People tend to think that riots happen when a group becomes passionately involved with their cause when, in fact, riots happen because we as a species seem to enjoy rioting. I mean, why the hell not? That's the only explanation for the following mundane crap that provoked giant outbursts of violence from a large group of people.
A Top Hat
Fashion can be shocking. Someone walking down the street with, say, glittery MC Hammer pants on their head would probably get attention (except in New York). People might gasp, or stare, or point at the novel fashion item. What people won't do, however, is cry and shriek like they just saw Godzilla eating schoolchildren. But that's exactly what happened on January 15th, 1797.
John Hetherington was a haberdasher, which is an old-timey way of saying he sold clothes.
On this extraordinary occasion, he decided to don a new piece of fashion: a silk top hat. Taking a look at himself, Hetherington apparently thought he looked good enough to go out (which in 1797 just meant he didn't completely reek of feces.) So Hetherington took a stroll down a popular road with his top hat on, Monopoly-style. This is when hell broke loose in the most confusing manner possible.
People were sent into fits by the sight of the top hat. According to witness accounts, women fainted, children screamed and people got injured. An eyewitness also mentions that "dogs yelped," which is odd because modern dogs are not particularly concerned about high fashion.
Soon, police were called in to disperse the unruly crowd which had gathered to stare at a man's hat. Cops were so affronted by the shocking chapeau that they arrested Hetherington under the charge of breaching the peace.
Ah, to live in a time when "hat-wearing" was considered a dangerous crime.
Known as "the stuff boredom is made of," pretty much the only time opera music starts a modern riot is when someone attempts to play it at the office -- which is why it’s so utterly fascinating that, in 1830, an opera started the Belgian Revolution.
The Belgian Revolution, which definitely ranks in the all-time top 200 national revolutions, needed a spark to get going. Tensions were high, and scuffles frequently broke out. But it wasn't until the Brussels opera house started rioting that the nation said, "Screw The Man" and started chucking bricks through windows.
What was so shocking about "La muette de Portici," the opera that started a war? Well, according to a bunch of dusty boring books we just read, "La muette de Portici" introduced mimes to the opera stage.
Being Served Sandwiches
In prison, riots aren't always about the issue at hand. Sometimes, a small event can be the proverbial straw which breaks the back of intense, unbridled inmate rage. Sometimes, prisoners riot just because they're a bunch of crazy criminals, or even because they just want someone to notice their new orange jumpsuit. So, it's not out-of-the-question that you might call all of the inmates in for lunch, serve them sandwiches and immediately watch the lunch trays fly like ninja stars.
In 2002, a London prison switched from hot meals at lunch to sandwiches.
Angry and hungry, prisoners overpowered a guard and seized his keys. They then proceeded to do millions of dollars worth of damage. The prison was under inmate control for eight solid hours, no word on how many hot delivery food orders were placed during this span.
When news of the takeover spread, people were shocked, at first, that anyone could get this worked up over British food. 168 riot officers were shipped in to quell the violence, which must have been super-fun overtime work for them.
A Bad Call at a Cricket Match
In 1879 England was plumb full of conviction that the world was lit each morning by their nation's citizens collectively sh*tting rainbows. Which is why the cheeky Brits saw nothing wrong with sending a team to Sydney to play a friendly cricket match. Why would there be a problem with hanging out in a country where you've been sending all of your criminals to rot?
The match got off to a shaky beginning. One of the refs, a British guy, started making calls that really pissed off the Aussie team. The Aussie team stopped playing cricket (whatever that involves) and asked for the ref to be removed. The English team declined. This angered the illegal gamblers in the audience, which is probably pretty much the entire audience. Thousands of fans stormed the field, attacking players. Both teams scrambled for refuge.
Despite this, play resumed a half hour later. "Optimism" doesn't begin to describe British mentality at the time. Immediately after the players retook the field, fans flipped out and attacked them again. This time players just ran away and let the fans go nuts or whatever. Fortunately, this didn't have any long-term negative effect on cricket's solid reputation as "the least manly sport, ever."