans. Senator Bronson of Earth wants to overthrow the leadership of the planet Sparta and take over. To accomplish this, he sends in supplies and advisers to organize Sparta's convict underclass into a rebel army. It backfires spectacularly: Not only does the "Helot" rebellion fail, but it also prompts Sparta to become The Empire.
  • In Night Watch, the rebellion against Lord Winder is actually being subtly masterminded by Madam Meserole, and revolutionaries like Reg Shoe don't really have anything to do with it. Most of the 'rebel' activity is actually neutral civilians building barricades to hide behind until the fighting stops, the leadership is just too oblivious to figure this out.
  • The "Vengeance" organization in the Star Wars: Hand of Thrawn duology is ostensibly a massive grassroots organization, with a huge membership scattered across multiple important worlds. In fact, it's all masterminded by about half a dozen Imperial Intelligence agents, which the heroes eventually catch on to.
  • The Set of Wax and Wayne are a criminal conspiracy run by aristocrats who try to seize power by emulating the revolutionaries of the previous trilogy. In addition to hiring out Soothers and Rioters in crowds, they also make the lives of the common people worse.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the second season of Altered Carbon Joshua Kemp's insurgency on Harlan's World turns out to be funded by Danica Harlan herself in order to drive up the price of stack alloy.
  • In one episode of Andromeda, Beka's ex-boyfriend incited an indigenous species to rebel against the human mining colony on their planet, the intent being that they would make him their king. Captain Hunt managed to convince one of his native henchmen of his true intentions.
  • In the Historical Drama/Korean Drama Emperor Wang Guhn, based on the Later Three Kingdoms period of Korean history, during the breakup of Silla (the former kingdom which later becomes Korea) Yang Gil sets up an uprising to overthrow the king and place himself in as king. But Gung-Ye, one of his generals, is very popular amongst the masses and they declare him emperor instead. (It also helps that Gung is the bastard son of a former emperor.)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Is implied that Pharazôn is preparing one by stoking of anti-elvish sentiment in Númenor, and he might be using Tamar as an Agent Provocateur among the citizens and stir up a mutiny against Queen Miriel to gain popularity for himself. They are seen talking to each other in the day Galadriel and Halbrand arrived in Numenor, and later, when Tamar is agitating the people against the queen, Pharazôn strategically makes his presence and calms down the spirits.
  • In Stargate SG-1 the Jaffa rebellion against the Goa'uld really took off only when they acquired a charismatic leader who encouraged his followers to throw their lives away for the cause, including suicide bombs. At the end of the episode Teal'c kills him in a duel for leadership and he turns out to be a minor Goa'uld in disguise, he was attempting to use the Jaffa to take over the Empire for himself.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Classic Traveller:
    • In the supplement 76 Patrons, two of the missions involve a rebel uprising in the country of Anisinta on the planet Porozlo. The PCs are hired by a group of business executives to either create a rebel force to overthrow the government or take over an existing rebel group for the same purpose. The executives intend to profit by making the government more friendly to business.
    • In the Third Imperium's Spinward Marches, the Ine Givar rebels are under the control of and supplied by the Imperium's enemy, the Zhodani Consulate.
      • Adventure 7 Broadsword. On the planet Garda-Vilis the Tanoose Freedom League was originally a home-grown rebellion against off-world control by the planet Vilis, but eventually came under the control of the Ine Givar rebels and switched to an anti-Imperial stance.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, Genestealer cults often do that, usually by Running Both Sides, to "soften up" a world for the upcoming Tyranid invasion.
    • Chaos cults also sometimes act in a similar manner; what on the outside appears as a popular uprising against Imperial tyranny can actually be a smokescreen for, say, a coven of psykers who are using the time to summon Daemons or soften the world up for a Chaos invasion force. In fact, Daemons are naturally drawn to the chaos and suffering caused by the civil war on the planet. Sometimes the cults have nothing to do with the uprising and just use the conflict as cover for their own activities, but once the Inquisition learns that Chaos is active on the planet, the uprising gets labelled as being staged by heretics even though the revolutionaries have nothing to do with the cults.

