A satirical website offering “rioters” for $99 each — with a “Car/Dumpster fire upgrade option available” — was cited by the FBI as evidence that “violent agitators” were being paid to cause mayhem in the early days of the George Floyd protests. Anti-terrorism agencies known as Fusion Centers, including the one in Maine, spread the bogus warning to local police departments, likely contributing to increased tension and conflict between officers and demonstrators in the streets.
A Situational Information Report by the FBI’s San Antonio Division, dated June 3, states: “unidentified individuals discussed various websites for payment to agitate and commit violent acts.” Payments to “violent agitators” were made “anonymously via Bitcoin” and “were rumored to be managed by members of Antifa.” The report claims “targets and locations were also discussed on the websites.”
The two sites cited in the report are crowdsondemand.com and protestjobs.com.
Crowds on Demand is a legitimate public-relations business, based in Beverly Hills, that provides paid participants primarily for corporate and media events.
Protest Jobs, however, is entirely satirical. The site’s creator, who spoke to Mainer on condition of anonymity due to online threats, designed it in 2017 as a joke to mock right-wing conspiracies about paid leftist protesters. He even included a jab at the newly elected president, offering a “Free National Parks [Service] tweet comparing the size of your protest to the inauguration” as a perk included in the priciest protest package.
The site’s creator said it had been dormant for years until the end of this May, when protests swept the nation in the wake of Floyd’s killing. BuzzFeed News reporter Jane Lytvynenko contacted him on May 31 and informed him that Protest Jobs was going viral via far-right Facebook groups, whose members cited it as proof that anti-fascists were paying people to wreck havoc at protests against police brutality. BuzzFeed subsequently reported that Facebook posts about the site were shared over 30,000 times, generating upwards of a million visits to protestjobs.com.
“I woke up Monday morning (June 1st) after Jane called and there had been 500,000 people on the site overnight,” the web designer said. “Literally all the shares and traffic were coming from Facebook.”
The Protest Jobs site “was being used to delegitimize protests all over the place,” said a researcher working for BuzzFeed. “Most of the people who were sharing it were convinced that it was real.”
The fact-checking publication Snopes published a story on May 31 debunking the social media rumors that Protest Jobs was a real service. By the following day, its creator had added a prominent disclaimer to the site that reads: “REAL: 120,000+ AMERICANS ARE DEAD. FAKE: THIS WEBSITE. REAL: TRUMP IS A FAILURE.” And on June 3, the Fact Check team of news service Reuters also published an article pointing out that the site is satirical.
Yet that same day, June 3, the FBI office in Texas was taking Protest Jobs deadly serious. Its report states: “The company offers a variety of protest packages that include, but are not limited to, proving spray paint artists, broken storefront windows, and car and dumpster fire upgrade options.”
The official warning sent to local cops in early June by the Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC) and other Fusion Centers linked to that report and said it “discusses the use of various websites for payment to individuals who agitate and commit violent acts during protests.”
The FBI report and attendant Fusion Center warning are contained in a massive database of leaked files known as BlueLeaks. On July 7, Mainer reported on a similar example of federal and state law enforcement agencies twisting far-right rumors of leftist violence into official warnings sent to local police departments. In that case, it was rumors that anti-fascists were stashing stacks of bricks at protest sites for use as weapons. Sources for that warning included a pandemic denier in Massachusetts associated with a violent far-right group responsible for a 2019 anti-gay event in Boston.
Protest Jobs’ creator told Mainer he was “genuinely surprised by how many people took and presented [the website] as truth, many without even clicking the link on Facebook. Just the sheer quantity of people was shocking. And I certainly didn’t expect the FBI to get ahold of it.” “Taking a step back, it’s clear my website can be used to push a narrative,” he added. “I guess it’s easier for people’s minds to default to conspiracy. Especially when these ideas are presented as truth.”