‘Outside agitators’ aren’t the cause of last week’s protests, but they are one of the forces that threaten to derail movements.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Jacqueline Luqm…: This is Jacqueline Luqman with the Real News Network.
Earlier this week, Saint Paul, Minnesota mayor Melvin Carter had to walk back his earlier claims that, quote, every single person who was arrested Friday night from protests over the killing of George Floyd was from out of state. The state’s governor, Tim Walz, also had to apologize for saying that as many as 80% of those destroying property in the cities were not locals and many also may be foreign actors. MSNBC’s host Joy-Ann Reid, repeated and expounded on the foreign influence claim on Twitter, and even Susan Rice ran with it, again raising the specter of the Russians making the blacks do bad things. But instead of not voting or voting for Trump, apparently what they made us do last time, the Russians are making black people riot and loot.
As ridiculous as that might sound, there is some sketchy business going on at some of these protests. Mysterious, all-black-clad white window smashers with umbrellas in Minneapolis. Mysterious, all-black-clad white women tagging businesses with Black Lives Matter and being run off by an actual black woman protestor for their trouble in another city. Mysterious pallets of bricks, allegedly showing up on city streets. Is it Antifa? Is it white supremacists? Is it the police? Whoever is behind these curious actions, the issue of agent provocateurs is real and is an ever-present challenge for organizations, movements, and protests.
But first, we have to understand what we’re talking about. An agent provocateur is a person who commits or acts to entice another person to commit an illegal or rash act or falsely implicate them in partaking in an illegal act. And this is done to ruin the reputation or entice legal action against the target or a group they belong to. And we have to be clear. There is a long history of agent provocateurs, interfering in movements and protests, smearing activists, and ruining peoples’ and organizations’ lives and reputations and worse. This has been documented as far back as at least a century to czarist Russia through the 60s and the 70s anti-war and black power movements and even through to Occupy Wall Street.
In the 60s, campus-based movements against the Vietnam War were a top target for agent provocateurs. There were several at work across the country, but one well known one was called Tommy the Traveler. He was memorable, too. You’re going to have to look him up. He concentrated on enticing impressionable young would-be revolutionaries to commit acts that would divide the movement while landing them in jail. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was a prime target of agent provocateurs, or just agents, as they’re often called in revolutionary circles.
William O’Neil is one infamous one. He was described in a Nation article as being infatuated with weapons. He played a role in the police murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, Black Panther Party leaders in Chicago. Hampton had been suspicious of O’Neil because of his violent talk, but others didn’t see through him. When Hampton and Clark were assassinated by Chicago police, the public was convinced that the Panthers were prone to violence and shot first, which was untrue. But that was the image that was carefully propagated by the agents in the organization’s midst, O’Neil being one of them.
And the Occupy Wall Street organizers were so focused on planning the multitude of mass demonstrations they held that they didn’t pay close enough attention to who they were letting into the movement. Committed to their motto of representing the 99%, Occupy had an open door policy, which left them wide open to police infiltration. And that’s how two undercover officers going by the names Mo and Nadia infiltrated Occupy. The two were Chicago PD field intelligence agents on a 90-day undercover assignment to attend Occupy’s Chicago events to report back on any planned criminal activity. They ultimately entrapped three members of Occupy, known as the NATO 3, Brent Betterly, Jared Chase, and Brian Church, who were arrested in May of 2012 and charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism during the NATO Summit protests. They were tried and found guilty of arson and mob action, but they were cleared of the terrorism charges that were trumped up against them due to the infiltration of Mo and Nadia. They were sentenced to between five to eight years in prison each.
Just recently, it was revealed that the Trump administration has authorized unprecedented latitude for covert surveillance of protestors to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Even DEA officials are uncomfortable with this move, and you should be wary of it as well. So understanding the history of agent provocateurs and realizing that they are very real and cause very real damage, the reports of police destroying property and blaming protestors, reports of white supremacists or those connected with right wing extremist groups committing acts of vandalism, and questions about other suspicious actors in these streets, make sense and should not be completely dismissed. I mean, the Trump administration basically just announced that they’re going to direct the DEA to continue this nefarious tradition of putting agents in the midst of movements.
But I have to admit that this is a problematic take to apply to all vandalism that arises from some of these protests. Yes, I said vandalism, not violence, as property damage is nothing more than vandalism because it leaves no place for the expression of rage and frustration and utter hopelessness that justice will ever come among some in the oppressed communities that are struggling to be free. The people’s rage is legitimate. And I don’t want to take that from them by blaming all expressions of rage as a deep state false flag tactic. Yeah, that’s a narrative that’s out there. But I do want to be realistic and acknowledge that there are likely agents in the midst of these protests and we have to be careful that we are not duped by them.
We also want to be clear on two especially disturbing aspects of the current threat of infiltration in our protests, the maligning of Antifa and the threat of white supremacists. The dictionary definition of Antifa is actually, quote, a political protest movement, comprising autonomous groups affiliated by their militant opposition to fascism and other forms of extreme right wing ideology. So yes, Trump tried to declare people who are not actually an organization, but who are opposed to fascism and right wing extremism, a terrorist group. And he did this even though the Washington field office of the FBI said that they had no evidence that Antifa was involved in or even present at the May 31st protests in Washington, DC.
