On 14 August 2017, a Craigslist job advertisement began to spread on social media and chat forums like Reddit and 4Chan. The ad, which had appeared a week earlier, appeared to offer up to $25 an hour to applicants willing to form part of a crowd for events in Charlotte, North Carolina:
Crowds on Demand, a Los Angeles-based Public Relations firm specializing in innovative events, is looking for enthusiastic actors and photographers in the Charlotte, NC area to participate in our events. Our events include everything from rallies to protests to corporate PR stunts to celebrity scenes.
The Craigslist posting quickly led to speculation that Crowds on Demand was involved in providing actors to take part in either a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August 2017, a counter-protest in the same location, or demonstrations against the Charlottesville rally in various cities. (An anti-racist “Vigil for Charlottesville” took place at Marshall Park in Charlotte, North Carolina the day after the “Unite the Right” rally.)
We asked Crowds on Demand whether they posted the Craigslist ad or if they were involved in recruiting actors for the Charlottesville rally or counter-protest, or any other demonstrations held in other cities in response to the “Unite the Right” event. In a statement, the company’s CEO Adam Swart denied any involvement in the rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville, but did not rule out their possible involvement in other related events:
We were not involved in any capacity with the recent tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those impacted by the violence.
In a phone conversation, Swart also told us that while Crowds on Demand is not a politically partisan company, and provides its services to any political party, they “don’t work with hate groups.” When asked if the company would provide actors for protests against hate groups, Swart did not give a direct answer — but did say they do not put actors into situations that might prove dangerous for them.
On 15 August 2017, the original Craigslist ad was temporarily withdrawn and “held for review” by the website before being restored. When asked whether Crowds on Demand had been involved in the ad’s temporary removal from the web site, Swart declined to comment.
Indivisible Charlotte, the main organizing group behind the Charlotte, North Carolina vigil held in response to the Charlottesville, Virginia white supremacist rally denied using Crowds on Demand for the 13 August 2017 event. Scott Huffman, a founder of the Charlotte branch of the nationwide anti-Trump movement Indivisible, told us he was unaware of the ad’s existence until we shared it with him.
I’m a little taken aback by this… Indivisible Charlotte did not request or hire or pay anybody for appearing.
Furthermore, Huffman said the “Vigil for Charlottesville” was only planned a day in advance in response to the events of 12 August, during which a woman was killed and several others injured after a car attack on anti-white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville. He pointed to a Facebook event announcement he posted on the Indivisible Charlotte page at 6.10pm on 12 August 2017, just over 24 hours before the vigil itself.
Crowds on Demand denies providing actors for any gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August 2017, but did not comment on whether they were involved in subsequent protests held in response to the “Unite the Right” rally. The organizers of the Charlotte, North Carolina vigil on 13 August strongly denied using the services of Crowds on Demand, and it seems somewhat implausible that they did given the fact that the Craigslist ad was posted on 7 August 2017 and Indivisible Charlotte announced their vigil just 24 hours in advance.
It is also unclear who posted the Craigslist ad. The chief executive officer of Crowds on Demand refused to comment on whether his company posted it, for what purpose, or whether they were later responsible for having it temporarily removed. In the absence of a bilateral denial of the crowd hire company’s involvement, we cannot definitively say that Crowds on Demand were not involved in anti-white supremacist demonstrations in Charlotte, North Carolina, or elsewhere, during the weekend of 12 and 13 August 2017.