The Wikipedia entry under "Agent Provocateur" includes the following paragraph: "In jurisdictions in which conspiracy is a serious crime in itself, it can be sufficient for the agent provocateur to entrap the target into discussing and planning an illegal act. It is not necessary for the illegal act to be carried out or even prepared." Keep that in mind.
Wikipedia also defines "False Flag" as "an act committed with the intention of disguising the actual source of responsibility and pinning blame on a second party." Keep that in mind too.
Provocateur operations work best when linked to False Flag campaigns, if only because it looks better on police records if they can round up a group of gullible fools rather than just one or two. The combination is also politically useful -- especially at budget-review time, during social upheaval, or in an election year. In the last two centuries. as both democratic systems and literacy have increased, Provocateur/False Flag operations have depended heavily on propaganda structures to persuade the majority of the population. This is why fashions in political propaganda are good predictors of showy crimes -- and resulting severe punishments -- yet to come. Examples include Stalin's show-trials in the USSR, the Reichstag fire in Nazi Germany, and the Cultural Revolution in Mao's China.
I observed such a case many years ago, here in Phoenix. This was during a Democratic national administration, wherein the Democrat policy of pushing gun-control laws had suffered a setback; the Supreme Court had recently declared the Second Amendment an individual right, several states had loosened their restrictions on firearms ownership and public carry, the numbers of firearms sales and concealed-carry permits had jumped, the violent-crime rate had dropped, and the Democratic National Committee was still sore over it.
I was living with some Science-Fiction fans who were also part of a gamer's club of about a dozen members. Every Saturday the club would gather at our house, where half the members would disappear into the computer room to play computer games, and the other half would settle in the living-room with books and dice and character-sheets to play variations on a theme of Dungeons and Dragons. On Sunday the less sedentary members (which didn't include me) would drive out to undeveloped county wilderness land and do live-action roleplaying. This often involved homemade costumes, target-shooting with .22 rifles and tin cans, or exploding cans with firecrackers, and ended with dinner and beer and brief club business at a local saloon. The club was too informal to have a permanent name, and consisted of middle-aged fans with generally lower-middleclass jobs. None of us had any criminal history but years-earlier misdemeanor charges for marching in picket-lines in support of strikes or civil rights laws.
About then the TV news/opinion shows began mentioning "the threat of right-wing militia groups", which we discounted because we didn't know of any. That should have been warning, but we didn't realize it at the time. Another thing we didn't notice was that government Budget Review Time was coming up, when all the departments -- including various police -- would have to justify the money to be spent on them.
The club's only brush with illegality was one Sunday when the Live Action Role-Players ran into a poacher out in the woods. They could tell he was a poacher because he was wearing wood-land camouflage, carrying a scoped .30-caliber deer rifle, and it wasn't hunting season (yes, it can be possible to tell a person's intention by the model and caliber of gun he carries). They scolded him severely, told him to get out of there or they'd call the cops, and succeeded in chasing him off.
A couple weeks later a newcomer arrived at the club. He knew quite a bit about fantasy role-playing games, but seemed to be mostly interested in the contemporary war-games. When he learned about the Sunday LARP games, he couldn't wait to go join them. He was an enthusiastic player, and he certainly did know a lot about military tactics, but the LARPers soon found that he was a little... odd. For one thing, he didn't seem to know where fantasy left off and real life began. He was always trying to apply the game to modern urban settings, talked about "revolution" a lot, and kept asking if anyone was interested in attacking fortified buildings -- such as police stations. The LARPers decided that he was a possibly dangerous nut-case, and considered booting him out, but because he did such a good job of bookkeeping for the group's funds (never more than a couple hundred dollars), they decided to let him stay on.
Then the local economy took a downturn. Gas prices rose, and it was no longer cheap or easy to drive out to the wilderness area every Sunday. The LARPing division of the club began losing members, at which the oddball newcomer was visibly upset. When their numbers were down to half a dozen, the LARPers decided to stop outdoor gaming completely until autumn, at least, and they celebrated their farewell dinner at a pizza joint.
A few days later a large contingent of local police, FBI in SWAT suits, local sheriff's deputies and a few state troopers -- accompanied by national TV-news camera teams -- raided the homes of the LARPers, arrested them all (except, of course, for the oddball newcomer, who was nowhere to be found), ransacked their homes, cars, businesses, storage-units and relatives' homes, and trumpeted to the world that they'd caught a "dangerous right-wing militia group". The "group" originally had no name, but in searching the homes the FBI had come across a shoulder-patch with the words "Team Viper" on it, so thereafter they referred to "the Viper Militia". They stopped short of calling the LARPers "neo-Nazis", probably because two of them were Jewish and one was Native American, and didn't mention the LARPers' politics in detail, probably because three of them were registered Democrats. They also claimed to have confiscated "a hoard of firearms, including machine-guns", because one of the members was a gun-collector and owned a reconstructed (non-functional) classic Gatling gun. The story became a nation-wide sensation, with the usual news-media editorials about the horrors of gun ownership and the danger of "citizen militias".
The rest of the gamer club, understandably amazed at all this, tried to contact the LARPers and find out what was going on. We soon learned that they were being held incommunicado in separate jails -- in fact, in different counties and different states -- and their cases had been separated too so that each member had to hire his own separate lawyer. When we managed to reach the lawyers, we learned that the LARPers were being pressured to plead guilty to a charge of "conspiracy to teach military techniques for purposes of civil insurrection". When we asked how "conspiracy to teach" could be a crime, we were told that "The FBI can find a way." When we asked how the FBI intended to prove "purposes of civil insurrection", we learned that the odd-ball newcomer had secretly recorded the LARPers at their games, and had picked up some juicy -- and out of context -- quotes, some of which had already made it into the news.
The "pressure" applied to the LARPers included threats that "you'll never work in this country again." One member who held out for a trial, claiming that he could always go work in Canada, was told that his retired parents would lose their Social Security payments. Eventually only one member, whose parents were safely dead and who owned his own business, held out for a jury trial. The FBI saw to it that he got a judge whose first pronouncement was that he would "hear no argument based on the Constitution". That alone would have been grounds for an appeal, but the cost of fighting in court drained the man's resources so that he lost his savings and his business, and couldn't meet the price of an appeal. Also, because he had fought the charge, he was given a longer sentence than the other LARPers who had given in and signed the confessions.
Later we learned that when defending its budget requests to Congress the FBI had quoted extensively from the "Viper Militia case". Yes, the FBI got the budget increase it had asked for.
The LARPers, after finishing their 3-5 year sentences, took years to recover their former economic situations, and some of them never did. The rest of the club eventually scattered, took up other interests, or died. The "militia" and "survivalist" movements changed their names to "preppers" and kept on preparing for assorted disasters, a few of which actually arrived. The FBI continued to increase its funding, but kept "the threat of right-wing militias" on the back burner. With changing federal administrations the media came up with various new targets, but always kept the threat of "right-wing" something handy. In time, those of us who had seen the original "Viper Militia" incident learned to tell when a media "threat" build-up presaged some related police or political action.
I've been thinking of that a lot recently as the election day approaches and the media "scandals" are falling thick and fast; no sooner is one of them disproved than two more take its place. What's remarkable about the current media-storm is that it has resulted in so few actual arrests made or new laws passed. Historically, false-flag/provocateur/propaganda campaigns have operated to keep the ruling establishment in power, but in our current case there seems to be more smoke than fire. Is it all, really, just to sell newspapers and win an election?