When a group—especially a group connected with political dissent— is suspected to be involved with criminal activity, police have been known to use a common tactic called infiltration.(1) Infiltration occurs when undercover law enforcement officers lie and pretend to be interested in becoming members of these groups. This is legal: no law or constitutional right prevents law enforcement from being dishonest or forces law enforcement to reveal their identities. Therefore, it is left to individuals and organization to watch out for infiltration.
In some situations, police infiltrate groups to collect information about the organization’s activities.(2) In other cases, police secretly encourage group members to participate in criminal conduct. This can result in both the individual being convicted and the group being discredited as a whole.(3) It is extremely hard to defend people charged in those circumstances—in other words, the government almost always wins.(4)
For example, during the 2012 Occupy protests in Cleveland, undercover FBI agents infiltrated Occupy Cleveland and later arrested five members for allegedly attempting to blow up a bridge.(5) After infiltrating the group, an operative with the Federal Bureau of Investigation actually provided these five with fake explosives, plus “jobs, money a place to live, a friendly ear, beer, pot, and the prescription stimulant Adderall.”(6) These are common tactics used to build trust with members of the organization the law enforcement agent is attempting to infiltrate.
The FBI arrests occurred on the same day as Occupy’s planned May Day protest.(7) Although the public was never in danger and the FBI engineered the crime, the five individuals were charged and the group was widely discredited.(8) To protect against this in the future, protest groups should keep law enforcement infiltration in mind and be sure to vet their members.