In January 2017, multiple web sites reported that a group called “Demand Protest” had placed several ads on Backpage.com offering to pay people to protest against President-elect Donald Trump at his inauguration:
Donald Trump may have a point about paid protesters: Job ads running in more than 20 cities offer $2,500 per month for agitators to demonstrate at this week’s presidential inauguration events.
Demand Protest, a San Francisco company that bills itself as the “largest private grassroots support organization in the United States,” posted identical ads Jan. 12 in multiple cities on Backpage.com seeking “operatives.”
“Get paid fighting against Trump!” says the ad.
It’s also true that the web site DemandProtest.com exists, but there were several reasons to be suspicious about the site, the related Backpage ads, and the attendant claim that DemandProtest was offering to hire “agitators” and pay them $2,500 each to protest against Trump.
It wasn’t immediately clear who was behind the site and ads. According to the Demand Protest’s “About” page, the organization is run by a group of strategists who all operate with “absolute discretion”:
We are strategists mobilizing millennials across the globe with seeded audiences and desirable messages. With absolute discretion a top priority, our operatives create convincing scenes that become the building blocks of massive movements. When you need the appearance of outrage, we are able to deliver it at scale while keeping your reputation intact.
The web site also claimed in January 2017 that the group had already organized 48 campaigns for seventeen different causes:
This would have been been quite a feat, as the web site DemandProtest.com was no more than a month old at the time. According to the domain’s registrar, DemandProtest.com wasn’t registered until 2 December 2016.
The web site also promised to use “absolute discretion” so as to not raise suspicions about their engaging paid protesters at events. However, the group allegedly posted dozens of ads on the publicly accessible Backpage.com in an attempt to recruit people to protest at Donald Trump’s inauguration — the very opposite of “discretion.” So one might conclude that either Demand Protest is very bad at their job, or they had an ulterior motive for publicly linking themselves to obviously controversial advertisements.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson confronted “Dom Tullipso,” the purported owner of the Demand Protest web site, on 17 January 2017 and called his company a sham. While “Tullipso” (Carlson asserted that the man could not properly identify himself) did not admit that the web site was a hoax, he did appear to be plainly joking throughout the interview. “Tullipso” also spent little time attempting to verify his own web site in favor of attacking the legitimacy of Fox News:
Shortly after that interview aired, the Washington Times — one of the first news outlets to report on Demand Protest’s Backpage ads recruiting anti-Trump protesters (and suggest they might be legitimate) — changed their reporting to declare the web site a hoax:
The polished Demand Protest website, the Backpage.com ads recruiting paid protesters for the Trump inauguration: Apparently it was all a hoax.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, rumors were rampant about paid protesters being bussed into cities to disrupt Trump rallies, yet we found none of those claims to be credible. Craigslist.com ads were also posted in November 2016 in a seeming attempt to recruit paid protesters, but again we found evidence they were anything other than hoaxes.
Anyone can post an ad to Craigslist and Backpage for free (or a minimal fee). The existence of “paid protester” ads on one of these sites does not in itself document that anyone is actually attempting to hire protesters for a fee.