Apparently the BBC was calling them protesters early in the proceedings, and this is fair enough because after the first night, it still seemed like it was a protest that had gone too far. It began over the shooting by police of a man called Mark Duggan, a shooting which we still know nothing about (why it happened, whether it was unlawful etc.) because it's still being investigated by the IPCC so no one can talk about it. Some people in Tottenham took to the streets in protest, and somehow it became a rioting-and-looting.
This has since escalated, and on the second night it was clear that people weren't protesting about this shooting, they were just taking the opportunity to loot shops of expensive clothes and electronics. You don't protest about a shooting that you don't know anything about by stealing yourself a new hifi. And they came out dressed for crime, in balaclavas and so on.
So, not protesters then - now they're definitely rioters.
By the third night, things had really got scary. Police stations in Nottingham had been petrol-bombed, shops in several cities had been emptied of all their stock, burnt out, and otherwise destroyed. People were terrified. In Salford they shut the shops on the fourth day and boarded up the windows, because they were scared of being looted and burnt down.
So - are they now terrorists? Some Tweeters have being saying so, but that's Twitter: you can always rely on finding some nutters to quote. Other choice terms include 'scum', 'thugs', 'criminals' and so on. 'Criminals' is certainly accurate, as there's no doubt crimes have been committed. Hundreds of people have been arrested and many charged. The UN, as the Guardian says, defines terrorism as:
"acts ... designed to create a state of terror in the minds of a particular group of people or the public as a whole for political or social ends". (The UN also makes clear that "having a good cause" makes no real difference).Whether there's a deliberate aim to create a state of terror or not, I don't think it's for 'political or social ends' (vague as that is, I don't think wanting free stuff counts as social ends). You could say it's making a point against the police, because people feel like they have no rights or whatever, but it seems like that's an excuse for a lot of these people. They do hate the police, but this isn't an organised campaign, just an opportunity to cause trouble. Not terrorists then.
The media all seem to have settled on 'rioters' as a name which is accurate (unlike 'protesters' and 'terrorists') and not subjective or heavily value-laden (like 'thugs' or 'scum').