Friday, November 13, 2020

Agents sent to harm us

 There is a great deal of speculation these days about the possibility of agents provocateurs, the undercover agents sent to infiltrate social movements by police, sent by ideologues, sent by corporate interests, or by any party opposed to that movement. These agents would not merely spy on groups, they would attempt to destroy them.

How might they do that?

The common understanding of agents provocateurs is that they are sent to promote violence and thus give the police an excuse to crack heads. But that is only one of several functions that such an agent would perform. 

The overarching goal is to neutralize a civil society campaign that wants change, or it wants to protect something--a good law, some policy that favors marginalized identity groups, clean water, etc. There are many ways to attempt that goal, including but not limited to: 

  • provoke violence
  • discredit leaders
  • redirect campaign focus
  • promote internal conflict
  • push irrational views to media in the name of the group
  • influence poor financial management
  • alienate influencers and funders
  • ruin image of coalition
  • commit fraud in the name of the organization
  • create factions that split off
  • start harmful rumors about people or group intentions
  • promote an internal security culture that amplifies paranoia
Of course there are authentic ineffective activists who do all these things too, so it is inappropriate to accuse anyone of being an agent provocateur without absolute proof, but it is helpful to periodically remind everyone in the group that agents provocateurs engage in these actions for a reason--to harm or destroy a movement--and therefore everyone should attempt to avoid these destructive practices. 

Call in your less effective activists, please don't call them out. We need to work to promote the more feminist, nurturing styles of leadership that build an unstoppable mass movement. This is not easy and takes emotional maturity. Tolerate each other's mistakes and our own slips. We can do this but we need to do this together. 

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