It turns out that some of the protestors at New Orleans City Council meetings on a power plant proposal were actually paid actors.
Did George Soros finally come through with some of that fabled protest money?
No. The paid protestors were hired for the other side, to pretend to be grassroots supporters of the power plant proposal at two public hearings last fall. A company called Crowds on Demand did the hiring on behalf of a public relations firm called the Hawthorn Group, which was hired by Entergy New Orleans, the company that wants to build the power plant.
Entergy says it never authorized anyone to hire paid actors, and the Hawthorn Group likewise says they didn’t think a company called Crowds on Demand would go so far as to pay people to assemble crowds (on demand).
According to the Lens, a nonprofit public-interest online publication, at least 4 of the approximately 50 people who wore bright orange pro-power-plant t-shirts (“Clean Energy. Good Jobs. Reliable Power.”) to a city council meeting in October told the publication that they had been paid $60 for appearing. Some received $200 to deliver a speech supporting the plant.
The actors were recruited via Facebook posts and word-of-mouth and were told to arrive early, so they could fill the seats before people opposed to the power plant proposal showed up. It worked—many people who arrived shortly after the October meeting convened were not allowed inside.
At the final city council meeting discussing the power plant, on March 8, the primary Crowds on Demand organizer was no longer in New Orleans, according to Facebook screenshots obtained by the Lens, and attendees opposed to the power plant outnumbered supporters. “I was struck by how few people came to speak in favor of the power plant at the last meeting when no one was being paid,” Councilwoman Susan Guidry told the Lens.
Guidry was the only member of the council to vote against the power plant proposal, which was approved 6-1 in March. The plan was controversial from the start: Entergy had claimed it needed more power generation during periods of peak demand, but a broad array of groups (including the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Affordable Energy) had expressed opposition to the plant, and the coalition is now suing to reverse the approval. One of the allegations in the lawsuit is that plant opponents were turned away from public meetings for lack of space.
Paying actors to attend public meetings—or “astroturfing”—isn’t illegal in and of itself, but its use isn’t easy to pinpoint because the actors are typically asked to sign non-disclosure agreements. The Hollywood Reporter reported in 2015 that actors were solicited to attend Donald Trump’s announcement that he was running for president, and we know how that turned out.