To be honest I haven't seen in the US a massive riots with burning cars, destroying McDonalds and flying Molotov cocktails like here:

Athens War Zone: Latest dramatic footage of Syntagma square riots http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAuDLJ8q7C4

Athens Anarchist Riots http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyD63XUIVyg

All I have seen was soemthing like: "People united, will never be defeated!" repeaetd by people who hold each other hands. And maybe some young anarchists throwing sporadicaly something at police officers. But that's pretty much it.

Why is that that in the EU every few months are some violent riots and in the US you rarely see any violent riots with burning cars and destroyed shops and street at all?

  • 4
    This is yet another trash trap bias question like "Do you still beat your partner/children?"
    – mootmoot
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 15:02
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    Am I correct in assuming you are European? Living in the USA, I see a lot more coverage of domestic violent protests or riots than I do European ones. Maybe it's a matter of programming/stories being selected to suit the interests of the viewers, or because they have more immediate relevance to the viewers. Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 16:07
  • It's not like the US doesn't have these things. The Milwaukee and Baltimore riots immediately come to mind. Berkeley got pretty violent, though there wasn't much police involvement. EDIT: And now I see the date on the question. These hadn't happened yet. Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 20:46
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    This question starts from an entirely false premise. I count nine incidents of violent unrest in the US in 2017 alone, and it's still September. By contrast, you cite only one example, and only from one country. Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 13:24
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    This question is feeling somewhat ironic, in 2020.
    – Brondahl
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 14:43

5 Answers 5


This isn't going to be a complete answer, but it's too long for a comment so I'll put it here.

There are some things to beware of when you are thinking about the differences between Europe and US here.

  1. The US has had plenty of riots. Rioters threw stones at Police in Anaheim in 2012. The Rodney King riots shut down whole neighborhoods in 1992. Occupy Wall Street protesters threw rocks and set fires in 2011. And that's just a few out of a long list.
  2. Beware of treating Europe as a homogeneous cultural unit. The well-publicised riots have mostly been in Greece, Spain and Turkey, with far fewer in the rest of Europe. The reasons in Greece and Spain are very different from the reasons in Turkey, and the reasons why there are fewer riots in France, Denmark or Austria will be different again.
  3. Right now Europe is suffering from huge financial deprivations, especially (surprise) in Greece and Spain. These changes are much harder than any suffered in the US, and are largely perceived by the population as being imposed on them through no fault of their own, and with no ability to change them. Turkey has other entirely different issues with its government.
  4. If you had asked this question in the late sixties, you might have asked why the US was having so much violent unrest compared with the rest of the world, and there would be a specific reason for it.
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    Some of your points like 1992 LA riots are valid, I agree. But "Anaheim riots ;) (500 protesters 7 hours duration) vs Spain protests (8 millions up to date from 2011, protests are almost every week or two for almost 2 years) From wiki on February 15 2003 Anti War protest "Some of the largest protests took place in Europe. The protest in Rome involved around three million people, and is listed in the 2004 Guinness Book of World Records as the largest anti-war rally in history. Madrid hosted the second largest rally with more than 1½ million people protesting the invasion of Iraq;
    – Derfder
    Commented Jun 12, 2013 at 20:16
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    @Derfder You make good points about some additional protests. I meant that right now the protests are concentrated in Greece, Spain and Turkey. Ten years ago it was different. That's part of my point. These things change from decade to decade. Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 3:21
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    I'm not sure if Turkey should be considered "Europe".
    – SQB
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 14:04

My personal theory is that the riots are the consequence of the combination of welfare state and absence of cultural integration. The riots mostly happen in places which have immigrants and recent descendants of immigrants living in compact communities and usually those are not the "best" neighborhoods. Welfare state support allows them to live in these closed communities with relatively little integration with outside economy and thus without real integration in the wider society, while absence of the interest of the rest of the society in cultural integration - sometimes represented as multiculturalism and respect for different cultures, but it can be taken other way, e.g. "we don't care what you do there where you live, provided you don't go where we live" - makes these communities alienated from the wider society. This creates an impression that a) the source of the welfare is the society and the state (welfare, government-sponsored enterprises and programs, etc.) and b) the society, which is the source of all wealth, does not want those people to participate is fair distribution of such wealth. In other words, they are in the position of a poor relative, that would not be allowed to die of hunger, but also is not respected and is not regarded as somebody worthy of respect or consideration, and all his worries can be alleviated by giving him a little money.

