Say you’ve got someone who comes to you from another campaign which has imploded. Say he’s full of confidence, full of charisma. Say he’s good at making sure his needs and ambitions are talked about. Say he’s good at seeming to agree with everyone else, but is actually determined to push through what he wants, regardless of the consequences for the health of the group. Say his finances are murky – no clear visible means of support.
You COULD start to wonder, are they a cop, or perhaps an activist who has been talent-spotted and “hired” by the dark-side. And you could look for evidence for ages and ages. And while you were doing that, you’d be exhausting yourself, and creating paranoia. And if your search was rumbled, you’d give the person – if they were cop/agent – a perfect get-out-of-jail-free card – “it’s a witch hunt.”
Or you can look at it another way; it’s not the motivation, it’s the behaviour.
If someone is unhealthily disruptive (challenging everyone’s assumptions is fine, but hijacking and derailing agendas is not), if someone is interested in creating emotional intensity instead of long-term movement-building, then THAT is the problem, not who they may or may not be.
But confronting behaviour that is destructive is a thing most activists find very very difficult. They know their own imperfections will be thrown back in their faces. They know they will be accused of trying to assume power; “who are you to tell me how to act? Who voted you chief fascist dictator? We are non-hierarchical here, which means everyone gets to do what they like.”
And so they defer doing anything through idle speculation on cop-ness, or by hoping the activist will go elsewhere (once he’s destroyed the campaign, and has no more audience for his psychodrama, he probably will. Might be a bit late to be helpful), or that he will magically change his ways.
Anything to avoid a confrontation and accusations of being a “splitter” (“we should be fighting the oil companies/the government/the Zionists/the weapons-sellers, not each other.”)
And so there is never any selection pressure on shitty behaviour, and new activists whose hearts are broken by the crappy behaviour learn – as they leave the movement – that activism is pointless.
Whether they are cops, agents or just good old-fashioned muppets, the behaviour is working.