The ‘Outside Agitator’ Trope

It's been around for a very long time.

I received some pushback in yesterdays’ “Campus Crackdowns Escalate” post for my assertion

Talk of “outside agitators” is almost always a distraction. While there are indeed people who glom on to existing protests and try to egg on violence, it’s just absurd to think that this is happening at two dozen or so campuses across the country.

So let’s unpack that a bit. There’s a quotation from the late historian-activist Howard Zinn dating to 1971:

When students begin to defy established authority it often appears to besieged administrators that “someone must be behind this,” the implication being that young people are incapable of thinking or acting on their own. 

CNN’s Harmeet Kaur wrote a piece Monday “Examining the long history of the ‘outside agitator’ narrative.”

As university administrators and law enforcement crack down on campus protests over Israel’s war in Gaza, they’re invoking a familiar trope: the “outside agitator.”


In these instances, and others, authorities have not offered many specifics about who the “outside agitators” are, how significant their numbers are or how they differentiated outsiders from university-affiliated protesters.

Large-scale social movements can certainly be vulnerable to groups who seek to capitalize on the chaos for their own ends, said Aldon Morris, a professor emeritus of sociology and African American studies at Northwestern University. But time and again, authorities have leveled the broad accusation of “outside agitators” to undermine or stifle protests.

“The notion here is that student protests aren’t really legitimate because the claim is they are being taken over by outside agitators who are violent, anti-government, anti-democracy and so forth,” Morris told CNN.

The use of the term is nuanced. This time around, city officials, university administrators and supporters of the student protesters have all cited “outside agitators” as people who are trying to hijack the protests for their own means. But whether the person using the phrase is trying to quell the protests or defend them, it’s not always clear who these “outside agitators” are, and whether they can be classed as such in the first place.

“It seems to me that the ‘outside agitator’ claim is one to shift the focus away from the grievances of the students and their protest,” Morris said.

You don’t have to look far back in history to find examples of the “outside agitator” narrative.

During a speech at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, then-President Donald Trump characterized the demonstrations occurring nationwide as being overrun with professional anarchists, violent mobs and other left-wing groups. As he spoke, police forcibly dispersed peaceful protesters outside the White House gates with tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets — a move that resulted in uproar and prompted a lawsuit from a coalition of civil rights groups.

While there were some reports of people with extremist ties showing up at protests, an Associated Press review of court documents published in October found that most of those who were arrested or charged at the time didn’t appear to be linked to highly organized extremist groups. Many of them, the AP found, were young adults from suburban areas that Trump had vowed to protect.

Claims of “outside agitators” — or “crisis actors,” which evoke a similar idea — also emerged during a 2018 walkout of Oklahoma teachers, in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting earlier that year and amid the violent unrest that followed the police shooting of an 18-year-old Black man in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

The “outside agitator” label was also frequently evoked during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, implying that protesters participating in demonstrations were driven by the nefarious agendas of shadowy “others,” as opposed to being motivated by their own concerns.

One example is the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project, Kathleen Fitzgerald, a teaching associate professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, explained in a 2020 interview with CNN. A group of mostly White college students who traveled from the North to Mississippi to help register Black voters and open freedom schools were dismissed by White Southerners as outsiders.

“When they use that narrative, it’s an assumption that no locals would agree with these actions and no locals are on board,” Fitzgerald said in 2020. “And that’s certainly not true.”

Indeed, there are people who travel to support causes they believe in, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a significant distinction between them and those who were originally protesting.

For instance, Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were often called in to assist with civil rights demonstrations across the South. In doing so, they were portrayed as outsiders stirring up trouble — a notion that King rejected.

“Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea,” he famously wrote in Letter from a Birmingham Jail. “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

Vox’s Li Zhou had a similar piece (“The trope of ‘outside agitators’ at protests, explained“) back in June 2020.

It’s a statement that activists have heard before, used throughout history to undermine the legitimacy of protests. By framing protests as the result of “outside” influence, lawmakers are able to undercut the validity of the protest itself and question activists’ capacity for organizing such a large-scale movement. At the same time, they’re able to maintain that they actually support activists’ broader cause of combatting police violence, while cracking down on protesters.

“The idea [behind the outside agitator] is that anything that’s formidable really couldn’t be pulled off by local black activists or protesters,” Howard University law professor Justin Hansford told Vox.

