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Paid Protesters Are Real: Beverly Hills Firm That Hires Them Stands Accused of Extortion
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Paid Protesters Are Real: Beverly Hills Firm That Hires Them Stands Accused of Extortion

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BEVERLY HILLS – October 23, 2018

"Paid protesters are a real thing," writes the Los Angeles Times, after a lawsuit filed by a Czech investor against a business rival spotlighted the seedy, and very real business of people being hired to express fake outrage and support and everything in-between. 

According to the lawsuit filed by Czech investor Zdenek Bakala, Prague investment manager Pavol Krupa hired the Beverly Hills company Crowds on Demand (COD) to bring protesters to march near his home in Hilton Head, SC, and to call and send emails to the Aspen Institute and Dartmouth College, where Bakala serves on advisory boards, urging them to cut ties with him. Bakala alleges that Krupa has threatened to continue and expand the campaign unless Bakala pays him $23 million.

In the Bakala case, Crowds on Demand is accused of spreading misinformation through a website, putting on protests and organizing a phone and email campaign targeting several U.S. institutions with ties to Bakala, who got an MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and had an estimated net worth topping $1 billion earlier this decade, according to Forbes,

writes the LA Times.

Crowds on Demand, a Beverly Hills firm that’s an outspoken player in the business of hiring protesters, boasts on its website that it provides its clients with “protests, rallies, flash-mobs, paparazzi events and other inventive PR stunts.… We provide everything including the people, the materials and even the ideas,” according to its website. 

The dispute between Bakala and Krupa goes back for several years, and has been the subject of inquiries by the European Commission and the Czech government, involving a formerly state-owned coal mining business, OKD, which Bakala assumed control of in 2004.

The website StopBakala.org, which Bakala alleges was set up by Krupa, Swart and Crowds on Demand, accuses Bakala of bribing officials to buy the government’s stake in the mining company for a lowball price, breaking a promise to sell company-owned apartments to employees and then taking excessive profits out of the company, which filed for bankruptcy in 2016. A Krupa investment fund is a shareholder in the company.

According to the LA Times:

Bakala, who holds U.S. and Czech citizenship, says in his lawsuit that all of those allegations are false and are part of Krupa’s extortion campaign. He alleges that Krupa offered to cease his campaign if Bakala paid $23 million for OKD shares owned by Krupa’s investment fund.

...

Crowds on Demand founder Adam Swart and Krupa neither confirmed nor denied that they are working together. They declined to answer specific questions about Bakala’s allegations, though Swart, in an emailed statement, called the claims meritless.

Not only will I vigorously defend myself against the allegations in the complaint but I am also evaluating whether to bring my own claims against Mr. Bakala,” Swart said.

"Defendants are pursuing a campaign of harassment, defamation, and interference in the business affairs of Zdenek Bakala, which they have expressly vowed to expand unless he pays them millions of dollars," reads Bakala's lawsuit (see below). 

That said, it's not clear that Krupa's alleged campaign had the desired effect. Again, the LA Times writes:

Elliot Gerson, an executive vice president at the Aspen Institute, said in an emailed statement that the institute has received calls and emails from “individuals associated with Crowds on Demand” and that the nonprofit’s general counsel has spoken with Swart “about this campaign of harassment.”

From the beginning, we assumed that these manufactured communications were linked to political issues in the Czech Republic and Mr. Bakala’s high profile in that country,” Gerson said. “Nothing we received has altered our views about Mr. Bakala.” 

Bakala's lawsuit brings to light the ongoing debate over paid protesters. President Trump, whose campaign reportedly hired actors to cheer at a 2015 rally, has repeatedly claimed that protesters are being paid by liberal billionaire George Soros and other monied interests.

Reuters/PrtSc

The hearings for Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court have been mired by raucous protests and disruptions and now the emergence of photos from the scene has prompted some to ask if the protestors were paid actors.

