A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 28, 2011
Rent-a-Crowd (Rent-a-Mob)

"Rent-a-crowd” (or “rentacrowd") and “rent-a-mob” (or “rentamob") are terms dating from the mid-1960s referring to fake agitation for or against a cause or a candidate. Sometimes the crowd or mob receives payment, but other times the rentacrowd/rentamob consists of unemployed persons who simply like to protest, such as some college students. The rentacrowd/rentamob people might also be a portion of the crowd/mob, but a more radical portion that pushes the event towards violence.

“Grassroots” is an older term meaning the authentic support from the masses. “Astroturf” is the opposite of “grassroots” and a more modern term for “rentacrowd/rentamob.”


Wiktionary: rent-a-crowd
Etymology
The term is derived from a fictional company, Rentacrowd Ltd., mentioned in the Peter Simple (w:Michael Wharton) columns in the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Noun
rent-a-crowd (uncountable)
1.A group of people who are paid to attend an event to increase attendance figures, rather than attending of their own volition.

Urban Dictionary
Rent a crowd
Wankers who will protest against anything and everything even if they don’t know what they are protesting about. Mostly made up of foul smelling hippies and moronic people
by Fourstar82 Aug 28, 2003

Urban Dictionary
rent-a-mob
Large group of people who are always protesting, seemingly irrationally, and mobilized by “grassroots operatives.”
“I wanted to drive to Main Street today, but there is a rent-a-mob out there and traffic can’t get through.”
by RobertSW May 31, 2008

Slang-Dictionary.org
Rent-a-crowd
Australian Slang
audience which is induced to attend a function for reasons other than their own entertainment; an audience procured directly by the organisers of an event

Investopedia
What Does Rent-A-Crowd Mean?
A group of people rented to make a business appear busy. Rent-a-crowds are sometimes employed on the grand openings of a new business to give the appearance that something is attracting people to the store, which then potentially attracts real customers, who come to see why the crowd has gathered.

Wikipedia: Michael Wharton
Michael Wharton (19 April 1913 – 23 January, 2006) was a newspaper columnist who wrote under the pseudonym Peter Simple in the British Daily Telegraph. He began work on the “Way of the World” column with illustrator Michael ffolkes three times a week in early 1957. In 1990 he began a weekly Peter Simple column in the Sunday Telegraph, before returning to the Daily Telegraph as a weekly columnist in 1996. He remained there until his death, aged 92, in 2006, his last column appearing on 20 January 2006.

Wikipedia: List of Peter Simple’s characters
These are characters created by the columnist Peter Simple (1913-2006) from 1957 onwards. Some of his characters are based on real people and some real people seem to be based on his characters. A few of these links are noted.
(...)
Rentamob (originally Rentacrowd) — mammoth consortium supplying semi-automated, slogan-shouting demonstrators wherever they are required. Was particularly in demand during the Apartheid era.

17 October 1965, Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), “Anti-Viet Protests Encouraging Things They Fear” by James Reston, pg. A17, col. 4:
Honest conscientious objectors are being confused with unconscientious objectors, hangers-on, intellectual graduate school draft-dodgers, and rent-a-crowd boobs who will demonstrate for or against anything.

14 November 1965, Springfield (MA) Sunday Republican, “This Wild West” by Lucius Beebe, pg. 20C, col. 1:
Demonstrators Made to Order
VIRGINIA CITY, Nev.—You can rent a mob any day you’ve a mind to in and around the University of California’s campus at Berkeley. You hire it from dealers in this special commodity who have their sidewalk offices outside Sproul Hall in Berkeley and can supply mass demonstrations on order at any hour of the day or night, in any size or number and with guaranteed full degree of dedication to even the most witless and absurd causes and, if need be, to treason against the United States.

Google Books
The Moments, and Other Pieces
By J. B. Priestley
London: Heinemann
1966
Pg. ?:
In many instances, of course, these ‘demonstrations’ are anything but student improvisations, having been organized by governments on a secret rent-a-mob basis.

Google Books
Prelude to independence:
Skeen’s 115 days

By Andrew Skeen
Nasionale Boekhandel
1966
Pg. 27:
The extraordinary appearance of the persons who took part in the demonstrations was enough to cause a revulsion in decent, ordinary people, and I soon found out that a commercial organisation called “Rent a crowd” used to provide these lay-abouts as demonstrators to any organisation, from ban-the-bombers to anti-blood sports.

Time magazine
Protest: And Leave the Marching to Us
Friday, May. 05, 1967
Mad at the President? Incensed at the Congress? Against—or for—U.S. policy in Viet Nam? For the citizen too distant, busy or shy to join a Capital picket line, the answer is a new organization known as Proxy Pickets.

Started by three 19-year-olds at Washington’s George Washington University, Proxy Pickets will furnish the bodies, signs, and spirited dialogue for almost any cause—for a fee. A relatively modest $17* will put five pickets in front of the White House for an hour, $79 will set 25 marching, and $154 will bring out a crowd of no fewer than 50 —with “larger demonstrations and additional services” available on request. “A two-hour demonstration can be quite effective,” gushes the flier, but “a longer one could be truly impressive.”

Though the founders of the rent-a-mob organization admit to being somewhat hawkish on the war themselves, they will gladly stage antiwar protests—if at all possible, with picketers who agree with the cause

Google Books
27 September 1968, Life magazine, “The Presidency: The foolish game of crowdsmanship” by Hugh Sidey, pg. 4, col. 2:
It has been suggested by a few disillusioned observers that the next step is a rent-a-crowd service for candidates with the cash. The crowd would fly along with the politician.

26 December 1970, Winnipeg (Manitoba) Free Press, “Radicals Think Plans Working” by Martin Walker, pg. 49, col. 7:
But until November 1969 the strategy was baased on a tactic which Oxford students called Rentamob.

It was based on the idea that a radical group had at its disposal a hard core of rioters who could turn a demonstration into a confrontation. The hard core would provoke police until moderate demonstrators were radicalized, the police over-reacted and a riot took place.

Google Books
The Progress of Private Lilyworth
By Russell Braddon
London: Joseph
1971
Pg. 115:
“Rentamob. Of course they’re mostly undergraduates from England: but at least they’re brave and, more importantly, they do as they’re told.”

Google Books
Peace Is Not at Hand
By Sir Robert Grainger Ker Thompson
New York, NY: McKay
1974
Pg. 38:
It even becomes false when small rent-a-crowd rioters arrange a rendezvous and wait for the cameras to arrive before starting.

Google Books
The Volunteers
By Raymond Williams
London: Methuen
1978
Pg. 53:
“And the hangers on, outside?”
“Oh as usual, worse. The usual politicals.”
“Yeah, Rentamob.”

Google Books
The 1950s
By E. M. Horsley
London: Bison Books
1978
Pg. 33:
The greater number were either genuine or “rent-a-crowd” sympathizers or protesters against capital punishment in general.

Google Books
2 July 1981, New Scientist, “Animal crankers,” pg. 2, col. 2:
There is room for youthful opposition to animal experiments, but not if it is just another “rentamob” activity with little understanding of the issues.

Google Books
A Handbook of Qualitative Methodologies for Mass Communication Research
By Klaus Bruhn Jensen and Nick Jankowski
New York, NY: Psychology Press/Routledge
1991
Pg. 116:
Thus, the use of “mob” and “rentamob,” instead of “crowd” and “demonstrators,” may be interpreted as signaling the ideological position of the reporter about left-wing demonstrators, while at the same time discrediting them for the readers.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Friday, January 28, 2011 • Permalink