The term is one that he is very familiar with: Hansford was an activist during the Ferguson, Missouri, protests in 2014 and now he runs the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard.

“In Ferguson,” he said, “it was the same situation: it’s an effective tool because not only do you delegitimize the protest itself, but you also delegitimize the activists as not being skillful enough, or clever enough, to do this on their own. You play on racial tropes as well.”

It can be complicated, Hansford notes, as there are some groups and individuals who are trying to capitalize on these protests to sow chaos of their own. There have been reports, for example, of white supremacist groups taking advantage of these protests to try to impair the cause.

But Hansford characterizes these organizations as “infiltrators,” not “outside agitators,” and says there’s a key distinction: “Infiltrators” are organizations he describes as working to undermine the protest, while “outside agitators” are (in theory) given credit for amplifying it.


Outside agitator is a racial term. The term means that protests are somehow less legitimate and really run by people who are, not black, usually white people, who are not local — people who are from different parts of the country or different parts of the world.

You may have seen people talk about Russian influence recently, fomenting this discussion. There’s another group they mention, which is seen as a predominately white organization. All these groups are, whether it’s Russia, whether it’s antifa, the idea is that anything that’s formidable really couldn’t be pulled off by local black activists or protesters. That’s actually the bottom line.

So, back in Ferguson, the outside agitator [that was raised] was George Soros. There’s an idea that these were paid protesters, it’s not legitimate, they are being paid to protest. Fox News was involved in promulgating that misnomer. I used to tell people — back then, if people were getting paid checks, I was wondering where my check was, because I never got a check. Nobody I know received a check.


Hostility toward the protesting can be justified easier. Legitimate protesting based on a legitimate problem: Being hostile toward it would make you seem like a racist. This gives you grounds for being hostile toward the protest in a way you can justify it.

In the history, most people will first think about Dr. [Martin Luther King Jr]. He was said to have been influenced by communists: In the aftermath of the ’50s, the McCarthy hearings, being a communist was a really harsh character assassination. Sheriffs and segregationists throughout the South said that Dr. King was being influenced by, again, white, foreign, outside agitators, who were the ones behind the fomenting. So if it wasn’t for those outside agitators, black people could not pull off such a formidable protest. That was the other big parallel in history.

It goes back before that. It does go back to even during the [anti-slavery] movement: If there was ever any disruptions, or even rebellions, it was the same thing. The trope was just more explicit at that point: “Black people couldn’t pull this off themselves, it must be some people from the North.”

So even then, from slavery up through segregation, the outside agitator could be in the communist concepts in the ’50s, ’60s, could be Russia, and back then in the 1800s, early 1900s, Jim Crow, slavery, the outsiders were the people from the North, white people from the North, the abolitionist from the North. Those were the outside agitators, so that’s the line: From the white people in the North to people who are communists in other countries, to George Soros … to antifa and Russia.

It’s the same process that’s been handed down over generations. That’s why it resonates so much and is such an easy thing to believe for folks who think that way, because there are so many precursors.


I have seen reports also of white supremacist organizations, who wanted to use this opportunity to create some sort of mayhem, specifically something called Boogaloo. I saw that report, so remember those are two different things: The outside agitator is trying to support, at least in the trope of it. When you think about white nationalists, now you’re talking about infiltrators.

The outside agitation trope versus the infiltration idea: It’s a subtle difference, but it is very true that there have been infiltrating groups in Ferguson, and I would not be surprised if there were infiltrators in the current protests. The infiltrator idea is a group that’s trying to harm the protest by doing things that are going to hurt the protesters’ cause.

The infiltrator thing is a real thing, I think that’s a legitimate issue. We had uncovered people in Ferguson, in the southern region of the Black Panther Party, Brown Berets, Native American groups, the American Indian movement.

Indeed, there were a spate of such articles at the time.

NPR’s Code Switch, “Unmasking The ‘Outside Agitator‘”

To help us understand why we’re hearing so much about outside agitators, we talked to Professor Peniel Joseph from the University of Texas at Austin.


The whole trope of outside agitator has a long history in American history, and it’s been used by everybody from plantation owners in the South during antebellum slavery to big corporate industry magnates.

We’re thinking about the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts and Andrew Carnegie. It’s also been used by the FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, when talking about everybody from radicals of the early 1920s and 30s, to civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and certainly black power activists, including the Black Panthers and Stokely Carmichael.

