A professional provocateur, Billy Walsh, meets with a group of student agitators. He uses the meeting to encourage them to stir up trouble against the university, advising confrontation. Once the meeting at his apartment is over, Billy calls his employer, Deputy Mayor Charles Peck, and demands a down payment for the special service that he's providing. Peck agrees, hangs up, and tells Mayor Steve Tallman that they'll have to pay. Tallman is worried about the danger but Peck assures him that they have no choice if Tallman wants to become governor. The mayor pours himself another glass of whiskey and Peck tells him to lay off of it. Once Tallman leaves, Peck tells his assistant, crooked cop Ross, to keep an eye on Tallman in case he acts on his doubts.
Jim picks up his briefing from a fortune-teller shop and is informed that Peck is using Tallman as a figurehead and pushing his image as tough on crime and dissent. Peck has hired Billy to start a riot and then will have Tallman stop it, allowing Tallman to defeat incumbent governor Frank Harper in the upcoming election. Since the rioting is undermining the U.S.'s image across the world, the IMF must stop the rioting and Peck.
At the briefing, Jim explains that Peck is working with organized crime and the public has heard the rumors, so the deputy major has to work through Tallman. Dana will have to get close to Billy and find out what his plan is. The police are honest except for Ross and will take orders from the team, and Barney is coordinating with the governor's office. Jim and Dana examine a photo of an older woman and Dana assures the team that she should be able to pose as her daughter. She admits that the impersonation won't be perfect, but Jim assures her that she only has to convince Peck that Tallman thinks Dana is his daughter. Doug assures the team that the hospital is set up and the weapons are ready, and Jim reminds the team that their objective is to make sure that all innocent bystanders are kept safe.
Doug drives through town and runs a red light to make sure the police pull him over. When they search his car, they find dozens of grenades and guns in the trunk.
That night, Dana breaks into the college administration office and starts burning files. She makes sure that a guard is nearby and he comes in and arrests her before she has to do any damage.
At the station, Doug tells Ross that he wants to call his boss, Jim, and that Jim will make a sizable donation to Tallman's election campaign to hush up the incident. Ross agrees to the call and notices Dana as she's taken to a cell.
Barney, posing as the governor's special representative, meets with Tallman and Police Chief Danby about the potential riots. Tallman doesn't want Barney there but Danby agrees to his help. While Barney shows them the advised anti-riot equipment, he secretly takes photos of one wall of Tallman's office.
Jim comes to see Peck and donates $50,000 to make the incident go away. He explains that he planned to donate to Tallman anyway and that he's well aware that Peck is the true power. Jim explains that the weapons are going to similar hard-line groups but offers them to Peck. Peck holds off and Jim leave with the gun, and the deputy mayor then has Ross do a background check on him.
Paris calls Tallman on behalf of Elizabeth Wilson and says that he wants to meet with him. Tallman reluctantly agrees and Paris gives him an apartment address. Peck and Ross come in to see Tallman as he finishes his meeting with Barney, and Barney shows them a file no known agitators, including Dana, who is using the name Katherine Wilson. Ross recognizes her photo and makes call. He soon releases Dana, who goes outside and finds Billy waiting for her. He tells her that he bailed her out of jail and she agrees to go with him to his apartment. Billy shows her the guns and explosives that he has ready for the protest, and then tries to kiss her. Dana figures him for a cop and tries to walk out, but Billy insists that he's clean and that the protestors need people like them to do more than just wave signs. When Dana asks what his plan is that is so much better, Billy tells her that he plans to shoot a cop.
Tallman goes to see Paris while one of Ross' men watches him. Paris tells Tallman that he had an illegitimate daughter with Elizabeth Wilson.
Later, Dana meets with the team and passes on the rest of Billy's plan. The provocateur plans to take the other protestors into the dean's office and then bobby-trap the doors. He and Dana will shoot the chosen cop, sneak out when the police shoot back, and leave the gun behind. The coops will break in, setting off the booby trap, and the explosion will kill everyone and cover Billy's tracks. Jim figures that the first thing to do is get the protestors off the campus to keep innocents from being hurt.
Paris shows Tallman Dana's birth certificate and explains that he set it up so that Tallman would believe his mistress and daughter had died during birth. He met Elizabeth in Canada and they fell in love after Tallman abandoned her. When Elizabeth died, Paris raised her daughter. When Paris came to town, Dana looked him up and then enrolled in the college. Tallman figures that it's a blackmail scheme and Paris agrees, demanding $10,000.
Jim goes back to Peck and offers him a $1 million contribution, in return for a personal meeting with Tallman. Peck has confirmed Jim is who he says and asks why he wants to meet the mayor, and Jim says that he wants to be sure that Tallman is a sound investment. After Jim leave, Ross reports to Peck that Tallman met with Paris, and the deputy mayor puts tails on both men.
