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The 'protest consultant' behind Columbia University demonstrations

Lisa Fithian, 63, documented instructing students at Columbia on how to barricade themselves and respond to New York police attempts to arrest them

Anti-Israel protests in Columbia University
(Photo: NYPD )

After the New York Police Department (NYPD) stormed Columbia University's campus last week and arrested over 300 protesters who barricaded themselves in the historic Hamilton Building, Mayor Eric Adams reiterated his claim that "outside agitators" were involved in organizing the anti-Israel student protests on campus.
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הפגנה פרו פלסטינית מפגינים מחוץ ל אוניברסיטת קולומביה ב ניו יורק ארה"ב, ליסה פיתיאן ברשתות החברתיות - מחגיגות היומולדת באיסטנבול באימונים לקראת המשט לעזה
הפגנה פרו פלסטינית מפגינים מחוץ ל אוניברסיטת קולומביה ב ניו יורק ארה"ב, ליסה פיתיאן ברשתות החברתיות - מחגיגות היומולדת באיסטנבול באימונים לקראת המשט לעזה
Lisa Fithian, protests at Columbia University
(Photo: via Instagram, AP)
His words were accompanied by videos showing a gray-haired woman amidst the chaos, among the kufiyahs and masked students. She was seen instructing the students who barricaded themselves and those who supported them. They, in turn, appear to comply diligently with her directions: "Start moving, cameras back, put this here," guiding them to block the doors of the historic building using tables and furniture.
At one point, when two students attempted to block the demonstrators with their bodies, the woman instructs others to document them: "We are trying to document them acting like scum," she says to the camera. "They're acting like assholes. They're trying to push the protestors away from the building. It's ridiculous. This is a historic moment. We're trying to put an end to the genocide in Gaza."
Adams identified the woman as 63-year-old Lisa Fithian, originally from New York and now a resident of Texas. But the truth is that none of the officers in the room needed the introduction to someone involved in American demonstrations for decades. She is defined as a "protest consultant," has been arrested over 100 times, and prides herself on initiatives such as the Occupy Wall Street protests and demonstrations against former U.S. president Donald Trump.
Local police estimate that at least half of the protesters at Columbia University were not connected to the institute itself, and Fithian's videos in action serve as conclusive evidence that professionals have been hired and are leading the protest movement.
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ליסה פיתיאן ברשתות החברתיות - מחגיגות היומולדת באיסטנבול באימונים לקראת המשט לעזה
ליסה פיתיאן ברשתות החברתיות - מחגיגות היומולדת באיסטנבול באימונים לקראת המשט לעזה
Lisa Fithian's Instagram page
(Photo: via Instagram)
According to her website, Fithian is an activist who earns a living consulting and training unions and other activist groups "on the foundations of protest and disruption" - a service for which she charges over $300 per day. "When people ask me 'What do you do?' I say I create crises because a crisis is an extreme where possible change lies," Fithian said in past interviews with the media.
Fithian has dedicated herself to workers' rights movements, promoting peace, environmental issues, and more than once for pro-Palestinian purposes. According to a post on her Instagram page, she celebrated her birthday about a month ago in Istanbul, where she "trained participants for the Flotilla to Gaza.”
In her resume, she writes that she served on the organizing committee of the "Freedom Flotilla" to Gaza in 2011 and said then that "this hateful Israeli occupation against Palestine, is not only causing harm and death to Palestinians, but also affecting the water, land, and soul of Israelis. The global wave for justice won’t stop until Palestine is free."
Fithian began her career as a social activist back in high school when she started an underground newspaper called The Free Thinker. She began organizing protests focusing on racism in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s until she took a key role in the Occupy Wall Street protest movement, fighting major financial institutions in the U.S.
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ראש עיריית ניויורק אריק אדמס
ראש עיריית ניויורק אריק אדמס
New York City Mayor Eric Adams
She was an admired figure there, and while her fellows in the movement took over parks in New York and Los Angeles, she gave advice to younger activists on protest tactics - from wearing gas masks to long-term strategies.
One activist in the movement described her as someone who teaches kids who want to be bad - how to be smart about it. "When there's a conflict, or things aren't going as we want, or people don't have a good long-term plan, you always hear people saying, 'Where the hell is Lisa Fithian?'"
Fithian herself denied Adams’s and the police’s allegations against her: "Oh, the terrorist, the professional agitator. This has happened so many times in my life. They love to hate me," she said. "I’m not organizing these protests. It’s actually quite absurd. I know with these videos, it’s hard for some people to believe that. But it’s the truth.”
She said she arrived at Columbia University last Monday afternoon to guide 30 activist students focusing on the safety and general logistics of protests. "I've been invited informally by someone that did not mention its name," she said insisting she did not receive payment for her service.
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מתפרעים מפגינים התפרעות מחאה פרו פלסטינים תומכי חמאס אוניברסיטת קולומביה ניו יורק
מתפרעים מפגינים התפרעות מחאה פרו פלסטינים תומכי חמאס אוניברסיטת קולומביה ניו יורק
Pro-Palestinian encampment at Columbia University
(Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
“It’s my life’s work. Of course, if I can get paid for it, I want to," she said explaining that if an organization brings her in to train staff, of course, she expects to be paid but not when young people take to the streets. Then she even refuses donations.
She addressed the fact that in some of the videos, she appears to mock students opposing the protesters and said she tried to get them away from the site because it was clear they wouldn't be able to stop the situation, but only escalate it. "It was along the lines of trying to be chill and talking to them in a rational way about, ‘Please, don’t be here,’” - although she admitted that she lost patience with them at some point. "This is a historic moment,” she said in the clip.
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