So in our contemporary context—especially since the Black Lives Matter movement erupted around 2013 and 2014—it’s been utilized against activists who are trying to transform the criminal justice system in the United States. Basically, what it’s meant is that whatever conflict, political rebellion or demonstration is happening, it’s not organically home grown, it’s not authentic. That none of these troubles would happen if not for outside agitators.


When we think about the 19th century during antebellum slavery, there was this idea that those who were abolitionists and pushing for the eradication of slavery were outside agitators. And for a time, labeling people that way works. It even sparks new, more repressive legislation.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, labor struggles and labor strife was a big moment for the use of “outside agitator.” It allowed really morally reprehensible acts of violence against labor activists. We’re talking about Haymarket in Chicago. In Homestead, Pennsylvania, in the late 19th century, workers who were on strike were literally murdered by a combination of law enforcement and private security firms hired by the great industrialists of the times.

The high point of the idea being an effective tool of repression was during the start of the Cold War. In the early 1950s, there was this idea that if you were a civil rights activist, and if you were pushing for an end to racial segregation, you were a communist. You were somebody who wasn’t authentically American. You were trying to do something that was subversive and anti-American and anti-patriotic.

NYT, “The Long History of the ‘Outside Agitator’

“The notion — or rather fiction — of the ‘outside agitator’ was a persistent trope, especially during the early years of the civil rights movement,” said Thomas C. Holt, 77, a professor of African-American history at the University of Chicago who helped organize demonstrations during the 1960s.

“Part of the motivations for the charge was to sustain the myth that the locals were satisfied with things as they were,” he said, “and if you could just crack down on the outsiders, the protests would cease. As the movement grew and spread, that myth became more difficult to sustain.”

But the concept of “outside agitators” in popular protests has persisted, in part because it is rooted in some truth: Then as now, activists and leaders traveled from city to city to help organize demonstrations or mutual aid programs. Freedom riders took buses across state lines to protest segregation. The civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who was from Atlanta, traveled frequently and was regularly labeled an outsider by local officials.


Recently, misinformation and conspiracy theories about the protests have flourished online. President Trump has tweeted about the influence of “the Radical Left, looters and thugs,” and threatened to use the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deploy active-duty troops against protesters.

And while there is some evidence that fringe groups have tried to discredit the movement, there is little evidence behind the suggestions from some federal officials that members of antifa — a contraction of the term “anti-fascist” that is associated with a diffuse movement of protesters who sometimes engage in techniques like vandalism — are driving the looting and violence.

In this confusing landscape, it is worth remembering how officials have used rhetoric about infiltration to justify forceful responses to popular movements, Dr. Holt said.

“There can be little doubt that the Trump administration is using the ‘outsider’ ploy much as segregationists did in the 1960s, to justify extreme measures against all of the protesters under that guise,” he said. “As then, tear gas and rubber bullets don’t distinguish between natives and visitors.”

Again, I don’t doubt that there are instances of outsiders glomming on to some of these protests to stir up trouble. Or even that there is some external coordination helping students organize. But the phrase “outside agitators” just gets my Spidey Sense tingling.

UPDATE: Swarthmore College history professor Timothy Burke had this on his Substack yesterday:

If you want to claim there are outside agitators on campus, prove it. Especially prove it if a bunch of people on your campus got arrested and you want to claim that half or more were not students, alumni, or anyone else who has a relationship to the institution. That’s not a private personnel matter, it’s not FERPA-violating, it’s none of the things that universities and colleges hide behind when they want to assert that their claims or interpretations are valid but also insist that they can’t provide evidence that confirms the validity.

If you won’t provide proof on this point, you should shut up about it, since “outside agitators” is literally the claim that every institution and government makes when facing dissent from its own constituents, usually as a cynical strategy to invalidate that dissent pre-emptively, without having to deal with its specific content. And journalists should not credulously repeat the “outside agitators” trope without independently investigating it themselves. There are people lurking around the edges of some of these protests who are deliberately stirring up shit, and they’ve been spotted in a few cases—and it’s not entirely clear that they are actually sympathizers in any way with the protests. “Outside agitators” works both ways, as anybody who has ever been part of a protest movement knows. There are people who like to “heighten the contradictions” who are not clearly left or right, but instead are basically online trolls in the flesh. But I also think that at the heart of the encampments and other protests, almost everybody is a student, an alum, or a faculty member. I’ll also point out that administrations should be able to prove this accusation in other ways than arrest records. Most of them have built huge surveillance apparatuses on their campuses, and most of them have other on-the-ground ways of keeping track of who’s who. It’s a funny thing about surveillance: it gets shared out without hesitation in legal proceedings when you’ve got the goods on someone committing a crime, but then is quite notably withheld if it doesn’t easily confirm something you want to claim about events or actions.

