In an age where most politicians have very little support for their campaigns and causes, they have been known to resort to desperate measures to improve their public image. While this practice is disregarded by some as a “conspiracy theory,” many politicians have been caught hiring actors to fill the crowds of their campaign speeches—corporations too.
In fact, just this week in Ontario, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford’s campaign was forced to admit that they hired actors for at least one of their events. Ford’s staff acted like this was not authorized by them, but instead blamed a local candidate for arranging their actors. Campaign officials for Toronto Centre Tory candidate Meredith Cartwright reportedly hired the actors to support Ford at a rally in Dundas Square.
“We were very confused by this situation because we are getting record numbers of supporters to every event across Ontario. This was done by a local candidate and it won’t be continuing,” Ford’s spokeswoman, Melissa Lantsman, said in an email to the Toronto Star.
A number of these actors reached out to the press about the event to blow the whistle, including artist and performer Devanshu Narang.
Narang told The Star that he was offered $75 to appear at the rally between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. wearing the candidate’s t-shirt, but he turned down the gig.
“I was shocked to see this happen in Canada, in Toronto. I find it offensive even to the Canadian democracy. The main thing was that you know, the moment I saw that I kind of felt odd about it. You know, politicians hiring actors to play supporters is like the way it works in the Third World,” Narang said.
Ford’s campaign is insisting that this is an accident and that it won’t happen again, and that they have “no need” for these types of services because their candidates are so popular.
“We don’t need to pay anyone. When we have events, we’re packed, we don’t need that,” Ford said at a press conference.
It is interesting to note that Doug Ford is the brother of late Rob Ford, the former Toronto mayor who was famous for smoking crack on video. Doug Ford promised in his brother’s eulogy that “Ford nation will continue.” When Rob Ford was alive, the brothers famously got into a screaming match with the public at a city council meeting.
The practice of hiring actors to astroturf campaigns is more common than most people would expect. Even current US President Donald Trump was found to be hiring actors to cheer him on at early campaign events. Although the Trump Administration initially denied these reports, FEC documents released in 2017 revealed that a casting agency was paid to send supporters to the event. During the same campaign, Hillary Clinton was accused of paying a child actor to ask a scripted question during a town hall event.
This trick is not limited to political campaigns either, earlier this month it was reported that at least 50 actors were hired by an energy company to support the construction of a new power plant at a town hall meeting.
“They paid us to sit through the meeting and clap every time someone said something against wind and solar power. I’m not political, I needed the money for a hotel room at that point,” said Keith Keough, who was one of the actors hired.
The actors were even asked to sign non-disclosure agreements, which prohibited them from speaking to the media or telling anyone that they were paid to support the power plant. The company still denies any accusations that it hired any actors to support them at the meeting.
It is also common for war propaganda to be carried out with actors since it is now fairly easy to stage a war scene and get away with it.