Agents Provocateurs:
What and Who They Are

What and Who They Are
I write this from my many years of experience in protest involvement, as an organizer, a participant, as one of the first media activists, and as a lawyer.  I have helped a couple people who have been victimized by agents provocateurs – that is, goaded into activity they would not normally do and arrested for it.   

 There are going to be people that do not like what I am writing.  I am telling it like it is, really.

“AGENTS PROVOCATEURS” is the French term for people that come into a protest group and try to get you to do illegal or dangerous things, preferably to get you arrested or to set you up over time.


 I think Agents provocateurs can be broken into 2 CATEGORIES:
1)  Real agents provocateurs, and 
2) undercover police, FBI, NSA, and Homeland Security.

1) Real Agents Provocateurs -  “Revolutionaries  or “Terrorists”  -  Some people actually belong to a supposed revolutionary or terrorist group.   These groups are real.  The FBI and NSA keep lists of them.  The vast majority of these groups are just a bunch of hot air and usually boring as all get-out, self-important, and often, from my observation, with main members who are on SSI for some mental disability that involves paranoia.  So while they have no job, they have plenty of time to be a “revolutionary” and talk big.  Others are professors or part-time professors with secure jobs.  Others work for non-profits.  Others are retired.  What I am saying is that most of them are not risking much by getting you to do something stupid. 

These folks want “action” – and they mostly want YOU to do the action.  They will lie to you and tell you what you are doing is okay, that it is legal, that nothing will happen, that it is good to get arrested, that it is “civil disobedience,” that you dare  not challenge them or argue with it.   (“Civil disobedience” is something else and is covered a little bit in the Note just below this post.)   

These people are manipulative.  They will challenge you and play an “ism” card to make it so you are supposed to be ashamed to stop them – they will say you are racist, sexist, against people with disabilities, against immigrants, ageist, elitist, or whatever. They will claim they have to do illegal acts because of the system, the man, police brutality, poverty, war, the cause, or something – demands it.  None of this is true.  No one gets to use their “status” as a “victim” to victimize you and wreck your life.

GUESS WHAT?  Once you get arrested, your “comrades” will NOT be there with bail money, a lawyer, to support you and your family since you will be out of a job, to get you into school despite a felony, etc.  In fact, they will use you to try to show the system is corrupt, the police are brutal, and on and on.  You will be a  pawn in their game. 

KEEP IN MIND: No responsible person with a job or family or going to school runs around doing violent or goofball things to get arrested.  Just does not happen. 

HOW TO GET RID OF THEM:  Demand that everyone follow the law.  DO NOT let them define “peace” as including “violence.”  Demand peace, non-violence and only legal activity.  End of story -- Only legal behavior as defined in the law, not in their imaginations.   
THEY WILL ARGUE:  “Everything Hitler did was legal,” etc – which is not true, but that is besides the point.  They will try to draw analogies to our society.  The U.S. is by no means perfect, but our laws are pretty darn good.  And also, as a society, we are pretty darn good.  We care about each other and help each other.  The U.S. is a good country and we aim to improve it, not destroy it.

They will argue that you are “co-opting the system,” "colluding with the authorities,” and on and on.  SAY:  You’re right.  I am.  I plan to go to college and have a family and I want a nice life with good things in it, not a felony record.  Thank you.  I am trying to improve things to make all that even better.

WHY THEY DO THIS:  Some people think that the way to build up interest in a protest or the way to build a movement is by having arrests, violence, injury, and destruction.   No doubt, this does cause interest and does cause more people to show up.   On the other side of this is that when protests become dangerous, the most productive and logical people are likely to stay away.   You may have a bigger crowd, but they may be more of an irrational mob.   Also, people that condone violence and destruction as a means to their ends are not likely to have equitable ends in mind.  Their style shows their substance.  

2) UNDERCOVER POLICE, FBI, NSA, HOMELAND SECURITY.  Wake up, folks! Almost every big domestic “terror” arrest has been a set-up by an FBI agent or someone working part-time for them.  HOW UNDERCOVER AGENTS WORK:

THEY JOIN YOUR GROUP.  They often take leadership roles.  They might be the friendliest people there.  They might have "good friends" in the group, but if you ask the good friends how long they have actually known the person and in what context, you are likely to find it is not very long and they only know the person from the group.   Undercover agents do not allow anyone to question them - they might toss the question back to you. They control the flow of information and try to block out those that question them.  

