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Published on September 30th, 2009 | by Eli Clifton

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Agents Deprovocateurs?

By Eli Clifton

Below are some interesting videos I made in Pittsburgh last week. I was in town to cover the G-20 summit but went out on Thursday night with a friend to see some of the protests occurring around the city. At this protest, held at the University of Pittsburgh, we saw an curious series of events transpire.

Pittsburgh police in riot gear were slowly and systematically moving protesters out of the street and away from a roadblock near a venue where summit delegates were attending an evening reception. As the line of riot police was about to finish moving the crowd on to the sidewalk, a small group of protesters—who seemed to be mainly university students—sat down in the street and refused police orders to move.

This brought what had been a relatively easy effort by the police to clear a street into a more direct confrontation. Would they arrest the students? Teargas them? Use their omnipresent batons? Would the students—who seemed to have no shared cause for protest—stand, or rather sit, their ground?

We stood with a small group of people watching this confrontation develop. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, two young men with drums and a young woman with finger cymbals started beating out a drum circle beat and leading call-and-response chants.

The young men—wearing identical cargo shorts and matching hemp necklaces— and the young woman soon had all of the sit-in participants up on their feet and dancing, slowly leading them away from the police line. A confrontation was averted.

Who were the trio of dancer-drummers? Why did they only appear at the moment a confrontation seemed inevitable?

Sit-in having turned to dance party, my companion and I walked away from the protest wondering what we had just watched transpire.

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One Response to Agents Deprovocateurs?

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  1. avatar Jon Harrison says:

    The video unfortunately is a big letdown from your reportage, which has a nicely understated sense of drama about it. One really can’t make out the mysterious trio, or much else on the brief and quite dark video segments.

    I have the impression that you think the deus ex machina aspect of the trio’s appearance may have been more than mere chance — that perhaps the authorities had the team primed and ready for the role they wound up playing. That the authorities are that subtle and sophisticated I tend to doubt — if they indeed are then surely the free individual is doomed to disappear before a all-seeing, all knowing, all powerful Leviathan.

    Do you think you witnessed a bit of stage-management, or not?


About the Author

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Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



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