In spy lingo, this is a covert operative whose job is to incite rebellion, entice defectors or goad the enemy into a foolish action (sometimes to the point of skirting with the False Flag Operation). Even though it's a sexy French word, the Agent Provocateur got the short end of the sexy spy stick. They are looked down upon by...pretty much everyone.
It may have something to do with the fact that—as a Treacherous Advisor—they are inherently untrustworthy. One side (the Agent Provocateur's true alignment) believes they are inciting foolish, risky attacks against them, while the other side (the infiltratees) thinks they are inciting foolish, risky behavior in their friends.
Confused yet? That's probably why these guys aren't nearly as popular in fiction as they are in Real Life. In Real Life it's good if no one can figure out a covert operative's cover. In fiction, on the other hand...
Common conspiracy theory trope. See also Astroturf. Compare with Double Agent. Not necessarily one of Les Collaborateurs, though he or she may double as this. Not to be confused with a Honey Trap. Or the 1984 Foreigner album.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, the Ishval uprising is supposedly the result of a soldier accidentally shooting an Ishval boy. It was actually Envy, who had posed as an Armestrian soldier and shot the child with the intent of causing the rebellion. This is pretty much the Homunculi's modus operandi: they start wars for the express purpose of drawing the enormous transmutation circle Father needs for his master plan.
- In the 2003 anime adaptation, a group of special forces had been tasked with starting the Ishbal uprising. This group of special forces is then used in experiments to create chimeras who are let loose after the 5th laboratory arc and expose the whole conspiracy. The story of the child getting shot is then spread around as a coverup.
- In the Comic Cavalcade tie in to the Wonder Woman Vol 1 Saturn storyline Bandia and Sheika place themselves on Paradise Island imitating Diana and Hippolyte to try to force the Amazons to declare war on the United States of America. They very nearly succeed.
- Judge Dredd: Judge Dredd crushed the Democracy march on orders of Chief Judge Silver by planting Judges in the crowd and inciting violence so they'd have an excuse to crack down hard on the protestors.
- The film Matewan, about labor unrest and the formation of a miner's union in 1920s West Virginia, had the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency engaged in this activity, through their mole in the union trying to discredit an outside labor organizer and persuading a young miner to plant a bomb to shut down one of the mines.
- Dark Blue World (2001). One of the inmates in the post-war prison in Communist Czechoslovakia suggests they steal a tool from the doctor's office and use it to break out. Later he admits the guards put him up to it, so they could have an excuse to beat up the protagonist. According to the DVD Commentary this was Truth in Television.
- This is pretty much the point of Attack of the Clones mixed with a False Flag Operation. Count Dooku is sent to stir up the galaxy against Chancellor Palpatine in order to make it so the latter can justify seizing more power. The reason it's the former and not the latter is the troops on the ground had no idea they were just cannon fodder for Palpatine's goals and the Separatist cause was never meant to succeed.
- Blue Thunder. Implied with the Government Conspiracy behind the titular helicopter. When looking through the diary of a councilwoman who was murdered, the police note a reference to "strangers in the ghetto, stirring up trouble". Apparently the idea is to create riots which will justify the deployment of a police helicopter gunship with advanced surveillance capabilities.
- Vorkosigan Saga:
- In A Civil Campaign: Byerly is an ImpSec agent tasked with observing the politics surrounding Lord Dono's claim to the countship, who chooses to actively encourage the rather extreme shenanigans Dono's rival attempts.
- In Komarr, frustrated by the inherently reactionary nature of his job as an Imperial Auditor, Miles briefly ponders the probability of convincing the Emperor to deploy an Auditor Provocateur.
- The State Counsellor novel contains enough of these to make Erast Fandorin swear he'll never take political cases again.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: Gwen is falsely accused of being one.
- Sten: Mercury Corps uses this as a matter of course. Sten incites rebellion on Vulcan by fulfilling the Mig folk story of "one of their own" who will get out, return, and lead them to freedom. Especially effective because he is, and does.
- Star Wars Legends:
- Nom Anor from the New Jedi Order series does this several times in different disguises, for the goal of weakening the galaxy for the Yuuzhan Vong invasion.