There’s a whole lot more from him on the protests and the crackdown at the link but that’s the entirety of his commentary on this issue.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Eusebio says:

    “But the phrase ‘outside agitators’ just gets my Spidey Sense tingling.” Absolutely. Multiple generations of Americans have had the term associated with the civil rights movement, if not through lived experience, through documentary and dramatic media.

    With the Columbia campus closed to non-University affiliated people, there was a relatively bright line between the University protesters and outsiders. As I recall, numerous instances of vile behavior and harassment actually took place outside the campus gates or in unspecified areas. So… outside agitators? Okay, maybe that term distracts from the message. I think the jury’s out on the Hamilton Hall break-in and occupation. Could have been a mix of students and outsiders, and Mayor Adams’ blaming “outside agitators” really begs more details. Were they infiltrators, instigators?

    And what was the genesis of the violent counter-protest at UCLA? My guess is that outside actors were involved, although the student body of a large state university is capable of many things.

  2. Mister Bluster says:

    In May of 1970 Southern Illinois University closed about a month before Spring Quarter finals and graduation were scheduled. This was after at least 8000 people marched through the center of town (pop. 20,000) to the front lawn of the President’s House on campus chanting
    Hey, Hey LBJ. How many kids did you kill today? Shut it Down! Shut it Down! following a month or more of anti war, anti draft demonstrations and riots that grew increasingly violent. After the killing of 4 innocent citizens at Kent State University by the national guard this place came unglued. The battles between students and the Illinois State Police were brutal. One night the cops broke up a demonstration of several hundred at the center of town by chasing them with teargas and billy clubs down the main business district to campus. Virtually every storefront window was smashed on both sides of the street for eight blocks, about a mile.
    Outsiders? They were all from somewhere else. Of the 20,000+ student enrollment on campus only a small fraction were from the local towns and counties. At least a third were from Chicago and and Cook County 300 miles north. The rest were from Central Illinois or out of state.
    After the administration cancelled classes for the remainder of the term and closed all the on campus dorms everyone left town.
    The war lasted another five years.

    Allison Krause, 19
    Jeffrey Glenn Miller, 20
    Sandra Lee Scheuer, 20
    William Knox Schroeder, 19

  3. Modulo Myself says:

    To be fair, nobody believes a word Eric Adams or his cronies say. I’m not even sure if he believes what he says. But one thing that’s been made clear since 10/7 is that worshiping power is indistinguishable from having a meltdown except for the fact that the entire system depends on the largesse of the meltdown. No one will ever hold him to account for dragging a normal bike lock in front of a camera and saying it’s Hamas. We are supposed to forget this happened, to write it off and bury it with a million other stupid acts committed by those in power.

  4. Matt Bernius says:

    @Eusebio & @Modulo Myself: To James’s point, in a recent interview, Adams had to admit that apparently only two of the people arrested at Columbia haven’t been students.

  5. Modulo Myself says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    He manages to confuse CUNY and Columbia in that interview. Just a brain firing on all cylinders…

    By holding to account, no one is going to ask why the cops all sound this dumb and confused, and in the end a better more-rebooted version of this stupidity will continue to be offered. We’ve had months of hysteria about anti-semitism and violence but I’m guessing we will get a weird repressed two-second analysis of the organized pro-Israel protesters who actually committed violence. We’re seeing the emptiness of a decade of ‘free-speech’ concerns, which even at their most honest (maybe 33% of the debate) were about how best to understand and handle extremely unfree people. They were never about real freedom and always about crossing your Ts and dotting your Is so not to upset the system which produces this meltdown.

  6. CSK says:

    Trump insisted that all of the Jan. 6 rioters were Antifa and BLM members, i.e. outside agitators.

    All of those arrested were just “peaceful patriots” touring the Capitol.

    Funny how the only ones who got arrested were those very same peaceful patriots.

  7. Jack says:

    I’m not sure what the point here is.

    Only an (intentionally) overly literal interpretation would cause people to conclude Adams is blaming only “outside agitators.”

