Provider of Paid Protesters Accused of Involvement in Extortion
In recent elections, many accusations have been flung about “paid protestors” — allegedly rented for the day by shadowy cabals or mysterious billionaires (sometimes on Craigslist or other online forums) to show up at political events.
While many such allegations are the stuff of paranoid (and often racist) conspiracy theories, paid protestors (as well as paid supporters) do actually exist.
Crowds on Demand
As the LA Times reports,
Crowds on Demand, a Beverly Hills firm that’s an outspoken player in the business of hiring protesters, boasts on its website that it provides its clients with “protests, rallies, flash-mobs, paparazzi events and other inventive PR stunts.… We provide everything including the people, the materials and even the ideas.”
The Crowds on Demand website says that it’s “Your home for protests, rallies, advocacy, audiences, PR stunts and political events.”
For example, the company hired actors, on behalf of a power plant operator, to lobby the New Orleans City Council.
As The Lens reported, Entergy paid actors — many hired from the local film industry — $60 to attend City Council meetings and $200 to speak in support of a proposed natural gas plant.
One actor said the group was told to “sit through the meeting and clap every time someone said something against wind and solar power.”
The actors were directed not to tell anyone that they were being paid.
ABC’s Nightline reported about protestors who were recruited on Craigslist and paid $13 per hour to protest a proposed tax on sugary drinks.
According to San Francisco Supervisor Scott Weiner, one of the authors of the tax measure, the protestors were funded largely by the American Beverage Association, “which is funded largely by Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Red Bull and Sunny D.”
“Astroturfing” is the practice of hiding the real sponsor of a message, protest, or rally — such as a political campaign or corporation — to make it appear as if it originates with, and is supported by, real “grassroots” members of the public.
For example, the Hollywood Reporter reported in 2015 that the Trump campaign offered actors $50 (for three hours of work) to cheer the then-future President’s announcement that he was running.
The concept of astroturfing was recently explained by John Oliver on his Last Week Tonight show.
Crowds on Demand has now been sued by Zdenek Bakala, a Czech investor.
Bakala claims that a Prague investment manager named Pavol Krupa hired Crowds on Demand to pay protestors to hold a march near Bakala’s home in South Carolina and to make calls and send emails to the Aspen Institute and Dartmouth College, where Bakala serves on advisory boards, urging the institutions to cut ties with Bakala.
Bakala claims that Krupa has threatened to continue to harassment unless Bakala pays him $23 million.
Bakala and Krupa are reportedly engaged in a long-running dispute involving shares in a Czech mining company.
The LA Times reported that Krupa and Adam Swart, the founder of Crowds on Demand, refused to either confirm or deny that they were working together.