In fact, they work almost exactly like the people listed above  -- except instead of being goofs trying to draw you into some violent act and get you arrested so they can feel they are part of exciting action and have something to talk about (for years to come) – these folks will set you up for a huge arrest.  Supposedly, they are hunting out terrorists.  In many cases, it appears as if the agents did most of the talking, most of the planning, and the "stooge" just kind of went along for the ride. 

HOW IT WORKS EXACTLY:  They casually feel out a whole group, to see who are the vulnerable targets.


1) They act the troll on message boards and facebook, to see who is and who is not open to violent action.  If they propose some stupid action and you do not object outright, you are a target.

2) They organize actions and when you are out, lead you to do stupid things, such as throwing things, going onto bridges or overpasses, blocking cars, shouting.  AND  - If you fall for it, you are their mark for a bigger set-up.

3) They invite you to classes where they draw you in to ideas and plans that involve violence.

4) They contact you privately to tell you of their dissatisfaction, and it builds over time.  They might get you to agree to help them in some act, or get you to start to carry it out.  The whole time, your conversations are recorded, the emails are kept, there might even be video.  These kinds of stings can start and if you seem ripe for it, they will go on for months to years until there is enough evidence to call you a “terrorist” and indict you.    

They may be doing 95% of the talking and planning, but if you say "Okay sure, I guess so," you are agreeing, you are in a "conspiracy," and you are in on whatever plan has been proposed.

5) They will incite you  to chaos, disorder and / or violence and then you will be arrested!  Yes, YOU! Or you can even be arrested on the basis of "the plan," even if it is not really your plan and even if you would never actually follow through and do it.   You need to be very careful of the company that you keep.  You need to be very careful what you agree to.

DO NOT FALL FOR ANY OF THIS.   If you ever encounter any person who is proposing things that you do not agree with, say no clearly and quickly.  Even if a person is persistent, you are best to block off all communication.  In some ethnic or culture groups, there can be a strong tendency to trust others from the same group.  There can also be a strong tendency not to want to be rude.  It is very important to be rude and to say no if someone starts proposing bad plans, even if you think the person might be joking or not serious on following through.

Also, if someone comes to you with a plan or request to harm someone else, you should report this to the police quickly, so that you are not involved in the plan.  This can be someone looking to shoot someone, someone wanting to buy bomb-making materials, someone planning a break-in or kidnapping, someone planning to bring weapons to school or a job.  You should never feel locked into a promise of silence, even if you have promised that.
 Note: I wrote this a while back.  Rereading it, I realize that it takes a strong, clear head to be involved in protest activity and not get sucked into the many mind games played by people there.  The main way is to only do things that are legal and safe and that do not possibly harm any other person.  That may seem like an innocuous statement, but I get many people arguing with it.   This blog post is not really meant for them; it is meant for people who want to steer clear of trouble.

Civil Disobedience: Some people talk about “civil disobedience" as if it is something that might happen at an everyday typical protest march.  Civil Disobedience is about refusing to obey an unjust law or rule. Today, many people mistakenly call it "civil disobedience" when they are breaking laws that are just and for the good of all, such as laws that tell us not to stand in traffic or laws that say a park closes at a certain time.  That is a protest technique that involves breaking the law, but it is not civil disobedience. True civil disobedience is where the law is fundamentally unjust and where by breaking it, the person accomplishes a greater good.  For example, if a law says you cannot feed the homeless, and if there are homeless hungry people and you feed them, that may be true civil disobedience.    It also may not be true civil disobedience, because the law may be just; there may be free feeding centers and the city may want the homeless fed only at those locations for reasons of food sanitation.

 Civil disobedience or the need for it is extremely rare.   Any time anyone is trying to get you to act like a hooligan as “civil disobedience,” you can be sure that is not someone you want to follow.  A true act of civil disobedience will usually involve serious advance planning,  consulting with lawyers, and will be a carefully orchestrated plan that involves a normal everyday act that is wrongly against the law.  It won’t involve any act of violence or destruction.

 Examples:  Rosa Parks sitting in the front seat on the bus.  People walking teens into segregated schools.  Black men eating at a segregated lunch counter.

"Civil disobedience" does not involve: bombs, weapons, following a person, stopping a person from going anywhere, destruction of property, breaking and entering, looting, being disorderly at a protest, endangering anyone, harassing or terrorizing anyone on the internet, or other such acts. 

Video of man advocating violence at Occupy St. Louis, complete with a tale of New York.  If he was paid to do this, he's not very good at his job.