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Molehunt goes bad. Very bad.

For a brief shining moment the anti-Harper protesters in Winnipeg believed they had found the smoking gun that would bring down the government.

They were giddy. CBC National was calling them for the goods. They had an eyewitness, names, even photos--- or so they believed.

And then, pfft.

It was over. There was a stampede for the exit. The only thing left was a bad smell. It was almost as if they realized they had been suckered by a Liberal plant.

It all began last Saturday when barely 300 protesters turned up for an anti-prorogation rally at the University of Winnipeg. The organizers had expected a thousand or more but they put on a happy face and declared they were pleased by the eventual turnout.

Winnipeg organizer Chris Burnett congratulated the troops for a job well done. John Johnston (" a fan of Michael Ignatieff") posted his photos of the rally after he "personally edited out...the people holding up the "Vote Green" signs. I wanted to keep our memories as those of a non-partisan group."

But there was one photo making the rounds on the Internet that neither Chris or John could edit away, although they dearly wanted to.

Credited to 'Maurice from Winnipeg', it was a snap of two people standing next to one another at the rally and holding handmade posters which would go on to define the protestors in the minds of many.

One sign reads Harper = Hitler and is self-explanatory. The other says Coaition (sic) Government Now, demonstrating a shocking example of bad spelling from a group presumed to be top-heavy with university students.

The protest circle cringed at the mockery coming their way when--- praise the deity of your choice, gender and colour---along came a knight in shining armour to save the day.

Dan wrote on January 23, 2010 at 3:39pm
Hey guys, I attented the rally in Winnipeg today. Very impressive. Great organization. But one thing really got to me.
I was enjoying the speeches today, and I noticed someone I know to be a big Tory supporter and a member of the University of Manitoba Campus Consevatives observing the event, and taking pictures. I figured he was trying to get pictures of radical signs and what not to malign the protestors, but that didn't bother me much. It's his right to be there and observe.
Anyways, I got back to watching the speeches and noticed that this Tory had climbed the fire escape of the University of Winnipeg building to get a better view, and I noticed he motioned at people beyond where I was to come forward or come into view. So I turned around and saw some people wearing masks, coming forward, and one of them was carrying a sign that said, I kid you not, in big letters, "Harper = Hitler."
I thought no, there's no way, this Tory guy would go to these lengths to get these people to come to the rally to make the people there look bad, and radical. I couldn't tell for sure that he had motioned at these specific people. So I went back to watching the speeches and what not. But as the speeches were winding down I turned around again, and what do I see? I see the Tory guy getting together with the masked people. He took the Hitler sign and walked away with the phony radicals!
I was pretty angry to see that garbage. So I chased him down and called him out about it. It is disgusting to see such a horrific historical character as Adolf Hitler used in this surreptitious and disgusting way. I imagine the victims of Hitler's genocidal actions in Poland, Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, and elsewhere would be appalled.
Those of us at the rally oppose Stephen Harper's latest maneuvers but the overwhelming majority of us would never make such an obscene comparison.

I know a lot of Tories. Many of whom are some of the nicest people I know. It's too bad their reputation will be marred by this event.

Aha, then. Blame those dastardly Tories. Chris' crowd was off the hook.

Other protestors added their keen observations.

Guy wrote on January 23, 2010
I also saw this happen as the ones with the Harper = Hitler sign were standing behind us at the start of the rally and slowly moved around to get into tv camera images. May I suggest that you write letters into the editors of both the Wpg Sun and the Free press with this story. I for one and my wife will back you on this because we did see it happen.

Greg wrote on January 23, 2010
Those two girls were right in front of me. I saw the cameras pointing at them and I positioned myself behind the sign (so I wasn't in the picture). I didn't want any association with them. I had no idea they were frauds, but now it makes sense.

Sandy wrote on January 23, 2010
Thanks, Dan, for letting us know that the people who had that sign were aligned with the Tory guy and just trying to make us look bad. I was going to say what Gus has just advised: write letters to the Editor, so people will know these were Tory supporters intentionally trying to discredit the rally.