    There certainly are material numbers of outsiders. Lisa Fithian, one of them, is a longstanding professional crank. And after all, it only takes a minority of people to agitate a mob.

    But in the end, what is this parsing about? The words are hateful, and the actions disruptive to the school’s conduct of business, Jewish students concerns about safety, and destruction of private property.

    Why try to construct a red herring defense?

  8. DK says:


    I’m not sure what the point here is.

    Slow news week? We news junkies have to sensationalize something or other, and Trump’s court stuff is too boring to hold attebtion. Plus Eric Adams is an easy and unsympathetic target.

    More on this Lisa Fithian character:

    As pro-Palestinian student protesters took over a building at Columbia University in New York City early Tuesday, one person in the crowd outside stood out — a gray-haired woman who delivered orders to young people helping to barricade a door.

    “Tie it right to the lock,” she told two masked protesters holding zip ties, according to video posted on social media. The protesters did as they were told, using the ties on a metal table pressed against the door of Hamilton Hall.

    “Let’s give them a little cover,” the older woman told the crowd. “Cameras back. Cameras back.”

    The woman was not a Columbia University student or faculty member. She, in fact, has no known affiliation to the school at all.

    Sounds like a real peach. I could’ve gone my whole life without ever knowing this person exists, but alas, I keep interneting when bored.

  9. Gustopher says:

    @DK: The students seem pre-agitated, so n don’t think this rises to the level of agitator.

    Most of the students already know the basics about barricades, because they were taught how to barricade doors during active shooter drills. There were also taught about improvised weapons.

    She’s really just helping them to make their barricades more effective. More of an Outside Enabler than an Outside Agitator.

    My gut instinct is that this lady is a hoot, and that she would be more fun to have a beer with than 80% of the population at large.

    She might be dangerous if the kids were darker in complexion than the police. She may also be very aware of this.

    I’m randomly guessing that after a second beer she gets a little tedious.

  10. Mister Bluster says:

    @Mister Bluster:..Hey, Hey LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?

    Apparently readers of my 9:30 post in this thread all flunked history or they were too kind to call me out on my error. So I’ll have to tell on myself.
    Richard Nixon was President USA in 1970. The jabs at LBJ were from earlier anti war protests. Summer and Fall 1968. It was a long war and there were many demonstrations on the campus. I’m fortunate that I remember things that happened yesterday let alone 54 years ago.
    The slam on Tricky Dick in those days was succinct. I saw it memorialized on an early personalized California license plate when I lived in San Francisco in’74. Apparently before there was any revue for offensiveness. Or maybe the stiff working at the DMV did not know what they were looking at.


  11. DK says:


    More of an Outside Enabler than an Outside Agitator.

    “It depends on what the definition of is, is.”

    I mean, is she really an outside enabler, when she was indoors? I’m just askin’ questions.

  12. Gustopher says:

    @DK: She actually has quite the background in protest movements and lefty organizations, and has written several books.

    Still, I don’t think she goes past the role of enabler in the article you cite.

    She’s not shown to be escalating anything or encouraging violence, just instructing students how to make their makeshift barricades a bit more resilient, as police will be a tad more persistent than the active shooter the kids trained for (active shooter will likely not want to waste time breaking through a barricade when there are younger kids down the hall who barely know how to build makeshift fortifications)

    Meanwhile, according to The Daily Beast, Jerry Seinfeld’s wife is donating money to fund the violent counter-protest at UCLA.

    Who are the outside agitators now?

  13. DK says:


    Who are the outside agitators now?

    All of them, still.

    Enabler, agitator. Six in one hand, a half dozen in the other. How many fairies can dance on the head of a pin…

    …days without yt nonsense: 0.

    It would be nice trivial busybodies found something productive to do, for once. Helping register Democratic voters in Arizona and Nevada would be a nice start.

  14. EddieInCA says:
  15. DK says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    To James’s point, in a recent interview, Adams had to admit that apparently only two of the people arrested at Columbia haven’t been students.

    Dr. Joyner’s passing comment about the absurdity of suspecting outside agitation in campus unrest was a bit off yesterday — when it was pointed out that given both the documented history of chaos agents hijacking 2020 BLM protests and preliminary info from Columbia U, the presence of outsiders was quite probable.

    His point today is more detailed, and thus more balanced. But still:

    Nearly half of NYC arrests involved people not affiliated with schools (NBC)

    Of the 112 people arrested Tuesday in protests at Columbia, 29% were not affiliated with the school, New York City officials said.

