These are descriptions that are employed to Discount the importance of an event or series of events. When they are used of civil disturbances they seem – at least many of them – to convey that the disturbance is not the work of the rather dim and placid populace or equally dim students, but rather the result of a nefarious, hidden conspiracy.
The difference is very important. If the populace were actually rioting, then the givernment might have to rethink something. But if it is done by people who are outsiders, then you just have to get rid of them.
So I’ve been watching for the discounting descriptions in the reporting of the current London riots. I have yet to see what might be the ur-discounter, “outside agitators.” Perhaps it has been overused already this year. Still, “criminal element” appeared early. And tonight i saw “an orchestrated plan,” which is a bit subtle. The thing is that organizing is thought to be beyond the populace and students, so that phrase lets you know that you’re dealing with outside agitators or criminal elements.
I am a bit worried about the low number of such phrases. In the days of old fashion student protests, you could be driven up a hall by the repitition of them. So please let us know if you’ve spotted others. It would be helpful to many beleagured members of the press and the police.