Situation becomes even worse when second and third generation is raised in such conditions - they do not have any alternative cultural links to "old country" or community brought from pre-immigration times, and all they know from their birth is being treated as outsiders which need to be fed and need to sit quietly aside. Of course, while first-generation immigrants may be content with this, provided they got much better conditions than they had in the original country, the next generations have no such base for comparison, so for them current situation is not an improvement on anything, it's just bleak. Since they feel disconnected from the rest of the society, democratic ways of expressing their discontent appear either unavailable or inefficient. Thus their frustration spills into violence.

The situation may become even worse when the economy is on the downturn and the welfare support has to be decreased. Since many people rely on it for subsistence - as either main or supplemental income - their whole life, reducing it feels like further insult from the society - not only they do not want us to be part of it, they don't even allow us to subsist properly!

Given this theory, countries with bigger, more concentrated and less integrated immigrant populations would experience such events more frequently than countries with more integrative immigration policies and less widely-available welfare programs. I think it is possible to say that in the USA both factors are true compared to Europe - in the US it feels there always were more push for the immigrants to integrate, and the welfare system is relatively less generous and widespread, which also serves as a push to integrate more into the economy and thus in the general society.

Though of course not only immigrants would experience such problems - for example, in the USA some part of the African-American population seems to be in the same condition. The ill-fated "projects" social experiment seems to create similar challenges for its inhabitants, which leads to generally low quality of life, high crime, and yes - violence.

Of course, this is just a theory, since I am not a sociologist and I did not collect hard data to prove it, so I base it mostly on anecdotal evidence, press reports, some books and articles I've read, and other various "soft" evidence. So you are welcome to criticize it.

  • Thanks, I like your opinion. When I think about it now, it seems that it's like you said, at least this is a big factor.
    – Derfder
    Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 6:38
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    This is an interesting theory, but it would need to account for some additional facts. Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Germany and the US all have higher proportions of foreign-born than Greece. Canada has nearly double, but nothing like the protests that Greece and Spain have seen. Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 19:52
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    @DJClayworth Well, I do not claim all protests happen because of it and there are no other factors. First of all, it's not just foreign-born - it is specific mix of welfare and alienation. I think Cananda is more integrative in this regard, for example. As for Greece, I feel there the reasons are purely economical - a lot of people never paid taxes and got a lot of stuff from the govt, and now it came to an end. I think this theory better explains what happened, e.g., in France and Sweden than in Greece.
    – StasM
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 0:34
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    Anecdotally, I have greek cousins in Greece who come from relatively well off middle class families who are throwing rocks and Molotovs with the rest of them. I don't think this is the whole story Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 1:33
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    The last austerity protest I was involved with, was peaceful (Sep 2011, Thessaloniki). Until a small(ish) group of people spoiled the fun for everyone. Turns out they were "protesting" their favourite soccer team getting relegated to a lower division, and were using the main mass of people to hide after they've thrown whatever they've thrown at the (fortunately coolheaded) police. And unfortunately such incidents aren't uncommon. I've lived through almost every riot in Athens from 2008 to 2010 (some as a protester, most as a bypasser), and crap like that happened a lot.
    – yannis
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 16:48

Local Control of Police

In the United States, most policing (including most riot control) is performed by local governments. The police departments report to mayors or city councils who can expect to be forced out of office if they let riots get out of control. (This is because the scope of a typical city government is quite limited. Usually, even the schools are run by a local district that is separate from the city government. This means that crime (if it is noticeably increasing) and rioting (if it occurs) are major issues in city government elections.

In recent decades, several major American cities had problems with rioting. For example, New York City in the 1970s, Los Angeles in the early 1990s, and Seattle in 1999 and the early 2000s. In each of these cities, mayors and police chiefs were repeatedly forced out until each police department came up with a politically acceptable way to prevent riots. By the early 1990s, New York City and Los Angeles had learned how to do this.

Separation of Powers and Fixed Fall Elections

Most European countries have parliamentary systems. In many of these countries, if the majority party or coalition loses a "vote of confidence", it is traditional for the government to resign and/or early elections to be called. This means that if protesters sufficiently embarrass the government, they can (within a month or two) force a change of government.

In the United States, most executives are elected separately from the representatives. The elections are pre-scheduled, and it is rare for even an individual post to need to be filled via "special election". Furthermore, the executive and legislative branches of the government are often held by different parties. This reduces the ability of the government to act impulsively; trains politicians (and possibly protesters) to be more patient; and (most of the time) makes it difficult for protesters to force a change of government. Most elections are held in the fall, which does not have the most pleasant weather for rioting.

  • I think your second point is an interesting one, and it could play a role; but I don't think a large one. I feel like it requires a presumption of more through planning then many rioters put into place. Riots start out of frustration, often esculate mostly out of mob mentality and people using the anonymity of the mob to get away with what they didn't think they could before. Mobs are usually not preplaned political statements based off of intent to change elections. If anything I would think the slow turn around of change form US would lead to more frustration which could spawn riots.
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 16:58

The US has much looser laws on the use of weapons by the police than European countries. This is partly because the weapons are available to the rioters as well.