    That breaks down to the arrests of 32 nonstudents and 80 students, Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Edward A. Caban said in a joint statement.

    The same day, 170 people were arrested at a protest at City College of New York. In that instance, 60% of those arrested, or 102 people, were not affiliated with CCNY, the statement said.

    According to the statement, the NYPD’s process to try to identify whether those arrested were affiliated with either school has been slowed, as most did not cooperate with police and refused to provide the information…

    Charges have ranged from burglary, obstructing governmental administration and criminal mischief to resisting arrest, trespassing and disorderly conduct, the statement said.

    Spidey senses are an important tool for surviving our world, but the data are what the data are.

  16. DK says:


    When you’ve lost Al Sharpton…

    You’ve lost the world’s biggest bottle of Soul Glo perm?

  17. Ken_L says:

    During my 25 years involvement in labor relations in Australia, I often noted what I called the ‘bad apple’ explanations many managers instinctively adopted for strikes and other forms of industrial action in their enterprises. Somebody must be stirring up these employees, who had been treated so well by the company, and who had always displayed the proper respect for senior managers when they visited the workplace. Usually “the bloody unions” got the blame, but sometimes managers were convinced a troublemaker had somehow sneaked into the workforce and was leading all the rest astray.

    Suggesting the employees had quite sincere concerns about site safety/wages/unfair supervisors or whatever and were genuinely antagonistic towards management was not regarded as a credible analysis of the situation. No, the solution was simply to find and get rid of the person causing all the trouble. It’s a similar mentality that believes students couldn’t possibly be defying authority unless some outside agitator was whipping them up.

  18. Raoul says:

    There is no doubt there are outside agitators, and that by itself is not much of a problem. Students who protest may indeed need mentors. However, it is true that we have established groups on the left and the right (see 1/6) who are waiting to jump when controversy breaks as a way to increase their exposure and these groups exist to create confrontations sometimes justified by enhancing the contradictions. These groups are mostly never do gooders (nihilists) and one should walk gingerly with them.

  19. DK says:


    However, it is true that we have established groups on the left and the right (see 1/6) who are waiting to jump when controversy breaks

    And populated by knuckleheads whose lack of purpose and search for identity and belonging makes them dangerous. Kyle Rittenhouse comes to mind.

  20. Matt Bernius says:


    Nearly half of NYC arrests involved people not affiliated with schools (NBC)
    Spidey senses are an important tool for surviving our world, but the data are what the data are.

    Agreed we should follow the data. And it’s worth noting that more data about incidents emerges after the intial reporting and sources other than the police come forward.

    This is a downpayment on an actual post on this topic. For the moment I’ll say that there is a reason there were so many “outsiders” rounded up at CUNY. Here’s reporting on the ground from Liset Cruz a reported with


    One set of protesters = the people outside the locked campus. These were most likely random people that attended a rally to support the encampment.

    The second set of protesters = the people inside the campus’s encampment. These were most likely CCNY students and faculty.

    [part of a larger thread]

    Basically, the police kettled two different protests groups (one off campus and one on campus) together and then started arresting. So naturally this would pick up more people not immediately currently associated with CUNY.

    As a spoiler for my post, which will come over the weekend, this also gets to why the organizers I know and have known have trouble with “outside aggitator.” In part its a question of who is deciding what “outside” means–especially with modern disaggregated organizing.

    In this case, does outside simply mean “not current faculty, staff, administrator, or student”? What about alumni who belonged to some of the groups that are organizing the protest? What about neighborhood or community member?

    Anyway, I suspect you’ll respond to this. I probably won’t respond back today as I’m desperately trying to write for a project. So you know, I’ll probably address whatever you write in the coming post on this topic.

  21. Matt Bernius says:

    From my direct experience doing labor organizing in the US, that “outside organizer” play is still routinely run here too.

    And that’s a good summary of why labor organizing (among other forms) have problems with the idea.

    BTW, we also see hints of that way back up in @Jack’s mention of Lisa Fithian. Yes movements do bring in consultants from outside the area. And yes, those consultants do get paid. Organizers from the unions are paid too.

    News flash: MLK was paid for his organizing work (which happened all around the country) and speaking engagements. So too, btw, was Rosa Parks.

