NYC mayor claims Columbia protests sparked by 'outside agitators'

New York City Mayor Eric Adams told Good Day New York that "outside agitators" could be responsible for arranging the pro-Palestinian encampment on Columbia University's Upper Manhattan campus.

"What we're seeing here, I think, is outside agitators, as we saw with the Black Lives Matter marches … they come and disrupt protests all over the country. We're seeing their despicable terminology and words that I think is immoral," he said in an interview Thursday.

Pro-Palestinian student protesters set up a tent encampment at the NYC Ivy League university last week, demanding that the school condemn Israel's assault on Gaza and divest from companies that sell weapons to Israel.

But officials have echoed the concerns of many Jewish students, who reported that some of the demonstrators’ words and actions amount to antisemitism. The New York Times, for example, reported that a person at a demonstration was captured on video holding up a sign near Jewish students insinuating that they were Hamas's "next targets."

Still, the Associated Press reported that claims of "outside agitators" disturbing the peace at these demonstrations are "baseless." Pushed by FOX 5 NY's Curt Menefee for evidence, Adams pointed to a Wall Street Journal report and claimed anarchists had flooded 2020 Black Lives Matter protests to cause violence.

"We are seeing familiar faces that are at various marches and protests that we believe continuously are able to infiltrate these marches and want to cause some serious conflicts, and we need to stay on top of that," Adams told Menefee.

NYPD officers make arrests of Pro-Palestinian protesters on the lawn of Columbia University on Thursday April 18, 2024, in Manhattan, New York. (Barry Williams for New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Adams has told other outlets that many of the student demonstrators at the Columbia encampment were sleeping in the same brand of tents, which he said could indicate outside involvement.

NYPD Commissioner Kaz Daughtry has also reportedly told news outlets that "known professional agitators" at Monday night’s protests at NYU.

House Speaker Mike Johnson faced boos and loud chants from protesting students as he delivered a speech during his visit to Columbia University on Wednesday. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu via Getty Images)

According to NYT, CNN. and NPR, the term "outside agitators" has a long history in America, sometimes used to discredit protests and distract from the underlying cause.

"The whole trope of outside agitator has a long history in American history, and it's been used by everybody from plantation owners in the South during antebellum slavery to big corporate industry magnates," Professor Peniel Joseph from the University of Texas at Austin told NPR reported in 2020. "Whether it's to denounce the left wing or anti-racist forces, or to even denounce culpability, it's historically been something that has been utilized as a trope to defend white supremacy."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.