I'm looking a for a word that describes someone who appears to have given up a particular belief and adopted an opposing one but in reality, only to subvert the newly adopted belief. This is a a particularly pernicious treachery, so I need something that gives that sense.
The closest I can get is an apostate quisling but that phrase fails to really describe it properly or indeed literally, as quisling would describe a traitor and not someone attempting to subvert from outside.
Does anyone know of a word that would fit my description.
Or as Chris H points out perhaps a word that means a false apostate.
In response to Phil Sweet, in my scenario, they would be acting as part of a plot.

  • 5
    This isn't a good fit but its synonyms might be: double agent. In your case I'd invert the word order: they're a false apostate rather than an apostate traitor.
    – Chris H
    Jul 27, 2017 at 16:32
  • As you say, quislings (and fifth columnists) are almost always traitors. What you're talking about looks more like a double agent (from the perspective of the enemy, who originally hired him as their spy, but actually he's secretly switched allegiance to our side). Jul 27, 2017 at 16:35
  • 1
    'religious agent provocateur'?
    – Mitch
    Jul 27, 2017 at 18:00
  • What is wrong with subversive? Jul 27, 2017 at 19:48
  • @MikeJRamsey56 Nothing per se but it doesn't describe the pernicious treachery, that I'm looking for. Jul 28, 2017 at 7:48

3 Answers 3


An infiltrator is a person who joins an organisation in order to investigate, influence or damage the organisation they have joined.

In real life official infiltrators are often referred to as undercover investigators by law enforcement organisations or moles by the target organisation, but the situation is a popular subject for fiction.

Among many other works of fiction on this subject like Harry's Game and A Perfect Spy there is movie called The Infiltrator about an FBI agent infiltrating a drug trafficking gang and an old G K Chesterton story called The Man Who Was Thursday from 1908 where the central character infiltrates a gang of anarchists only to find, eventually, that the gang consists entirely of infiltrators.



A person who deserts one party or cause in order to join an opposing one.

'Redeem yourself or forever be consigned to history's judgment of political turncoats, renegades and saboteurs.' ODO

Renegade and saboteur don't carry the connotation of switchings sides that turncoat does.

double agent

An agent who pretends to act as a spy for one country or organization while in fact acting on behalf of an enemy. ODO


Defector, n.

person who relinquishes, absconds from, or flees duty in order to resume said duty on the opposing side of a conflict.

  • So, perhaps, you might modify the scenario to read as "a red herring defection," "a straw man defection," "a defection ruse," &c.
    – Jodi
    Aug 20, 2017 at 20:59
  • I rather like "a sham defection," personally.
    – Jodi
    Aug 20, 2017 at 21:04

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