In today's world, APs can be significantly more sophisticated, clever and cunning. It is much simpler to direct troubled individuals to an occupy camp, knowing they are likely to cause trouble than to send in undercover operatives to report back, though the proliferation of the latter is also well evidenced by undercover cop turned whistleblower, Mark Kennedy's apparent epiphany last year. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/26/mark-kennedy-undercover-cop-environmental-activist
Kennedy claimed that the police withheld from the defence covert recordings which would have shown that the environmental activists he had infiltrated were not guilty. The case was thrown out of court, the activists freed. Kennedy was shunned by both the activists and the met police. It is interesting, if not unsurprising that according to Kennedy, there has been a massive growth in corporations employing APs recently. It is also interesting, if perplexing, to note that the Victoria Gardens Tranquility Team apparently enjoyed the full co-operation and support of Sussex Police in their efforts to protect the camp. This is likely evidence of the Green's support for Occupy Brighton.
To prevent infiltration by agents provocateurs, the organisers of large or controversial assemblies nowadays deploy and co-ordinate security - or in Occupy-speak - "Tranquility" for the event. Tranquility is a thankless task. I joined the movement to contribute to the production of propaganda, not to patrol a soggy green on a roundabout, protecting a bunch of delinquent alcoholics and drug addicts from the even less savoury elements of Brighton's nightlife.
It was immediately apparent however, that the camp was a PR disaster waiting to happen for the Occupy movement and for the Green Party. The Tranquility Team dropped off like flies, as we were soon dealing with dangerous, violent incidents with increasing regularity - but it had to be done or all we would be promoting was the aforementioned disaster, so we rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in maintaining the site.
We dealt with an increasing number of obnoxious individuals, intent on taking advantage of the movement's inclusive nature. These people, (mostly homeless, drunk, disaffected men) disrupted the process endlessly, massaging their own shattered egos at the camp's General Assemblies. Before long, we had sadly descended into a farcical, python-esque parody of a grass roots movement for social change.
For the most part, I felt that these people's behaviour was unwitting, undeliberately provocative - though a few were clearly there just to cause trouble. As more seasoned activists later informed me, this was typical of such squat/occupation protests and they were "dealing with much worse at lsx". It is possible these individuals were directed to us by local tory MP Mike Weatherley, by Sussex Police, and/or by any number of odious corporations. It is equally possible that they were just vulnerable, lonely people, desperate for some attention.
EIther way, what was left of the Tranquility team inevitably yielded to nervous exhaustion. Personally, I had recieved dozens of death threats and several physical attempts on my life. We had all had enough. In the end, we deployed the "Amsterdam model" in a last ditch effort to reclaim order on site. The Amsterdam model is where all the sober headed supporters officially withdraw their support for the camp and leave, in the hope that the disruptive elements will simply get bored and naff off.
In the event, much drama then ensued. Apparently, a more extreme crowd of substance abusers invaded the group who had invaded us and the camp descended into bedlam. In a single evening's debauchery the schnews tent was deliberately collapsed (with people sleeping inside) and the ASBOs tried to build a bonfire out of what was left of the donated infrastructure. A fireman was assaulted (not seriously injured, thankfully) and the camp was graciously cleared by the council.
In the aftermath, many of the activists who had travelled from Worthing to help set up the Brighton camp formed their own highly effective, well organised team: Occupy Worthing. Meanwhile, the remnants of the Brighton crew languished in the quagmire of direct democracy decision making. A General Assembly Process Working Group was initiated in January to restart the Brighton faction but it has been an uphill struggle to get things organised, thanks largely to the unhelpful procrastinations of an individual who shall remain nameless...
If you suspect someone in your organisation of being an AP - I would recommend the direct approach: Express your suspicions openly and gauge their reaction. Actions speak louder than words. If somebody is consistently dragging their feet with tasks they have agreed to deliver on, or consistently drives meetings off topic, it is fair to point out that this is a) unhelpful and b) suspicious. A paranoid person keeps their suspicions to themselves, while a cautious person deals with them in a forthright manner. It is better to appear paranoid than to be naively under-cautious in my opinion.
It is also important to remember that these APs are part of the 99% too. If we are to accomplish what needs to be accomplished we must love them unconditionally and relentlessly, until everyone last one of them goes native. Confronting someone you suspect might be uncomfortable, but it is better than living with the suspicion. It also saves a lot of time and energy.
The most important thing I have learned about Agent Provocoteurs is how easy it is to become one yourself without realising it. This can happen through the paralysis of paranoia, which is justifiably rife at the moment, or simply by virtue of good, old fashioned ego. The consensus model of decision making is great for brainstorming ideas, but invariably leads you into endless debates, often purely self-indulgent and/or semantic in nature. Semantic debates are productive to a point, but if we are focused on style, we are not focused on substance. The words themselves are not as important as their meaning. The objective is more important than the way it is worded. The action is more important than the wording of the press release about the action.
If Occupy is to achieve it's broad objective of a fairer society for all people of the world, we are going to have to recognise the potential within each of us to become unwitting agent procrastinateurs. We are going to have to learn to compromise, to agree to disagree on some things, to listen more than we talk, to learn more than we teach and ultimately to work together, as one.
Most importantly, in my opinion, we must keep the semantics out of the General Assemblies. These debates should be the preserve of a "Pedantic Semantics" Working Group who can endlessly rewrite the same statements to their heart's content.... ;)
The time for debate is over. The time for action is now!
Occupy Brighton's first General Assembly of 2012 is taking place on Saturday, 18th February 7.00-9.30pm @ the Academy of Creative Training, 8-10 Rock Place, Brighton. There is an open process meeting to co-ordinate the assembly and the working groups @ the Old Ship, Brighton Seafront (between the Piers) on Sunday, 12th February from 6.30pm. If you would like to get involved please come and join us.