"There are hundreds of lobbying firms and public affairs firms that do this work, though not all in the same way," said USLA sociology professor Edward Walker, who wrote a book on the business of paid protesting, also known as astroturfing,, entitled Grassroots for Hire: Public Affairs Consultants in American Democracy. "Some only do a little bit of this grass-roots-for-hire, but things adjacent to this are not uncommon today."

In 2014, ABC's Nightline reported that a group backed by the beverage industry was hiring people to protest a soda tax measure, posting ads on Craigslist for paid protesters at $13 an hour.

Reuters

The San Francisco company Demand Protest encourages people: "Fight against Trump and earn!" We pay people who are already politically motivated to stand up for what they believe," the company explains, positioning itself as "the largest private grassroots support organization in the US." Direct participation in events was compensated with $50 an hour.

Other rallies against Trump were also funded by the American organization MoveOn.org. There, too, it’s all about the money. Groups of activists took to the streets not because they were unhappy with Trump, but for the money that was transferred to them from different sources, including from billionaire and influential lobbyist George Soros.

Reuters/PrtSc

So, Crowds on Demand isn’t the only outfit that hires paid protesters, though it is perhaps the most open about what it does. “There are hundreds of lobbying firms and public affairs firms that do this work, though not all in the same way,” said Prof. Walker. “Some only do a little bit of this grassroots-for-hire, but things adjacent to this are not uncommon today,” Walker explained.

During the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, many noted what appeared to be a man, Vinay Krishnan, who works for the progressive activist organization Center for Popular Democracy, paying a woman named Vickie Lampron who was later seen in the Kavanaugh hearing.

Reuters/PrtSc

Krishnan said that the money was given to people to pay fines in case they were arrested. 

Winnie Wong, senior adviser to the Women's March, along with co-founders Linda Sarsour and Bob Bland were all arrested for their part in disrupting the confirmation hearings.

"This is well-organized and scripted. This isn't chaos,” Wong told CNN"It's exercising your constitutional rights.”

Wong confirmed to CNN that the Women's March had been fundraising for the planned protests via the group's email list and was paying protesters’ $35-$50 bail.

As the LA Times notes, paid protesters aren't a recent phenomenon:

Longtime California political consultant Garry South, who was a campaign strategist for California Gov. Gray Davis, said it’s long been common for campaigns and political parties to pay people a few bucks or perhaps provide a meal in exchange for attending a rally. He recalled a 2002 rally in San Francisco where he said that tactic was used.

It turns out, the San Francisco Democratic Party, to bolster the crowd, had basically gone down to skid row and paid people $5 or something to tromp up to Union Square,” South said.

But he sees a big difference between that kind of activity and the paid protests allegedly organized by Crowds on Demand.

“What’s different is the commercialization of the process,” he said. “It just contributes to the air of unreality that exists in this day and age with essentially not being able to believe your own eyes or ears. I don’t think it’s particularly healthy. But it probably inevitably was going to come to this.” 

Crowds on Demand, meanwhile, shamelessly boasts on their website that they were hired by a business rival to "cripple the operations" of a manufacturing business owned by a convicted child molester, which resulted in the hiring company buying the molester-owned business for "5 percent of its previous value." 

In another "case study," COD brags about staging a rally to support an unidentified foreign leader who was visiting the United Nations. 

"The concern was ensuring that the leader was well received by a U.S. audience and confident for his work at the U.N. We created demonstrations of support with diverse crowds.," says COD. 

"A lot of times, companies don’t want to be known for using this kind of strategy,” Walker said. “Crowds on Demand, they’re more out about it. ... It is strikingly brazen."

I wonder if the paid protests are a crime against society. Is it possible to consider it a democratic country where people’s opinions are determined only by how much the buyer is willing to pay? Is it worth listening to such an opinion? How can we distinguish hired acting from sincere feelings? Is this the pinnacle of the development of a liberal society, where there is no man, but rather buyers and sellers, where there is no place for the soul, but money and business?

Author: USA Really