The sad thing is that a lot of people believe that Antifa are terrorists and even some progressives have expressed displeasure at their tactics. But Antifa’s tactics are almost always in defense of marginalized people and always, always against racists and fascists. So it’s been personally exasperating to argue with so-called progressives about the need for people to be willing to literally fight for our lives against people who really do want to harm us standing by our side. So I’m really not feeling the maligning of our allies in the struggle against this racist, capitalist, imperialist system, but the negative attention the president is giving them serves the political and social purposes of further maligning them in the eyes of the public.
And even they were the targets of agent tactics over the years, with fake Antifa social media accounts created where videos were posted, claiming that members were attacking peaceful white people doing nothing. Those accounts were proven to be fake, and the videos posted to them either staged or deceptively edited, but too many progressives use that content to solidify their opposition to antifascists and double down on their insistence that only nonviolence is a legitimate response to all oppression. And that has created a problem in this moment because there is a rising threat of violent white supremacists using these protests, not only to discredit the righteous anger of the people, but to harm those very people protesting for racial justice as well.
Minnesota officials confirmed that white supremacist organizers called their members and supporters to go to Minneapolis to use the protests as a cover to create mayhem. Twitter has suspended the recently created @Antifa_US account, not because it is actually representative of any Antifa ideology, but because it was posting content that advocated violence during the protests and was found to have been created by white nationalists. And the most concerning of all is the groups that are targeting protests to commit acts of violence against people.
One such group is the Boogaloo Boys, but don’t let the funny name and the Hawaiian shirts they wear fool you into thinking that they’re not dangerous. These people want a civil war, if not an all-out race war. And there have already been documented connections between them inserting themselves in the ongoing protests to realize their goals.
Denver police seized weapons and tactical gear from two men who showed up to the protest there last week. One of them, Chevy McGee, identified himself as part of the Boogaloo movement. The Washington Post reports that a Tampa television reporter was broadcasting live from protests last weekend when two young men in Hawaiian shirts moved in front of the camera and began chanting the name of an obscure white nationalist slogan, drowning out protesters shouting, “No justice, no peace.” They’ve been spotted, the Boogaloo movement members, at protests across the country, including Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia, sometimes brandishing weapons, usually wearing the Hawaiian shirts that for them represent their membership in a fraternity that adheres to violence and divisiveness. And this is in addition to the regular racist white people who’ve been shown to encounter protesters with baseball bats, golf clubs, and semiautomatic weapons while waving the American flag. Antifa clearly is not the problem here, as so many black and anti-fascist progressives try to warned our compatriots since before Charlottesville.
So how do we spot these agents in our midst? The white supremacists in the Hawaiian shirts and assault rifles are pretty easy to spot. Well, what about the undercover infiltrators? Here are some things to look for. Groups of people who look out of place because they dress too uniformly, or they’re wearing some type of similar identifying garment like a colored wristband or a baseball cap. Individual people who have taken great lengths to cover their identities who are openly committing crimes, especially in broad daylight, especially if they are evasive or defensive when confronted. If individuals come to the protest with a weapon, if they suggest committing acts of violence using weapons, or if they announce they’re planning to or urging others to do either, and they’re insistent about it.
And I would be irresponsible if I did not strongly caution against doxing or outing people you believe to be agents without thorough investigation and verification because falsely labeling someone an infiltrator can also have deadly consequences for an innocent person, such as the case of James Carr, who was Huey Newton’s former bodyguard and George Jackson’s friend in prison. Carr was labeled an informant after documents were found after Jackson’s assassination implicating Carr in Jackson’s assassination and in informing on people in the movement for at least 10 years. However, it was revealed in the Church Commission Hearings several years later that the documents were fake, and actual informers had set Carr up to be killed using that information.
In short, be sure that you are identifying the right man or woman as an agent because being wrong could be just as deadly as the work of an actual agent. As for us activists, organizers, and revolutionaries, we should know this history of the infiltration of movements that challenge this oppressive system that we are carrying on in our ancestors’ names and for the freedom and liberation of future generations.
That’s why we do this work. That’s why we’re in the streets. We have to be careful that we aren’t trying to compete for who’s more revolutionary, that we aren’t so thirsty for relevance and attention and contributions that we let any and everyone into our organizations.
We have to be unafraid to declare our organizing spaces closed to people we do not know or trust. And we have to stick to the principles that we are organizing on to achieve our goals.
And here’s just a personal note. Everything doesn’t have to be posted on social media. Keep your internal disagreements internal. Call out your comrades privately and away from the public eye. Resolve your differences in private, and do not use public platforms to share sensitive organizational documents and information. There is a place for strategic revolutionary actions that might not be palatable for everyone, but we need to be alert to the continued attempts by the oppressive system we are challenging and its agents to shut our movements down. They will not stop, so neither can we.
This is Jacqueline Luqman with the Real News Network in the belly of the beast, Washington, DC.
Studio: Taylor Hebden
Production: Taylor Hebden