    Again, I’ll expand on all of these thought fragments in my upcoming post. For the moment, its back to research organzizing.

  22. Gustopher says:


    It would be nice trivial busybodies found something productive to do, for once.

    Way back when, I had a friend whose father was neck deep in the Communist Party, and did the protest circuit. Wherever there was injustice, or union actions, or a couple people with a grievance against the oppressive system, he would be there. A person who you would describe as an “outside agitator.” What did he actually do?

    – Told people how to go limp so they wouldn’t cooperate with arrests, but also wouldn’t get the shit kicked out of them
    – Distributed water and sunscreen
    – basic first aid
    – Kept an eye out for troublemakers (typically angry people in the cause du jour who were looking for a fight with the cops) and spoke to them and/or helped to gently expel them.

    Basically the exact opposite of agitating. He was doing the work that keeps a protest from devolving into an angry mob. He may have also hauled away water bottles filled with urine.

    The person you singled out is likely doing the same stuff, based on a quick scan of her Wikipedia page and her actions in the article.

    He was also Santa at all of the Communist Party “Holiday” parties, where he gave every child the exact same thing. He’s probably dead now, as I recall him being older than my father, and my father is pretty ancient[*]. I would cyberstalk his daughter to see what she’s up to, but she’s basically ungooglable since she has a much more famous namesake.

    …days without yt nonsense: 0.

    Given that there have been protests and marches about Black this and Black that (“oh, we want police to stop beating us indiscriminately”, “oh, the bad white men aren’t letting us vote”, etc… you might have noticed them), I guarantee that there are similar black folks doing the same work in the black community.

    (Part of what makes that former friend so ungooglable is that her parents thought it would be nice to name her after one of those Black professional protesters.)

    *ETA: Yup, he’s dead. Found a loving obituary on the communist party’s website from 2021. He was younger than my father. I guess no one other than me really needed to know whether he was dead.

  23. Gustopher says:


    When you’ve lost Al Sharpton…

    … the good reverend has failed to make your protest about himself by being on your side, and is now trying the “even the liberal Al Sharpton” shtick to be relevant.

    The dude’s a fucking grifter. Been one for decades. There are claims he was a serious civil rights agitator back in the before times, but before what I have no idea.

    Losing Al Sharpton just fills one with hope that you won’t find him again.

  24. bookdragon says:

    I’m of two minds on this. One the one hand, you’re absolutely right that the ‘blame outside agitators’ thing is a very old schtick and we should be suspicious of it.

    Otoh, during the BLM protests there absolutely were people who had zero interest in BLM and just wanted to be in huge crowd where they felt like they could get away with smashing stuff (and there were also pro-police actual agitators deliberately causing mayhem to discredit BLM).

    I look at the news and, yes, college students can be idiots, but taking over a library and vandalizing the interior? (near finals no less – way to go if you’re trying to win support from other students! /s) Pulling down US flags and putting up Palestinian flags? How could anyone old enough to have the slightest political awareness *not* know that was a made-for-Fox-News moment (which would be picked up for clicks across a ton of other media) to turn people against your cause?

  25. JKB says:

    It’s coming from inside the faculty lounge.

    More specifically, at Columbia at least, the Humanities and Social Science (excl econ) faculty

  26. Jack says:

    So after processing the UCLA arrests the most popular statistic I’ve seen is that the outsider protesters run about 40%. Can we take that to the bank? No. But it sounds a lot more plausible than the “a couple” figure I saw bandied about in comments. And hardly a trope.

    But all we have to do is look at Antifa and BLM from a couple years ago and we know the professional protester is alive and well, and the notion of outsiders as a disproven trope absurd.

  27. DK says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    So you know, I’ll probably address whatever you write in the coming post on this topic.

    I don’t have any worthwhile response, I’d just be repeating myself. I look forward your always-astute and sober analysis.

    My overall belief is unchanged from last week: student protest at Columbia, USC, etc is for their leaders, staff, students, associates, and neighbors to ajudicate. Outsiders of all types should stay out of it — inclusive of agitators/enablers (who absolutely are involved), non-local politicians, and unaffiliated commentators who have somehow become experts on academic administration.

    Meanwhile, an ex-president is on trial.

  28. DK says:


    Given that there have been protests and marches about Black this and Black that (“oh, we want police to stop beating us indiscriminately”, “oh, the bad white men aren’t letting us vote”, etc… you might have noticed them), I guarantee that there are similar black folks doing the same work in the black community.

