Field to Table: Brendan Skip Mark (Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science)

Unpacking Repressive Repositories: Outside Agitators

  • Date: November 3, 2021
  • Time: 3:00 PM EST
  • Location: This event was on Zoom and has concluded.


Leaders have a large set of tools that make up their repertoire of repression. One such tool is framing dissidents as “outside agitators.” Outside agitators are defined by two characteristics: first, they are not part of the group making demands of the state, but are some “other” who either do not share the goals of the group or come from elsewhere and have no right to make demands; second, they seek to agitate state-citizen relations and stir up trouble. This tool is often used by authoritarian leaders in response to social movements, but has also historically been used in the United States against Black protest movements. The use of the outside agitator narrative seeks to delegitimize the demands of dissidents and to reduce public opinion backlash when leaders use other repressive tools. This presentation explores the results of a 2,000 person survey experiment carried out in the United States which explores how the framing of protesters as outside agitators shapes public opinion on state repression. I find that most Americans believe outside agitators were frequently present at Black Lives Matter protests that occured during 2020. The findings also suggest that framing protesters as outside agitators has little to no cost to leaders even when evidence directly contradicts the outside agitator claim; in most instances allegations of outside agitators reduces public backlash against state repression. These findings help to unpack the costs and benefits of using the outside agitator narrative to pre-empt and justify repression.