- In the Hand of Thrawn duology, this is the role of "Vengeance", supposedly a grassroots organization of citizens outraged at the political crises du jour, but actually an Imperial infiltration team of maybe a dozen guys, posing as a massive organization. In addition to starting riots and otherwise stirring up trouble, they use high-tech stealth blasters and redirection crystals to make it appear that planetary forces (and in one case, Han Solo) are shooting protesters dead. In their final act on Bothawui, they go one step further, arranging for the planetary shields to be shut down, and infiltrating members onto selected parts of the multi-species fleet in orbit to incite an all-out war by bombarding the planet.
- James Mowry, the hero of Eric Frank Russell's WASP, is sent down alone to an alien planet to stir up as much trouble as he possibly can.
- The backstory of Riviera in Neuromancer who has a sexual fetish out of betrayal. He enjoys seducing women, turning them towards radical causes, then handing them over to the Turkish Secret Police and assisting in their torture.
- Death on the Nile has one of these as the Red Herring.
- On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett. Ross Perot and his executives are approached by a shady character who offers to get their colleagues out of an Iranian prison in exchange for a considerable amount of money to be paid into an escrow account (meaning the money isn't handed over till after the deal). After debating the matter, they decide to refuse because they suspect they're being set up for a bribery charge.
- This is G's role in Agent G: Infiltrator from the Agent G series. After The Mole is eliminated from the International Refugee Society, he is sent to infiltrate the Carnivale. From there, he plays on the prejudices and ambitions of all the characters before turning them against one another. It kicks off an Enemy Civil War and while it's only a brief one, it allows him to accomplish his mission. He, notably, feels pretty awful about the whole thing at the end as psychotic or not, he'd befriended at least one of the Carnivale's agents.
- In Red Seas, Red Skies of the Gentleman Bastard series, Locke and Jean are forcibly recruited by the Magistar of the city they're robbing to try to start a pirate uprising so he can he crush it in order to increase his personal power. Given both Locke and Jean are not only thieves but priests of thievery, this is literally against their religion—but so is dying.
- Adolf Verluc in The Secret Agent is a Russian spy tasked with provoking a crackdown on British anarchists by getting them to blow up the Greenwich Observatory. Unfortunately the anarchists in question are a lazy lot who don't fit the Russians' ideas of Bomb Throwing Anarchists. Verluc ends up converting his brother, a mentally disabled teenager, to violent anarchism to get him to do it.
- The Prague Cemetery. The Villain Protagonist Simonini takes this role when the secret police use him to get some French radicals together for a bomb plot so they can be arrested. His main job however is the forgery of documents that his various employers use to 'prove' whatever Conspiracy Theory it's in their interest to pedal.
- The mercenaries in Warbreaker turn out to be these for the Pahn Khal rebellion, driving a wedge between the two countries that oppressed them for centuries. They tricked Vivienna into thinking that war was inevitable, and their raids on supply caravans were weakening Hallaran's ability to wage war, rather than driving them to it.
- The Prisoner (1967). This trope causes the failure of the escape attempt in "Checkmate". Number Six works out how to identify the spies among the inhabitants of the Village, and thus is able to recruit a team of genuine prisoners. Unfortunately on the night of the escape the prisoners become paranoid that Number Six is an agent provocateur trying to incite them, so denounce him to Number Two.
- Guerrilla: Some of the black protesters are paid by the police to start throwing stones at National Front members, giving them an excuse to break up the rally.
- In a Law & Order episode, the back story was of a radical activist group at Hudson University (the show's Columbia/NYU expy) that had been infiltrated by these to get them to do more and more dangerous/hostile things and justify shutting them down completely.
- In Warhammer 40,000, This is the common tactic of Genestealer cults: Their aim is to incite rebellion and civil war across the whole world they're established on, which they do by infiltrating both sides. That way they can ensure the Arbites will shoot at peaceful demonstrators, as well as ensure most demonstrators won't be peaceful to begin with, and violence will escalate.
