It’s true that real provocateurs exist, and we need to protect ourselves from them.
While targeting Occupy Cleveland, the FBI sent an infiltrator to rope some kids into a plot to blow up a bridge. A few years earlier a paid FBI informant manipulated her lover into supporting her plot to blow up a dam (although he was arrested even before they had made a bomb). Agents of British intelligence were the organizers of some of the bloodiest bombings by the IRA. Police infiltrators in an anarchist march in Barcelona burned down a dance hall and killed several workers, at a critical moment when the fascist dictatorship was transitioning to democracy. FBI informants helped the cops kill Black Panther Fred Hampton. The CIA carried out atrocities in South Vietnam, designed to look like the Vietcong were to blame.
The difference between government encouragement of violence and the use of rioting, sabotage, or self-defense within a social movement is that the government only encourages violence when it controls the situation and can then immediately arrest their targets, or they encourage violence against civilians, like indiscriminate bombings, so that people will be afraid of the social movement.
In all other instances, the government encourages us to be peaceful. What it is most afraid of us that we stop being obedient and passive en masse.
Stealing from the rich, sabotaging corporations, fighting the government, and defending ourselves from cops is only a discredit to our movement if we are on the side of the rich, the corporations, the government, and the cops. But as we can see, those who spread the rumor that “violent anarchists” are working for the cops regularly work hand in hand with the cops. They are snitches, and that is why they are trying to discredit those who are fighting back.
The best way to protect ourselves from provocateurs is to not carry out risky activity with people we do not know and trust very well. The important question is not only, “am I sure they are not a cop?” but also “am I sure they will not betray me if they are threatened with prison time?” Even if someone is our good friend, if they panic in situations of danger or if they are addicted to drugs, it is best not to do risky things with them.
Secondly, it is important not to carry out actions that hurt innocent people. Even if the person who suggests we carry out such an action is not a cop, they are just stupid. We refuse to use the same logic of the government, which is always willing to sacrifice the innocent and label them “collateral damage”. The ends do not justify the means. In fact, ends and means are inseparable.
Finally, it is important not to throw out accusations that someone is a cop or an informant unless we know for sure. It is a common trick of the cops to make false accusations to divide a group and create distrust. If someone acts suspiciously, asking lots of questions, proposing dangerous actions in unsafe settings, and not behaving like someone committed to a movement for a better world, it is better to just ask them to leave and spread the word about them (after giving them a chance to improve their behavior), rather than making an uncertain accusation.