Erin wrote on January 23, 2010 at 7:44pm
Glad you chased them down and called them out!! I gave them a piece of my mind - how dare they!!!!!! Then I also saw the "protesters" and their accomplice (the guy in the blue parka) who was up the stairs taking the pics leave together - what a show.
Just goes to show what kind of people the Conservatives recruit - I am disgusted with their behavior. Should have known - they covered their faces - cowards.

It didn't take long for the CBC to come snooping around.

Jason wrote on January 25, 2010 at 8:55am
I'm a producer with CBC television in Ottawa.
I'm wondering if anyone has pictures (or better, video) of the people with the hitler signs and the person taking photos of them (I was reading your post Shannon - don't know if your friend found them) and could email them to me.
Sandy Rubinfeld wrote
I got this in my e-mail today:
Joanne sent you a message.
Subject: Anti - Proroguing Rally
I am a journalist at the CBC.
I am looking into the alleged Hitler sign at the anti-proroguing rally in Winnipeg. Do you have any pictures of it?
Please call me at 788-3742.
Sandy Rubinfeld Her full name is Joanne Levasseur. I didn't take any photos. John, do you have any of these? Can I send her to those two far-right fanatic sites, where the original photos are posted?

The protesters were ecstatic.

Peter wrote on January 25, 2010 at 9:18am
Oooh! Looks like this might be getting some traction. Excellent work Jason.

But Chris Burnett may have sensed something amiss.

Chris wrote on January 25, 2010 at 9:44am
As much as I appreciate the effort being put forward by the CBC would you please vet any information with me at before submitting it to the press. This could turn into a very difficult situation.

Chris wrote on January 25, 2010 at 10:55am
My only concern is that we don't make accusations without proof. I'd hate to have to be in court one day on a libel case.

Chris wrote on January 25, 2010 at 1:07pm
Alexei I can assure you I have received several emails that in the wrong hands could easily be considered libel against the individuals and not all of the emails were sent just to me. All I'm asking is we be very careful in what we are saying.
It wasn't long before the sentiment changed.

Dan had disappeared. Despite requests for him to go public with the names of the alleged plotters, he came up with none. Everyone was scouring photos for the plants, but not a single photo was produced.

John wrote
To be completely honest, what we have is very circumstantial evidence based on our conjecture of what took place. Having said that, I still believe the evidence is compelling enough to take some kind of action.
At the very least, we should compile the evidence and hand it over to the University newspaper and let them investigate.
Alexei wrote on January 27, 2010
I agree with you John. The evidence is non-existent, apart from very powerful, unproveable suspicions. But the group achieved something by bringing the issue to someone's attention, even if it was just members of the group and more importantly, the cbc and other media. Media manipulation requires some form of counter media rebuttal and that was accomplished to some degree. At least something better than if the fakers went unnoticed.
I was hoping it would inspire someone to give real evidence to our group, but it seems, this time, it didn't happen. Although your photos are great, John, and I thank you for them--at least we have something about it on record. It may be useful next time they do this--and you bet they will if there's any other protest critical of Harper.
Maybe the best lesson learned here is that any public protest should have someone present recording the activities of suspicious people. Had we had a video or targeted photos, this story had the potential to be a national story. The interest of cbc, which I hadn't expected, proves that.
It would be satisfying to form a group that directly tackles the larger problem here, which is media manipulation by the tories--an underrated issue which goes beyond this particular protest and needs attention.
Unfortunately, I cannot think of how to develop impetus for such a group.

Brody wrote
Okay, I have read every post in this discussion. So far we don't really have any evidence. Are we absolutely sure that this "conservative man" was indeed with these women? If so: where is the proof?
I am a big fan of calling the Conservatives out for the shit they try to pull. But I am not a fan of doing it without proof or probable cause.

Shannon wrote
I have no report that indicates there are any pictures that identify or connect this individual to the poster carrying young women at the Rally this past Saurday.
I don't agree with what was done but I do feel that we give more credence to the stupidity if we continue to acknowledge it. I suggest we apply the "distancing rule" .This is a concluded issue for me.

In less than a week, it was over.

The anti-Harper protesters didn't need any proof. They "knew" the Tories were guilty of media manipulation. They just "knew" it was true.

Except....what if the real manipulation came from the Blue side of the street.

Chris and his pals are so biased they never considered the obvious alternative --- Dan was the plant

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