Tom mentioned “infiltrators in the local peace movement” as a topic we might take up. (No, I’m not using the royal “we”. I consider comments received to be part of the blog.)
This really brings up the subject of ANY people who participate, or pretend to, or say they will and don’t, who might make difficulties. Whenever a group makes a point of being open, inclusive, and public, there will be some of the public that one could do without.
Let’s see if I can do a fast & dirty classification:
(1) Wackjobs — Those who are clearly, scientifically, not well. If your meeting is open to the public, it’s open to them too, and they can waste vast amounts of time treating the meeting like a therapy session, or simply disrupting things with very odd behavior.
(2) Personal agendas — Some might be a much milder form of #1. In any case, it means behavior that doesn’t really make much sense in the context of trying to get work done. It might mean treating the activity as more a social club, singles bar, or networking session. They might even be trying to sell a commercial product. There also might be a bit of hijacking involved. This is sort of a catchall category.
(3) Hijackers — May take up time trying to pull the “like minded” people they hope to find in your meeting into some other activity unrelated to your mission.
(4) Infiltrators — Might come informally, as individuals curious about seeing their “enemy” in action, or as employees hired as spies or provocateurs.
Let me make it clear right now that all these categories can actually provide useful members in some cases. You have some doubts about groups 1 & 4? Well, I’ll try to explain that.
#1 People with serious illnesses can function very well at times, and may have some useful talents. Others need to be told that, whatever it is they need, it’s not here. Assessing which is the case can take up quite a bit of time.
#2 The “personal agenda” types come in many varieties, and some have the potential to be some of our most active and reliable members, if they grow to have a real interest in the work. This also may take time. If too much time passes with someone still pursuing the personal agenda on every occasion, and clearly not pursuing the group’s mission with any tangible product, there might be a need to do something about it.
#3 Any of us who might be trying to pull together a “coalition” of some kind could be perceived as hijackers. It’s important to assess quickly whether people are interested in what you’re pitching. If not, don’t waste their time or yours.
Those who don’t catch on to this, the very persistent hijackers, can waste lots of time in a meeting (or on a listserve) dedicated to a purpose entirely outside the hijacker’s pet project. If the hijacker is particularly dense, the time may come for a simple “F–k off!”
There is, however, the potential, in some cases, for a hijacker to become a useful contact for some kind of cooperative thing at some point.
#4 Infiltrators provide much material for both study and speculation. All I can do is some preliminary ranting, and maybe hope for some enlightening comments.
Please note: paranoia about this within any group can do much more harm than the infiltrators themselves. It’s not unusual for an infiltrator to accuse someone of being an infiltrator as a way of disrupting the group.
I can think of several varieties of people who might deliberately infiltrate an activist group with ill intent toward it.
a. The vigilante — someone probably active with some opposing group, not the government, wanting see the “enemy” in action. Such a person is unlikely to be a pro, and will probably expose himself by his ineptitude fairly early, but maybe not.
b. The hired informant — Not a sworn officer, but someone recruited by “law enforcement” to spy on a group and perhaps be a witness for later prosecutions.
c. The provocateur — Maybe a subset of b., but engaging in deliberately destructive behavior within the group. See the link below for a classic case.
A more recent, more amusing story along the same lines:
d. The pig — a sworn officer who does b. or c. as part of the job. Sometimes they really know what they’re doing, but could have some telltale signs due to being what they are.
When b., c., or d. show up, you know that your group has arrived. Someone in power is willing to pay to neutralize you. You’re actually perceived as a threat of some kind. I don’t know for sure whether I’ve ever been in such a group myself.
A recent, very relevant, case is described here:
Secret government informer “Karen Sullivan” infiltrated Minnesota activist groups
Who was Karen Sullivan? Minnesota activists remember the undercover government agent
I’ll try to list a few ways that any of the above might give themselves away. Certainly not an exhaustive list, and none of these by itself should raise suspicions. Some might apply to myself. This is based mostly on reading, and on one case that I’ve heard of locally.
i. Moves rather fast to get close to anyone who appears to be a “leader”.
ii. Moves around among various groups, both geographically and ideologically, often seeking out the more “radical” or “violent” groups, according to “mainstream” perceptions.
iii. Pushes people toward ineffective actions that would surely, easily, lead to arrest, and seems oblivious to risks to the group from such activities.
vi. Tries to amplify divisions in the group: Picks a side and advocates it with more vehemence than normal.
v. Tries to closely monitor or monopolize some part of the operation without clear reason.
vi. Volunteers for an important job, keeps saying it will be done, but it just doesn’t happen, though the person appears competent in other respects.
vii. Shows up for nearly everything, and seems to have no life.
viii. Seems to be trying a little too hard to make excuses to hang around the group. (One case: said s/he was enrolled at a certain college, though s/he had no apparent purpose in it, as an excuse to hang with a student group), or makes up some bogus project they’re engaged in as an excuse to be considered “active”. (One case: claims to represent one, two, or three “organizations” that don’t seem to have any other members)
ix. Seems to have a much better knowledge of the widely published part of the group’s belief system than average, probably not equalled by experience in the group. (Back in the day, FBI agents could quote Marx & Lenin better than most actual Commies.) Might use “lefty” catchphrases more than normal, but usage might be just a little off.
These last three come from the U.S. gummint’s security culture. (I actually got some instruction in identifying spies who were after classified material, for a job I once had)
x. Might be more easily bribed than most people: has heavy debts or expensive habits like drugs, gambling, or conspicuous consumption.
xi. Has sudden, unexplained wealth.
xii. Might be easier to blackmail than most people: history of crimes or major embarassments like adultery that are still not publicly known.
How to deal with infiltrators?
This leads into a much larger consideration of a couple of questions about living, not just about activism.
– how to stay out of jail
You stay out of jail by generally staying away from illegal activities and people who engage in them. Where this isn’t possible, you keep your mouth shut about it. With EVERYBODY, not just with cops. You also make sure that things like your car registration and insurance paperwork are up-to-date and pay your parking tickets. It also helps to be “white”, English-speaking, wealthy, and mature in both appearance and behavior. Activism is no different from life in this respect.
– how to get along with people
Infiltrators offer a great opportunity to communicate with the enemy. Knowing that there might be infiltrators in a setting should make us all want to present our best face to everyone in that setting. Yes, we all might think about bombing things once in a while, and if we talk about it, it’s always a grim joke. That doesn’t mean the infiltrator taking notes in the meeting is going to report it as a joke. We also want to appear to be good, tolerant people in all respects. To respond to disagreement with slogan-shouting, name-calling, or bullying makes us look bad in activism, as in life.
Could infiltrators be useful?
It’s not unknown for infiltrators to turn on their employers when they see a wild disconnect between what the boss says about people and what they really are. It’s also not unknown for a provocateur to actually provide the means to build up an effective organization that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Life imitates art, and the actor can become the part. If fighting a “threat” is your job, creating and perpetuating a “threat” means job security.
You never know who might turn out to be on your side if you give it a chance. Remember Dmitri Bogrov, a provocateur working for the Tsar’s secret police, infiltrating socialist and anarchist groups. He used his friendly connections with the cops to gain access to the building where he assassinated the Prime Minister Stolypin in 1911. Spies can be an unpredictable lot.
End of Rant. Continue with comments, and we can see where this goes.