At the next protest meeting at Billy's apartment, Billy and Dana lay out their plan to use explosives when they take over the dean's office. One of the protesters, Alec, objects and Billy insists that they need to show their strength. Dana agrees with Billy but then suggests that the public is bored with college occupations so they should take over the mayor's office. Billy is reluctant to change his plan but Dana says the others and he reluctantly agrees.
Barney breaks into City Hall and enters a utility closet adjoining Tallman's office.
Tallman meets Dana at Paris' apartment and reluctantly agrees her. Furious that he abandoned her mother, Dana demands money to keep quiet. Tallman remembers seeing her file earlier and Dana says that she wants the money to finance her revolutionary activities. If he doesn't pay, she'll go to the papers and destroy his gubernatorial campaign. If he does, she assures Tallman that she'll leave town for good. He hands over the money and Dana leaves, and Tallman tells Paris to make sure that he never sees her again.
Using the photos he took earlier and a measuring tape, Barney figures out where to cut through the closet wall into Tallman's office.
Ross arrests Paris at his apartment and takes the IMF agent to Tallman's office to meet with Peck. After they make a few threats, Paris tells them everything and they bring in Tallman. While Ross takes Paris to the cells, Peck warns Tallman that Paris and Dana would never have stopped demanding money. The deputy mayor informs him that Dana is one of the protestors, and he's given Billy orders to kill her along with the others. A shocked Tallman starts to leave, but Peck half-seriously asks if he has any other children they need to worry about.
Ross locks Paris up and tells him that they'll release him after the election.
Barney finishes cutting through the wall, being careful to make sure the section isn't damaged. He then fastens it in place from the closet side and leaves.
Peck sends Ross to inform Billy that his target is the government's representative--Barney.
The next morning, Paris easily escapes with the use of a hidden lockpick and Doug picks him up. They then go to city hall and enter the utility closet. As they wait, Paris prepares a Tallman mask.
Peck arranges the meeting between Jim and Tallman at the mayor's office. Jim assures Tallman he'll donate to his cause and Peck leaves them alone to get acquainted. After talking for a bit, Jim leaves and Doug comes in through the panel, capturing Tallman at gunpoint. As Paris comes in, now looking like Tallman, Doug drugs Tallman unconscious. Jim has doubled back and entered the closet, and he and Doug load Tallman into a fake cabinet and haul him away while Paris takes Tallman's place.
The next day, Jim invites Pecks to his apartment. He says that Tallman failed to impress him during their talk and that Peck should pull the mayor out of the election and take his place. Peck isn't convinced he can pull it off given his ties to organized crime, but Jim promises him unlimited funding and media saturation to handle his image problems.
Billy and the protestors, except Dana, go into the administration building. While the others go to the mayor's office, Billy booby-traps the doors and then joins them. Meanwhile, Peck gets a call about the occupation and he and Jim go to the administration building.
Dana sneaks into the building and meets the others, claiming she had to duck a police tail. Billy doesn't believe her and gets ready to shoot her, but the student protestors object. Realizing he can't go against them without losing their support, Bill apologizes and then tells everyone to stay put while he checks on the police. Once outside the office, he rigs the door with an explosive charge.
Everyone arrives outside as the police cordon the building. Billy secretly contacts Peck and Ross by walkie-talkie and tells them that everything is fine, and that Dana will die with the others. Ross tells him to wait a bit before shooting Barney, while Barney sneaks around and breaks into the building through a window. Outside, the disguised Paris arrives and announces that his daughter is inside.
Dana goes to the window and uses a loudspeaker to address the crowd, stating their peaceful terms. Meanwhile, Barney disarms the explosives on the front door. Out front, Paris tells Dana that everyone in earshot that he loves his daughter and that he'll no longer follow Peck's orders. As Paris negotiates with Dana, Jim warns Peck that Tallman's is folding just like he said and will never become governor. Peck has Ross give the order to Billy to shoot, but Barney grabs him and yanks the barrel up. Paris triggers a squib on his shoulder, making it appear that Billy shot him. Meanwhile, Barney disarms the charge on the mayor's office and then turns Billy over to the police.
Outside, the "wounded" Paris denounces Peck to the press. Doug and a bound-and-gagged Tallman are watching the television broadcast from a nearby ambulance van. When Billy is brought out, he announces that Peck and hired him, and Danby puts Peck and Ross under arrest.
As Paris enters the van and removes his Tallman mask, Doug tells the real Tallman that everyone will believe that the real Tallman was out on the street denouncing Peck. He's given Tallman a wound to match the one on Paris' shoulder. Barney comes in and tells Tallman that Governor Harper will give Tallman immunity in return for his testimony against Peck, rather than risk a scandal. Tallman quickly agrees and somewhat regretfully wonders if Dana was really his daughter. Doug says that she wasn't and asks if it bothers him, and Tallman says it doesn't. The team leaves in the van as Dana and the protestors are brought out of the administration building.