    Video Games 
  • The Medici family is on the receiving end of one of these in Assassin's Creed II, and in fact, the entire first third of the game is focused on preventing it from overthrowing the ruling families of Tuscany and Florence. It comes to a grinding halt when Ezio kills and lynches one of the conspiracy heads, then tracks his masters to a Roman Forum in Tuscany and slaughters them. The Pazzi family were the ringleaders, acting on the order of one of the series villains, the Borgia Family.
  • This is revealed to be the main crux of the Rapture Civil War in BioShock, with Atlas leading disgruntled renegades against Andrew Ryan and his ideals. Except that Atlas was really Frank Fontaine and said rebels were merely used as cannon fodder for his planned takeover of the city. And the player is his final key...
  • In Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, if you don't stop the nobles' conspiracy against you soon enough, then the peasant uprising turns out to have been orchestrated by them. Subverted if you do stop the conspiracy, as the peasants revolt on their own volition.
  • The Sangheili Blooding Years in Halo was initiated by ONI selling equipment to a Sangheili cult leader in order to destabilize Sanghelios. The result, the displacement and/or death of 4 billion lives and the formation of a new Covenant.
  • Roleplayed fairly often in Imperium Nova:
    • For example: On the Capricorn server following the recent formation of Satraps, the minor house Narcissus published a paper claiming that the new reforms would allow the Imperial Houses to treat planets as feudal fiefs (no duh), disband private shipping and security companies (already run by the Houses), and allow the 1% to run rampshod over the 99%. Ironically, that reform was intended to break up the stranglehold the major Houses had on the galaxy by giving each house one guaranteed seat on the senate.
  • About 1/5 of the way through Spec Ops: The Line you learn that the insurgents resisting The Damned 33rd are all being led by a CIA Ops Squad who apparently have the same mission as your squad: locate survivors within the city. Their aim in starting the rebellion is apparently to retake Dubai's water supply, which the 33rd are holding hostage to enforce marshal law upon the refugees. Their real plan, which you find out much too late, is to destroy said water supply, dooming the entire city do die of dehydration in order to conceal the 33rd's atrocities from the rest of the world.
  • A Republic storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic centers on an uprising on a prison planet. The rebels are the descendants of convicts and are quite angry that they are treated like prisoners even though they themselves have committed no crimes. However, you discover that the insurgents are manipulated by Imperial agents who want to use the uprising to destabilize the planet. When playing on the Imperial side you get to use the chaos to your advantage, although it turns out many of the rebel factions are perfectly willing to shoot at you as well as Republic forces.
  • In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the Empire tries much the same strategy as the above 1984 example, staging a revolution to draw out dissidents into the open. Unfortunately for them, The Mole becomes the mask and the fake revolution becomes a real one.
    Emperor Palpatine: You must be relentless, Lord Vader. If even a single rebel survives, this Rebellion that we unwittingly made... will be our undoing.
  • In Suikoden V, Queen Arsthat incinerated Lordlake with the Sun Rune after a failed uprising, executing Lord Rovere and leaving the once prosperous farmland scorched and barren. Later, it's revealed that Lord Rovere was framed — he was actually trying to prevent an uprising, but the Barows stoked the flames and staged a fake uprising, with Lord Barows stealing the Dawn Rune while the royal family was distracted.
  • Inverted in Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. The Vanguard is formed after the unification of the two worlds, as a way for the Sylvaranti to oppose and resist their status as second-class citizens to the Tethe-Allans, and their systematic oppression by the Church of Martel and the protagonist of the previous game, Lloyd Irving. Later, it is revealed that the travesties carried out by the "church" are actually being staged by the Vanguard as a way to generate grassroots support.
  • During a mission in Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, a peasant revolt erupts in the township of Tyr's Hand while the Alliance is still fighting the Horde. It's later revealed that it was started by spies from Alterac, whose king had been working with the Horde the whole time.

  • In Champion of Katara, "Clancy the Darned" started a war between Katara and Dogonia, claiming a populist uprising along with general chaos.
  • Dragon Mango features a rare heroic example. The underdwellers of Square One are overcrowded, stuck eating Recyke, and are deliberately being irradiated with chaos magic by the rulers of Square One so that they can use them as sacrifices to let the city be Powered by a Forsaken Child. As much as they would like to rebel, they are far too beaten down to offer any resistance. As such, sympathetic members of Square One's middle management spread false rumors of a brewing rebellion in an attempt to convince Square One's rulers to stop creating more radiation leaks. When that doesn't work, they quietly sponsor a real uprising.
  • The Knights of Jove conspirators in Girl Genius claim they are trying to reinstate the rightful Storm King for the sake of Europa. Really they're just a bunch of scheming nobles who resent Baron Wulfenbach (some of whom happen to think they'd personally make a great new Storm King). Furthermore they started their revolt by editing a recording of the heroine into saying that the Baron was the mysterious figure who devastated Europe 18 years ago and projected it over a city of mind-controlled people and commanded them to fight the Baron’s forces so it looked like a popular uprising.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Tarquin's former adventuring party are now working as the Evil Chancellors to several bordering city-states, with puppet rulers installed as figureheads. Any time one of these regimes gets unpopular enough, they allow a revolution to foment and topple the figurehead with help from their neighbouring "rivals", and they install a new puppet under a new name, but with the same Man Behind The Man(or, if people are too suspicious to buy that, two of the chancellors just swap places with each other). This setup has allowed them to hold positions of power over most of the continent for decades despite apparent political instability.
  • Schlock Mercenary: Earth's government suffers one of these, with as-yet-unidentified conspirators turning the entire police force of the planet's capital into brainwashed "revolutionaries". The conspirators were hoping to spark a crippling civil war rather than actually take over themselves. Interestingly, the main characters actually foiled the majority of this plan before they even found out about it by preventing an assassination. This assassination was supposed to raise public furor which the "revolution" would then capitalize on. The rest of the plan was already in motion, however, so they ended up with a faked revolution that was missing the event that was supposed to have started it.

    Web Original 
  • Referred to as "Rat-revolt" in Look to the West, short for Rattenfaenger Revolt, Rattenfaenger being the German name for the Pied Piper (i.e. the rebels are dancing to someone else's tune). Appropriately this is because one such revolt takes place in Germany, secretly influenced by the conservative Saxon government which can then take advantage of the chaos to expand their own power.

    Western Animation 
  • Maul's conquest of Mandalore in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The criminal syndicates he "recruited" attacked, making Duchess Satine's pacifist government look weak, and then his allies in the fundamentalist Mandalorian terrorist group Death Watch "apprehended" the criminal scum and ingratiated themselves with the public, enabling them to pull off a coup without resistance.

    New Media 
  • From Cellblock A of the Evil Overlord List:
    109. I will see to it that plucky young lads/lasses in strange clothes and with the accent of an outlander shall regularly climb some monument in the main square of my capital and denounce me, claim to know the secret of my power, rally the masses to rebellion, etc. That way, the citizens will be jaded in case the real thing ever comes along.