This means that rioting in the US is much more risky. Also, the US has much harsher punishments, for one, sentence terms usually arithmetically added to each other and may reach over 100 years. It is much more difficult to flee the US than from one European country to another (and the revolutions are often planned and prepared abroad).

Also, many revolutions and riots in Europe were directly planned and sponsored by the US — specifically, the revolutions in Ukraine, riots in Belarus, Russia, Turkey and possibly as well in France, although I am not sure — as an attempt to install a pro-US government or exercise pressure on the local government.

Conversely I know no country that would sponsor riots in the US.

  • 1
    Since when is USSR/Russia not a country? They've been sponsoring the left (especially anti-war left) ever since 1920s
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 15:49
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    @DVK I have no such data regarding the post-Soviet Russia.
    – Anixx
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 15:56
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    "Also many revolutions and riots in Europe were directly planned and sponsored by the US": citation needed. Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 14:51
  • I believe your first point could very well be true, riot police in the US are known to use harsh weapons early in a riot/mob. However, I strongly disagree with the later. The US has insitgated revolutions of small isolated countries, but not usually via riots and not usually first world or larger countries. I don't believe US is playing any role in recent riots in any major EU nation. Claiming US is doing so without proof but no country wants to do it to the US is funny in light of the trump/russia scandle in US right now, since Russia likey has (indirectly) spawned mobs/protests in US.
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 17:03

You do not see rioting in the US on the scale that occurs elsewhere in the world for two primary reasons:

  1. Police in the USA will shoot rioters if given any provocation.
  2. American media offers little support for protesters/rioters and little serious criticism of police conduct in suppressing the protests/riots.

Consider the rioting that occurred in Kiev in 2013-2014 during the Maidan protest. The mass media, both within Ukraine and internationally, provided the protesters with moral support and rationalized the behavior of the rioters, even promoting the narrative that attacks by the rioters on the police were heroic. The mass media would never support any protest in the USA in this manner, regardless of how justified that protest is. On the contrary, the rioters would be demonized as hoodlums and thugs, at the very least.

Likewise, if American police demands that protesters disperse are ignored and the police themselves attacked, American police will unquestionably respond with deadly force. There will be no hidden snipers or anything silly like that and the police will not hide that they are the ones applying the deadly force. It has been thoroughly ingrained in American culture that you do not attack or even threaten police if you wish to live. In fact, attacking a police officer is quite literally considered a form of suicide in America: Suicide by Cop

There are other factors limiting violent protest/rioting in the USA as well. Riots usually do not occur out of the blue. They are typically escalations from protests. Protests themselves likewise do not appear out of the blue and require significant investment of time and other resources to organize. Protests in the USA have traditionally been organized by labor unions, but union membership, and thus resources, have been in steep decline in America for decades, while at the same time unions have turned the focus of their efforts to effect change from organizing to lobbying. The result has been fewer and smaller protests in the USA, and with fewer protests there are fewer opportunities for those protests to escalate to riots.

While protests in western Europe are often also organized by labor organizations, there are also many that are organized and promoted by NGOs, particularly in former Soviet states. Some of these NGOs are directly funded and operated by the US State Department, such as USAID and NED. Others are funded and controlled by "humanitarian philanthropists" like George Soros and Pierre Omidyar. These "humanitarian" NGOs almost exclusively promote American cultural values and norms, and of course the US State Department controlled NGOs will only promote US interests. In other words, these NGOs function as tools of US foreign policy. As a consequence, it should not be surprising that these NGOs do not promote protests within the United States itself. Again, fewer protests to start with means fewer opportunities for them to escalate into riots.

We can even speculate further on the protests organized by NGOs, though. Since these protests are organized to further US foreign policy interests, provoking crises and thus destabilizing the governments of the target countries would obviously be the desired outcome of the protests. This is to say that the protests organized by "philanthropist" and US State Department NGOs are deliberately guided into provoking open conflict with the authorities (riots). Since much of the world's mass media is either directly controlled by US-based corporations or indirectly through American financing, investment, and advertising, the mass media patriotically does its part in the conflict by promoting the US State Department's preferred narrative, which is that the target country's authorities are responsible for all of the violence. This encourages violence from the protesters and demoralizes the authorities, and is the precise opposite of how violence at American protests is treated by the mass media.

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    The second two paragraphs sound a bit like a conspiracy theory or government propaganda to me. Do you have any credible sources for the claim that protests in East-Europe are organized indirectly by the US?
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 15:08
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    Your two bullet points are diametrically opposed to reality. Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 20:41

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