It is accepted as an article of faith among protesters planning to demonstrate against the Republican National Convention this summer that agents seeking to undermine their efforts have infiltrated their ranks. But now the protesters are talking about infiltrating the convention to undermine the event itself.
"Really?" said Kevin Sheekey, president of the New York City Host Committee, when told that protesters were talking about flooding the ranks of volunteers to disrupt convention operations.
The city is obligated to find a total of 8,000 New Yorkers to volunteer to help things run smoothly, and would-be protesters are hoping that by signing up, they can work from the inside during the convention, scheduled Aug. 30 through Sept. 2.
"A lot of people are talking about it in general," said William Etundi Jr., a founder of counterconvention.org, a Web site that serves as a bulletin board for anti-convention activities. "The Republicans are coming to New York City, so maybe the real New York should come to them."
Until now, the host and the guest have been treating each other with kid gloves, each insisting that it is a relationship of choice that benefits everyone. As the convention preparations quicken and the organizers reach out beyond the city leadership with the volunteer drive, that sense of mutual advantage may be revealed as more wishful than actual.
It is hard to know exactly how much traction the idea of protesters posing as volunteers will have.
Still, there is evidence that the idea of volunteering, then not showing up, or showing up and using anti-Republican language has interested many people.
The biggest public proponent of the idea is a 37-year-old computer consultant from Philadelphia, David A. Lynn, who has created a Web site called shadowprotest.org. It is calling on protesters to volunteer at both the Republican convention and the Democratic National Convention, which will be held in Boston earlier in the summer. Mr. Lynn has issued press releases, and tried to sell his idea across the Internet, where it has picked up some momentum.
Boston appears largely immune to the tactic since the host committee there had signed up 12,000 volunteers by the end of March, the host committee said.
But New York, which has a long way to go to reach its target, has so far registered only about 1,400 potential volunteers. Marilyn Shaw, director of volunteer services for the host committee, said all volunteers would be vetted by law enforcement before they are signed up. She also said volunteers would be expected to attend many meetings before getting their volunteer shirts.
"I'll be honest with you," she said. "We meet and greet them so many times they become our best friends."
Some people are thinking more Trojan horse than friend.
"I think they don't understand either just how much of New York City is not prepared to welcome them," said Amanda Hickman, who described herself as a community gardener from Brooklyn. "I don't think that has clicked."
Hard feelings or not, the city host committee is going ahead with its recruiting efforts. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg called last week on a predecessor, Edward I. Koch, to help recruit volunteers. But officials said they never considered the prospect that the effort might be co-opted by protesters.
"Those sort of things would harm the city," Mr. Sheekey said. "Those wouldn't be anti-R.N.C. protests. Those would be people protesting New York City."
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company