Trouble in Larne was "orchestrated and carried out by a criminal gang under the badge of the south east Antrim UDA", the PSNI has said.
Bricks, bottle and fireworks were thrown at officers by a masked gang of up to 40 people on Wednesday.
A petrol bomb was also thrown, but failed to ignite, during the trouble in the Linn Road and Antiville Road area of the town.
Supt Darrin Jones said it was a "reckless and totally unacceptable".
A number of bins were set alight and used as a burning barricade during the trouble that erupted at about 22:45 GMT.
At one point, a police vehicle was used to protect vehicles belonging to the public.
At least four vehicles are understood to have been driven around the area at high speed. There have been no arrests.
'Fear and distress'
Supt Jones said the police believed the disorder followed "proactive activity by the paramilitary crime task against elements of the South East Antrim UDA at the weekend".
He said the incident brought "wanton destruction" and "caused terror within the Linn Road area".
He added that three claw hammers were found as well as a number of bricks that had been stockpiled for use.
"I would urge the community in Larne to reject these people who last night caused such fear and distress to local residents, as well as wrecking and terrorising the area they live in.
"I would also call on people of influence in the area to intervene."
Police restored order and the area was quiet by 00:45 GMT.
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson posted on Twitter that he was "very concerned for motorists and residents".