From Hip Hop & Politics who is talking to the Muslim community, but his advice applies no less to anarchists:
I'm sick and tired of watching good groups fail because of the wicked people who are still being sent among us. Moreso because of our failure to respond appropriately to these wicked people. I don't blame them so much as I blame us for not doing anything about them. But we who are intelligent people should be wise enough to know that COINTELPRO still exists, both online and in real life. Yet very rarely do I hear about people being "run from among us" nowadays. So we know that they're here, yet we continue to let them do their work? They're not gathering info. They're making us fall apart. And my survey says that they're being highly successful. So if you can use this to improve your organization, please do so. If not, I've said my part. Here's some qualities to look for, when you are wondering if someone is an agent provocateur:
1. They bring confusion and chaos with them. Every time they come around, it's drama.
2. They keep discussions and productivity at a stalemate. They'd rather keep debating than engaging the community you're supposed to serve.
3. They focus on impertinent theoretical points of contention as serious sources of conflict. It's never about the people or the work. It's always about some ideas, structures, philosophy, or abstract concept.
4. They create/increase tribalism and intensify pre-existing organizational dissatisfaction. Whatever issues you had, they root them out and make them grow.
5. They don't have reputable sources or references for where they come from. Nobody knows them where they say they came from, or they can't even tell you who can vouch for them. Anyone with more than 5 years of involvement in any community should have good references. Anyone with less than 5 years experiences should not be in a position to dictate or distract.
6. Many have short bursts of vigorous activity, not long histories of continuous (documented/verifiable) growth and development. They come in, make a mess, then disappear to enjoy their plea deal, stipend, etc...or to move on to another org. Because we have little cross-organizational communication, they can sometimes do the same thing to 3 or 4 orgs in a row. So many of them are organization-hoppers.
7. Others claim long histories, even claiming "birthrights" of some sort, as a means to establish authority. Yet these claims rarely hold up under further investigation. For example, some agents who were outed by the Church Committee had claimed to be "born into" the organizations and groups they'd later infiltrated. Oh, by the way, I'm a historical researcher. Everything in this list is based on extensive research on publicly-identified agent provocateurs, as well as the documented methods used by COINTELPRO, the CIA, the "hip hop police" etc.
8. They have ambiguous sources of income. They may be on the payroll, but they're posing as an independent hustler of some sort, or working in some office building you can't visit.
9. They came from prison or worked in the military or law enforcement in the past (or the present, if u dig deep enough). They may be working in exchange for reduced time/plea agreement/special assignment.
10. They turn around all questions about them into attacks on the questioner. They create scapegoats, red herrings, and target people who may be onto them.
11. They build alliances with weak-minded dissatisfied people through shared vices, financial generosity, or a sense of solidarity. Do you smoke with em and give em a free pass on their transgressions?
12. They also "give" as a means of establishing authority and legitimacy. Some even give "knowledge" to an extent that it blurs their allegiances, making less critical-minded people believe they "must" be on the side of good, since they share so much "good information." But even this can be a ruse. If the information does not serve to liberate people, empower the community (regular people, that is), and engender social change, then they are doing NOTHING to disturb the status quo.
13. These people don't tend to be primary sources either. They simply get credit by "sharing" or transmitting information and ideas created by others. Yet these people also tend to "modify" this info as well, significantly affecting the end result.
14. They act like zealots but aren't zealous about social change. You'll never see them go this hard when it comes to helping regular people.
15. They want power and control, but demonstrate no ability to use this power or control for the good of others. Once they have acquired enough authority, it's all gonna get burned to the ground.
16. They are masters of manipulation, but never teach others how to manipulate the system. But watch how they can twist, spin, and distort everything that comes their way. It takes TRAINING to be that good. And there are actually programs that train people on how to do this.
FYI, I'm not talking about people who are stupid and don't know how to act right. I'm talking about people who are clear, consistent, and CONSCIOUSLY working to undermine and neutralize progress. It's not impossible to distinguish the former from the latter. And typically, the former acts that way because they are following the lead of the latter.
Also, let's be clear. Agents are no longer gathering information, unless your org. is HIGHLY proactive and doing intensive work in the community...so let's stop this talk of "They can come and take whatever notes they want...and I'ma teach em." No. Most agents now are simply working to keep orgs at a STANDSTILL. Mired in debate, hate, and wait. Read that again. DEBATE, HATE, and/or WAIT. Through these three mechanisms, they do their job QUITE effectively.
What do you do if someone has many of these characteristics? If your org has a structure for calling someone to attention and letting them know their actions are creating a disturbance, then it's time to gather the people who can call that meeting and notify that person. Either they will (A) become belligerent and threaten physical harm, (B) respond quietly and soon disappear, or (C) continue doing the same. If they disappear, notify other orgs about them, because that person may be headed their way. If they do (A) or (C), proceed to whatever is "level 2" of your org's protocol for dealing with serious offenders. Just know that the person is NOT someone with a misunderstanding, or someone who just doesn't get it yet. If you are effective in explaining your concerns (as a collective) and they PERSIST, it should be clear that they are not naive. They are acting purposefully and willfully, and it is YOUR collective failure if you allow this behavior to exist, remain, thrive, and destroy everything around it.
I'm just one man speaking, but I had to say something because it's getting out of control in some places. I hope people will take notice and DO something. Beyond what I've said above, it's important we establish some cross-cultural/cross-organizational communication. I propose that we identify, by name and picture, those individuals we run out of our groups, so that when they come to another group, we will know not to accept this person in with open arms. I'd love to some sort of online agent provocateur database (like www.whosarat.com), but that presents too much potential for abuse and misuse. In lieu of that, we should AT LEAST engage in (a) teaching awareness of the above, (b) background checks on new people coming to our groups, (c) some checks and balances for people trying to leverage power and authority, (d) an investigation and response protocol for people causing repeated disturbances, and (e) cross-organizational communication for people who have been rooted out.
Tag anyone you know who is involved with an organization/group/culture that is serious about the community, and who would benefit from this perspective.