7 tips for preventing planned violence at political rallies

Operatives’ actions range from asking a very embarrassing question of the candidate as they pass to triggering a shoving match in the crowd


A recent journalistic undercover investigation purported that some individuals are being hired to infiltrate Donald Trump rallies with specific marching orders to turn peaceful rallies violent. James O’Keefe of Project Veritas reported that paid operatives are given scripted roles to play while in the presence of passionate Trump supporters.

Scott Foval of Americans United for Change and the Foval Group is seen on the documentary in edited, undercover recordings saying he has paid people to infiltrate crowds and perform scripted acts. Foval described some of his paid operatives as “mentally ill people we pay to do sh-t.”

Foval also shared that he has paid homeless people to do “crazy stuff.”

If what Foval says is the truth, it is a very troubling revelation, since police officers across the country have found themselves trying to bring peace back to streets that allegedly turned violent because of paid operatives.

Bird-dogging
There is also a tactic described as “bird-dogging.” Operatives planning this will arrive extremely early for an event to get right up front so whatever they orchestrate happens in a high-profile location. The action they take tends to be asking a very embarrassing question of the candidate as they pass, which could also spark a confrontation in the crowd.

Safety concerns
If the allegations in this documentary are accurate, there is a problem. Any crowd management expert will tell you when someone tries to spark a confrontation in a passionate crowd, it is very much like tossing lit matches into dry brush during a drought. The spark might flare and fizzle out, but it is just as likely to turn into an out of control raging inferno in which people can be seriously injured or killed.

If this is true, this is a serious public and officer safety issue.

Street-level response
These tactics are not new. They have been used in the past by professional demonstrators to primarily illicit an overreaction by police officers – cop baiting.

In this new twist, paid agitators are allegedly engaging in crowd baiting, despicably targeting ordinary Americans who are simply gathering to exercise their right to assemble.

It behooves officers across the nation to be aware of these new-age provocateurs. In the crowd baiting cases described in the documentary, these elements are present:

1. A clearly incendiary action, T-shirt, sign or statement is showcased within reach of the opposition crowd members.
2. Media is on hand recording, perfectly positioned in advance.
3. Demonstrators’ cameras are rolling.
4. Sometimes the action taken by the agitator is not only within reach of the opposing crowd, but within reach of the police as well.

Police response
Officers need to be aware of the existence of both crowd and cop baiting.

When officers witness what appears to be baiting, keep it in mind there is such a thing as freedom of speech, but you can’t shout the word “fire” in a crowded theatre. Agencies should discuss with prosecutors in advance what constitutes prosecutable words and actions and what is constitutionally protected.

In any case, have police cameras recording these individuals, and if possible, assign plainclothes officers to monitor them. If they engage in a prosecutable breach of the law, be as quick as possible to intercede proactively if legal grounds exist.

Recommendations for officers on line include:

1. Keep opposing groups separated.
2. The person who angers you conquers you. If they can trigger an overreaction by you, that’s a warning sign. Don’t get hooked by provocations.
3. Recognize crowd baiting.
4. Recognize cop baiting.
5. Spoil the show by taking it slow and professional.
6. Make defensible arrests when it is tactically feasible.
7. Use defensible techniques that put your professionalism on display.

After action
After an arrest, complete a thorough report. If it appears that the arrestee may be a paid operative, ask them directly if he or she is a paid operative.

Or ask them less directly if someone put them up to this. You might be surprised by the answer.

If your investigation connects their action to a group as the instigator of the violence, it not only aids in criminal investigation, but it also gives injured officers a wider path for civil relief.

The good thing about policing on a world stage is that it gives police officers, who are staring into the faces of obnoxious agitators, the opportunity to demonstrate for all watching that they are the good guys and gals.

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