Infiltrating Activist Movements On ‘Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know’

In the past few weeks since the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin, the nation has heaved with protests against police brutality, police militarization, and racial injustice. And while a majority of these demonstrations have been peaceful, there have been numerous episodes of looting, rioting, arson, and violence as well. Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know hosts Ben Bowlin, Noel Brown, and Matt Frederick examine the nature of protests and explain the tactics of “agent provocateurs,” or people who have infiltrated a movement explicitly to discredit it by inciting violence or mayhem. This isn’t conspiracy theory, Ben tells us. This is proven and true, so they also provide some useful tips on how – and how not – to conduct yourself at a protest to keep far away from any bad actors or undercover agents.

Protesting is an extremely important American right, protecting our ability to press the government for change. But there are many ways for those in power, who may not want to make those changes, to suppress a demonstration. One of these tactics is the agent provocateur. This is a person, usually employed with or recruited by law enforcement agencies, who infiltrates a movement or activist group, sometimes long before it organizes a protest or takes any action, in order to discredit it. Sometimes they do this by trying to find dirt on the leader of the group for blackmail purposes; sometimes they act like zealous followers, eager for extreme actions, in order to escalate the aims of the group to violent ends or even civil war. “The first aim is to somehow make incredibly violent crackdowns by law enforcement seem to be not only justified, but inevitable,” Ben says. So during a protest, they’d urge people to damage property or start looting stores to give law enforcement an excuse to aggressively crack down on the demonstration. “The violence makes it easy for the media to focus on that instead of the message or goals of the protest.” 

This isn’t fiction or theory – these tactics have been used in many countries since the 1800s “because they work,” Ben says. Most notably the FBI used agents provocateur to discredit Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, hoping to quash his followers’ enthusiasm for the civil rights movement; more recently, they employed an undercover agent to infiltrate a Muslim mosque and talk about jihads, trying to identify terrorists. The community was so disturbed by his rhetoric that they ended up reporting the FBI informant to the FBI. So while it hasn’t been proven definitively yet, there’s likely to be similar agents in the Black Lives Matter protests. How can we spot these bad actors and stay far away from them? Ben, Noel, and Matt break it all down for you on this episode of Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know.

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