- This is also one of the more famous specialities of the Alpha Legion according to the fluff. Famously provoking much of the Imperial Eastern Sector into riots during the Horus Heresy as a means of destabilizing the necessary supply lines for the Seige of Terra. However, in novels it is better shown by both the Night Lords Trilogy and the Blood Gorgons in the novel Flesh and Iron. On the tabletop, this is traditionally shown by a larger than average number of cultists.
- King David sent one of his men to Absalom to give bad advice so that David could escape Jerusalem and prepare for war.
- You can take on this role in Knights of the Old Republic while infiltrating the Sith Academy. The protagonist can redeem a number of students back to the Light Side and also turn the head of the academy against their student before eliminating them both. This is a good way to weaken the academy significantly if you're a Light Sider.
- Conner can do this in Assassin's Creed III with some crowds, turning them into unruly mobs during the parts taking place near The American Revolution.
- This is basically what Viktor Marchenko is in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. He's working for the Illuminati in order to goad the Augmented Rights Coalition into terrorist attacks. He believes, once they've killed a bunch of innocent people, the Illumiinati will be able to pass their Human Restoration Act.
- In The Elder Scrolls series, this is a favored tactic of the Thalmor-led 4th Era Aldmeri Dominion. Though the nation of a Long-Lived Witch Species, the Altmer (High Elves) suffer from an Immortal Procreation Clause which limits their birthrates (and is further hampered by rumors that they cull children with undesirable traits), leaving them at a disadvantage in drawn-out wars of attrition. As such, they prefer a Divide and Conquer strategy which includes setting their enemies up to fight and weaken one another ahead of Dominion takeover. Through the use of agents, they sow discord in rival nations. Most notably, they used these to goad the Argonians into first seceding from the faltering Empire then invading a Red Year-weakened Morrowind, home of their long time oppressors, the Dunmer (Dark Elves), stripping their Arch-Enemy Empire of two provinces at once.
- Captain Barca from Exo Squad is one, constantly enticing younger Pirates to rebel against Simbacca, while on Phaeton's payroll.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Discord, donning the disguise of The Ghost Grogar, tries to goad the other villains Queen Chrysalis, Lord Tirek, Cozy Glow and King Sombra (whom he himself reanimated) into combining forces and attacking Equestria for the sole purpose of granting the Mane Six a glorious victory just in time of Princess Twilight's ascension to the throne. Predictably, the whole scheme goes pear-shaped when the villains perform far more competently than expected.
- While police sting operations (such as asking to buy some drugs hoping the suspected drug dealer would agree, then catching them in the act) bear a close resemblance to this trope, it's not quite this because the police aren't convincing the targets to do anything they weren't already doing prior to police involvement. However, the police have to be careful; crossing the line into persuading someone to commit a crime they otherwise would have been unlikely to is called entrapment, and depending on the jurisdiction can get evidence tossed or even cause the whole case to be dismissed. (Proving this has happened can be difficult for the defendant though.)
- Throughout history, agent provocateurs have been sent inside a few social movements with the intent to destroy them and stir up controversy to help discredit the movement. As a result, they are often used as scapegoats when protests turn ugly. The Other Wiki provides a list of proven and suspected cases here.
- COINTELPRO was an American government program of Agent Provocateurs deployed between 1956 and 1971. Agents were sent to infiltrate the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, among others. J. Edgar Hoover's infiltration of the Communist Party USA is an interesting example of Epic Fail with this trope to the point of Reality Is Unrealistic. It turns out the US government pumped so much money and had so many informants in the CPUSA, it actually kept the organization from collapsing. Some of its cells in the 1950s apparently had more FBI agents than actual communists as members.
- Some people have assumed that Tumblr has been the targets of these - not because the government wishes to discredit the social justice movement(s) prevalent on the site, but because trolls are simply bored and want to dismantle the movement(s) by invoking Poe's Law. One infamous example of this was #TakeDown4Chan, which went about as well as you would expect. It's been both claimed and suspected that the entire farce was started by 4Chan.
- In the wake of the 2016 US Presidential election, an investigation (still ongoing) into Russia's use of this trope was opened to determine just how far it reached. Most of these "Troll Farms" utilize social media (e.g. Tumblr and Reddit), while others bought ad space on Facebook and other, more established sites, but all of them share the same goal of sowing discord in whatever ways they can.