In politics, the term controlled opposition describes people who appear to be leaders but who are actually working for the dark side (e.g. corrupt governments or corporate interests).

However, there are also lots of low-profile enemy agents, including undercover cops and attorneys and spies who pose as ordinary citizens.

I loosely refer to these people collectively as shadow people, but I'd like to know if there is a better term. If not, can you suggest one?

P.S. When I say "working for the dark side," I don't necessarily mean people who are literally government employees. Rather, they are people who do the establishment's dirty work, presumably compensated in ways we may never know. Think of JFK's famous "Secret Societies" speech in envisioning a shadowy network of spies, people who cheer for the cameras even when they know they're listening to lies, etc.

Note: This is the first use of a new tag I just created, coin-a-term.

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    Government employees? How are you not also describing your postman? – candied_orange Dec 13 '15 at 4:50
  • Good point. I'll reword my question so it focuses on people who aren't necessarily government employees but do its dirty work. – David Blomstrom Dec 13 '15 at 4:51
  • Also, I think I found a serviceable definition for controlled opposition here – candied_orange Dec 13 '15 at 4:53
  • Thanks for the link, but I never asked for a definition of controlled opposition. As for the postman comment, postmen aren't necessarily corrupt. Nevertheless, SOME postmen are certainly working for the dark side. – David Blomstrom Dec 13 '15 at 4:57
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    SOME postmen work long hard honest hours and only take up the dark side as a hobby. :) I linked the definition because I honestly didn't know what you meant by controlled opposition until I looked it up. Wanted to confirm that is what you meant. – candied_orange Dec 13 '15 at 5:00

The adjective undercover could cover the part of "those who pose as ordinary citizens", as you mentioned in the question, which means:

Involving secret work within a community or organization, especially for the purposes of police investigation or espionage

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

The noun double agent probably would cover the shadow people part.

(espionage) A spy who pretends to work for one side, when they are truthfully working for the other/ passing information to the other.


You could consider using mole if he/she is deep undercover in a company or government organization.

Someone within an organization who anonymously betrays confidential information

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

(espionage) An internal spy, a person who involves himself or herself with an enemy organisation, especially an intelligence or governmental organisation, to determine and betray its secrets from within.



It seems better to use "underground" to describe a much bigger and more diverse community whose member is working as a double agent or mole.

In or into secrecy or hiding, especially as a result of carrying out subversive political activities:

  • Great suggestions but not quite what I'm looking for. I think the terms mole and double agent are typically applied to individuals, while I'm looking for a term that describes a much bigger and more diverse and community. Undercover is better in this respect, but it isn't a complete term; do we describe them as "the undercover community" or what? – David Blomstrom Dec 13 '15 at 5:08
  • @DavidBlomstrom I see. Would you like me to delete my answer? – user140086 Dec 13 '15 at 5:09
  • No, I think (or at least hope) my question inspires an interesting discussion, and you answer certainly adds to that discussion. It gives us things to think about and helps put my question in perspective. That's why I voted your answer up. In the end, there may be no "correct" answer, but I'm hoping to end this discussion with a really accurate term. – David Blomstrom Dec 13 '15 at 5:15

You are describing the ubiquitous and sinister "them"


Everyone who is not one of us.

htrn: It waz them! They did it!


Yeah, you can't trust them.


Traditionally, that group of agents has been known as the 'fifth column':

Fifth column, clandestine group or faction of subversive agents who attempt to undermine a nation’s solidarity by any means at their disposal. The term is credited to Emilio Mola Vidal, a Nationalist general during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). As four of his army columns moved on Madrid, the general referred to his militant supporters within the capital as his “fifth column,” intent on undermining the loyalist government from within.

A cardinal technique of the fifth column is the infiltration of sympathizers into the entire fabric of the nation under attack and, particularly, into positions of policy decision and national defense. From such key posts, fifth-column activists exploit the fears of a people by spreading rumours and misinformation, as well as by employing the more standard techniques of espionage and sabotage.

(From Encyclopedia Britannica, "Fifth Column Military Tactic")

'Fifth column' may be too broad for your use, because it includes policy and decision level operatives along with low-level controlled opposition.

Additionally, however, there is also the sixth column:

  1. the persons residing in a country at war who are devoted to aiding the fifth column in its activities, especially by lowering morale, spreading rumors, etc.

  2. the persons residing in a country at war who are devoted to blocking the efforts of the fifth column.

This term may be more precisely what you had in mind, although it is referentially schizophrenic, as can be seen from the two standard but more or less opposed defintions.

[From Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sixth-column (accessed: December 12, 2015]

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    Wow, I never even thought of that term, though I'm familiar with it. One problem (for me) is that a fifth column is commonly portrayed as an enemy of the status quo (I think), whereas the "shadow people" support the status quo. Perhaps the term could be somehow modified...counter fifth column, for example. – David Blomstrom Dec 13 '15 at 5:13
  • @DavidBlomstrom, one minute (poor interface); the term sixth column actually refers to both pro and con the status quo. – JEL Dec 13 '15 at 5:15
  • @DavidBlomstrom, I've added the additional definition. Is that what you had in mind? – JEL Dec 13 '15 at 5:17
  • Oh my God - I think SIXTH COLUMN is a very cool term. I want to wait a while before I choose a correct answer, but that's very creative. If it doesn't work for my question, it will certainly work for something else. ;) – David Blomstrom Dec 13 '15 at 5:21

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