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From their use in businesses to political campaigns, we look at the phenomenon of paid protesters

A demonstrator holds a sign reading 'I'm not being paid to protest
A demonstrator holds a sign reading 'I'm not being paid to protest" at a demonstration outside the White House against President Donald Trump's executive action to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline on February 8, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

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You may have heard about paid protesters in the form of accusation from President Trump, who has claimed, for example, that the demonstrators protesting Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court were “paid professionals.”

While there’s no evidence to substantiate Trump’s claim, the phenomenon of paid protesters is real. As reported by LA Times reporter James Rufus Koren, one Beverly Hills firm called Crowds on Demand provides clients with rallies, flash-mobs and protests. (And the company is currently facing a lawsuit accusing them of extortion.)

We look at this company in Beverly Hills, as well as the larger phenomenon of “astroturfing,” or creating the illusion of grass-roots mobilization, as its used by businesses and political campaigns. How widespread is this phenomenon? How does it usually work, logistically, and to what end? Is the practice unethical?


James Rufus Koren, reporter covering business for the LA Times, where his recent article is “Paid protesters? They're real — and a Beverly Hills firm that hires them stands accused of extortion in a lawsuit”; he tweets @jrkoren

Edward Walker, professor of sociology at UCLA; his book on “astroturfing” is “Grassroots for Hire: Public Affairs Consultants in American Democracy” (Cambridge University Press, 2014); he tweets @edwardwalker

Garry South, longtime California Democratic political consultant; he tweets @GarrySouth