    Per the serious and salient nature of your examples (thank gawd you’re here to remind me to notice what my own people are up to), I used the words “privileged,” “trivial,” and “nonsense” for a reason.

    Black women and their real alles protesting because they don’t want black sons executed in our streets or denied voting rights is not “the same work” as simping for either side of an intractable ethnoreligious conflict between rightwing assholes thousands of miles away.

    If Mrs. Seinfeld or Miss Fithian actually care about Israelis or Palestinians or American youth, a more productive direct action would be assisting with and anti-MAGA voter efforts. Not donating to students parroting Netanyahu’s crap, and not helping kids break into and barricade a campus building. Neither of which seems to be changing minds or policy, or accomplishing anything besides helping performative allies feel superior.

  29. Jack says:

    “Northeastern University said 98 people were arrested after police Saturday cleared out an encampment that formed last Thursday.

    Twenty-nine of the arrested were students, six were faculty and staff members, and 63 were people not affiliated with the university, a school spokesperson said in a statement.

    The school said university police concluded that the protest would soon present a threat to the safety of those involved after it drew a number of protesters not affiliated with the school. Multiple notices were given to disperse before police moved in.

    Students who produced valid Northeastern IDs were released and will face disciplinary proceedings, not legal action. ”

    Last time I looked, 63/98 was 64%. But never let facts get in the way of claiming something we don’t like is, uh, a trope……….

  30. Gustopher says:

    @DK: Dude, you’re the one who said it was white people shit. Just reminding you the same stuff happens in every major protest.

    And, yes, the outside enablers/support-staff are doing literally the same work. The very same tasks. And you want them there, because otherwise you just have a whole bunch of people with underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes trying to break shit and trigger a response that will make America turn against the fascist pigs or whatever.

    The cause is different, and I get that they did not check with you first to see if their cause was worthy. That was probably an oversight on their part.

    I’ve been trying to avoid mentioning the cause, because I don’t feel a particular need — protesters should be given the space to protest, and that often requires old hands to be there to make sure it’s as smooth as possible. The little shits are going to protest. They’re young. They’re full of energy. They see injustice in the world and they want to scream about it. Without folks like my former friend’s late father* and presumably Ms. Fithian, there’s a greater chance that it’s going to get violent and get the backlash that makes the law and order types reflexively vote for the fascists.

    (Ms. Seinfeld, on the other hand, can go fuck herself in her Zionist ass with a rusty wire brush.)

    It’s a different role than the real outside agitators, like the Freedom Riders, who I guess were doing white people shit, being as they were white, people and presumably had to shit somewhere.

    *: I hadn’t thought of him in years. Nice guy. Thank you for jarring the thought loose. Seriously, it pleases me to remember him.

    His daughter on the other hand… she went to therapy, was told that her feelings were valid, and then felt validated and vindicated. Her feelings were not actually valid, and that’s why she was in therapy in the first place.

  31. Gustopher says:


    Multiple notices were given to disperse before police moved in.

    And there you’ve lost your random sampling. Did the students slip out when shit was about to go down? Did the outside “agitators”?

    It’s like testing people going into the ER, and then extrapolatin outwards to say that 5% of Americans are having a heart attack right now.

  32. DK says:


    It’s a different role than the real outside agitators, like the Freedom Riders, who I guess were doing white people shit, being as they were white, people and presumably had to shit somewhere.

    What the Freedom Fighters worked for and died for was *check notes* registering black people to vote for Democrats. This is what I keep suggesting today’s lazy slacktivists do. But they won’t, because they’re unserious pieces of shit, unlike the Freedom Fighters whose voter registration efforts were wildly successful and changed the world for the better.

    I don’t recall the Freedom Fighters running around screaming “Fuck LBJ,” thus pledging to throw black voters under the bus. They understood the stakes and actually cared. Very unlike today’s shitty, condescending, performative white leftists, who love to fake martydom while wasting time on trivial, insignificant shit. Fithian is not fit to eat shit out of the Freedom Fighters’ drawers.

    I never said her or people like her have to check with me. They don’t. Just like I don’t have to check with with you before voicing my opinion that Filthian and the lefties announcing how they’re not going to join 90%+ of black voters in voting for Biden — while lecturing me about own black history — are phony, trivial, selfish shitheads whose self-congratulatory fake activism isn’t accomplishing jack shit.


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