Fake protesters marching in Los Angeles.
Crowds on Demand, as the name suggests, is a company that will organize a crowd for you, on demand.
The two main scenarios that require this service are: 1) You're an aspiring celebrity who wants to make it seem like people give a shit about you, so you hire some fake fans; or 2) you believe in a cause and want to make it seem like people give a shit about it, so you hire some fake protesters.
Unfortunately, I couldn't go along to see one of the company's fake fan events (as they're super secret,) so I went along to a fake protest they organized in Los Angeles, instead. While there, I sat down for a chat with Crowds on Demand's founder and CEO, Adam Swart.
Fake protesters raising tourists' awareness on Hollywood Boulevard.
VICE: What's this event that's happening now?
Adam Swart: It's an event we're doing in coordination with a charity. We're trying to raise awareness about mental health issues. They want to raise a lot more awareness about mental health, which is an often overlooked issue when it comes to, uh, to policy.
OK. Are they paying you for this?
They get a discount. We give charities discounts.
How many people are protesting here?
Are any of these guys real protesters or are they all provided by you?
They're all provided by me.
Can I ask how much they're getting paid for this?
They get $15 an hour.
If I wanted to do something like this and have 20 people protesting on my behalf, how much would that cost me?
Normally it would cost you a couple thousand dollars, but in this case we're doing it for less than that.
Your company also provides fake fans for things, right?
Yes, we surround people with an entourage. Security guards, paparazzi, fans—all the trappings of celebrity. It's like the whole experience of being famous. You'll be walking down the Vegas Strip or the Hollywood Walk of Fame and everyone will think you're an A-lister.
And who uses that service?
A lot of tourists will use it. People in the entertainment industry use it, people who are up-and-coming and want to increase hype for their name.
How much does that cost?
It all depends, it starts at the low thousands, though.
What would "the low thousands" provide me with?
A couple of photographers, five or six fans, and two security guards. A small entourage, but you don't need a large entourage to get attention.
A fake protester making an Amanda Bynes reference. When I asked one of the protesters if they knew what they were protesting for, he told me, "It's a day to ban guns, I think."
Anyway, back to this protest. What do the signs say?
"Purge Day USA." It's all about purging the mental health problems, like, think optimistically. It's a call for optimistic thinking and to sort of... purge your bad thoughts.
But with these signs that just say "purge day, August 21st"—what exactly is that giving to people who just drive past? I wouldn't know what that sign meant if I saw it. I would think it was something to do with the movie The Purge.
The goal, like with any sort of demonstration on the street, is to keep people's attention. So when they get home, maybe they tell their friends about it or they look it up on their computer. Just sort of spread the word about it.
Do you think it diminishes the impact of real protest when it's possible to hire protesters?
I think when the cause is good, and you're demonstrating over meaningful issues... What's important is the awareness, not the means.
Say a cause you don't agree with wanted to hire protesters. For instance, some kind of company who wanted to cause huge and terrible environmental damage offered you $50,000 to gather protesters to support their cause, would you do it?
I don't want to speculate hypothetically. I would look into each individual request and see whether it's worth being involved in... We have organized protests on behalf of private businesses before. But I don't want to speak in hypotheticals.
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