Media

Conservative Con Artist James O'Keefe Busted for Dirty Tricks Against Trump Protesters

A progressive group's counter-sting caught O'Keefe attempting some 1960s-style COINTELPRO.

Photo Credit: screen shot

James O’Keefe, the conservative operative whose discredited video “stings” have resulted in him paying massive fines and apologizing to his targets, is up to his usual stunts. This time, O’Keefe’s Project Veritas—a hilarious name for an organization that has nothing but contempt for the truth—is taking aim at anti-Trump activists and critics. The group’s latest con, which takes a page right out of the FBI’s 1960s COINTELPRO book, involves attempts at bribing progressive activists to disrupt inauguration activities, creating violence, sowing discord and generating lots of bad press for conservative media to gloat over. Unfortunately for O'Keefe, two left-leaning groups conducted a video counter-sting that caught him and his would-be accomplices in the act.

Huffington Post reports that after getting wind of O’Keefe’s effort, members of the Undercurrent and Americans Take Action set up hidden cameras to document the kinds of underhanded dealings the group had planned. In footage released by the Undercurrent, O’Keefe-aligned conspirator Alison Maass—who gained fame last August for trying, and failing, to infiltrate Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold’s campaign—is captured trying to enlist recruits in the right-wing scheme. She tells an activist her group has “unlimited resources” to pay a rabblerouser willing to create enough chaos to “put a stop to the inauguration...interrupt the parties.” In a video that suggests the pricetag for said acts rises as high as $500,000, Maass explains what would satisfy O’Keefe.

“He’d like to turn on some TV, and maybe not even see Trump,” Maas says in one of the clips from the video below. In another she states that a shutdown of the inauguration would make O’Keefe “ultimately the happiest, and wanting to open up his wallet.”

The counter-sting video is just the first in a series Americans Take Action is set to release uncovering O’Keefe’s sleazy methods. Executive producer Lauren Windsor says there’s more where that came from.

O’Keefe became a right-wing darling in 2009, after his phony sting on ACORN, a community organization and voter registration group doing the kind of good work for poor people that infuriates Republicans. The resulting footage, deceptively edited to make it look as if ACORN workers were engaging in unethical and illegal activities, resulted in a media firestorm, which led to the group being defunded and wiped out of existence. In the months that followed, it became clear that the video was hamfistedly cut together to present an altogether different picture than the truth. In 2013, O’Keefe was ordered to pay $100,000 and offer a public apology to a former ACORN employee.

The fact that O’Keefe’s methodology has serious ethical issues and demonstrates a willingness to lie to produce the desired political ends must be what attracted Donald Trump and his campaign team. Numerous outlets report that the Trump Foundation gave O’Keefe’s organization $10,000 to get dirt on supporters of Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign. Trump also invited O’Keefe to a presidential debate last October. American Family Voice was among the groups O’Keefe attempted to frame as part of his anti-Democratic videos earlier this year.

O’Keefe has stumbled and bumbled through a series of would-be stunts, resulting in a number of failures that have made the news. Back in 2010, still basking in the light of his ACORN win, he tried to prank CNN correspondent Abbie Boudreau, but she found out right before the shoot started. As part of a ludicrous series titled “To Catch a Journalist”—which at least implies he recognizes he doesn’t doesn’t deserve the title—O’Keefe became the unintended punchline of his own joke, and was laughed out of the halls of Columbia Journalism School. Last year, one of O’Keefe’s agents failed to nail a Clinton campaign staffer for international T-shirt sales; at a “press conference” O’Keefe held, one journalist asked, “Is this a joke?” In May, O’Keefe attempted one of his pranks against the Open Society Institute (George Soros is right-wing enemy number one), but failed after he forgot to hang up a phone and accidentally left a voicemail giving his plan away.

Ryan Clayton, the progressive activist who helped carry out the counter-sting on O’Keefe’s latest project, told the Huffington Post he was honored to help out. “It was my pleasure to work with the highly skilled operatives who pulled off this reverse sting of political conman James O’Keefe and his Project Veritas cohorts.”

[h/t Huffington Post]

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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