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Tag: project veritas

Project Veritas Undermines First Amendment, But Wants Its 'Journalism' Protected

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Far-right video producer Project Veritas has been trying to undermine the careers and rights of mainstream journalists for years, but in the aftermath of FBI raids on the homes of its founder and CEO James O'Keefe and his associates, the group is now claiming that its own journalistic rights were violated.

Project Veritas is largely known for targeting and attempting to infiltrate political campaigns, nonprofits, and mainstream media outlets and releasing recordings of selectively edited video and audio from these organizations in an effort to frame its target as biased or criminal. In the past year, the far-right grifter has produced and pushed misinformation about voter fraud and the coronavirus vaccine.

In early November, the FBI raided the homes of O'Keefe and some of his associates as part of an investigation into the missing diary of Ashley Biden, President Joe Biden's daughter. The diary went missing last year and excerpts appeared online shortly before the 2020 election. While acknowledging that his group did have access to the diary, O'Keefe claimed "that he and his colleagues had been operating as ethical journalists, had turned the diary over to the law enforcement authorities last year and had sought to return it to a lawyer for Ms. Biden," according to The New York Times, before hand-written pages from it were published on another right-wing website just before Election Day.


In addition to The New York Times, Project Veritas is also suing CNN for libel. Rulings in favor of O'Keefe in either case would undermine essential protections for journalists first outlined in the precedent set by Supreme Court case New York Times Company v. Sullivan. The ruling in that case protects journalists from being targeted with frivolous defamation and libel claims by setting a higher standard for what counts as libel in coverage of people considered public figures.

For years, O'Keefe and Project Veritas have been attempting to undermine press freedoms, while insisting they are journalists themselves. Media outlets should not rush to the defense of an organization actively trying to undermine their rights -- especially one with a history of pushing misleading claims and conspiracy theories.


Since the raids were publicly reported in The New York Times, Project Veritas has been claiming its First Amendment rights were violated. O'Keefe alleged that his "reporters' notes" and source information were confiscated and suggested that as a journalist, that information is protected under the First Amendment.

Project Veritas has dedicated years to tearing down the media, attempting to undermine vital press freedoms in multiple lawsuits against mainstream news outlets. And Project Veritas itself does not operate as a news organization. It engages in unethical undercover sting operations where its operatives assume false identities in order to infiltrate Democratic campaigns, liberal organizations, media outlets, and other enemies of the right. It has reportedly sought out donors for input on the publishing timeline for stories, taken the words of its targets out of context, and pushed dangerous misinformation about the vaccine.

Meanwhile, Project Veritas has been reveling in coverage concerning its First Amendment rights from Politico and The Washington Post as well as statements of begrudging support from the American Civil Liberties Union, The Committee to Protect Journalists, and others.

At the same time, Project Veritas is actively undermining the rights of actual journalists at The New York Times.

On November 11, The New York Times published an article based on Project Veritas' "internal documents" and the FBI's search warrant for O'Keefe that "reveal the extent to which the group has worked with its lawyers to gauge how far its deceptive reporting practices can go before running afoul of federal laws." Project Veritas alleged, in an unrelated libel lawsuit against the Times, that authorities had leaked the information about the search warrant and the memos to the paper after receiving them from the raid. No evidence was presented for this, and The New York Times says they received the materials prior to the raid occurring.

Nevertheless, Project Veritas' lawyers convinced a judge in the libel case to temporarily block the Times from "publishing or seeking out certain documents related to the conservative group." (The lawsuit is over a 2020 Times article about a now-debunked Project Veritas video accusing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) of illegal ballot collection, which the Times called a "coordinated disinformation campaign.")

This is the first attempt by a court to use prior restraint -- a court order meant to preemptively prevent media publication -- against The New York Times since the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. In response, some of the same groups and journalists that issued statements of concern regarding the FBI raid issued similar condemnations of Project Veritas.

Project Veritas' attempt to curb freedom of the press while also claiming to be journalists shouldn't surprise anyone. The organization has spent years undermining or attempting to undermine journalism, especially any pieces or people critical of the group's actions. It has a video series dubbed "Retracto," which appears designed to direct harassment at journalists who write unfavorable articles about the group or even a tweet about Project Veritas and then later have to partially or fully retract their statements. The "retracto" video series features the face and, if applicable, the Twitter handle of targets, enabling viewers to attack them after watching the video.

Project Veritas Retracto example 11-14

From a November 14, 2020, video by Project Veritas posted on YouTube


In addition to The New York Times, Project Veritas is also suing CNN for libel. Rulings in favor of O'Keefe in either case would undermine essential protections for journalists first outlined in the precedent set by Supreme Court case New York Times Company v. Sullivan. The ruling in that case protects journalists from being targeted with frivolous defamation and libel claims by setting a higher standard for what counts as libel in coverage of people considered public figures.

For years, O'Keefe and Project Veritas have been attempting to undermine press freedoms, while insisting they are journalists themselves. Media outlets should not rush to the defense of an organization actively trying to undermine their rights -- especially one with a history of pushing misleading claims and conspiracy theories.


Far-Right Disinformation Outfit 'Project Veritas' Sunk By Hurricane Ida

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The destructive flooding of Hurricane Ida as it hit the mainland U.S. has stretched from the Mississippi all the way up the Northeast of our country. The realities of our country's archaic infrastructure has even led to some GOP officials voicing their support for President Biden's infrastructure bill, which they've generally tried to neuter and delay for political gain. The costs in human misery and economic instability of doing nothing about climate change are far higher than the money we should be spending to upgrade our country's vast infrastructure needs.

Bad policy and unproductive political theater will not offer you immunity for defying science and forces like weather. Bad policy decisions concerning climate change and infrastructure hurt everyone. The Daily Beast reports that dirtbag conservative operator James O'Keefe and his Project Veritas crew lost their Mamaroneck, New York, home base to Ida's floods. Peas and carrots or thoughts and prayers, whichever one means less.

O'Keefe is probably best known for breaking the law and getting awards from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' terrible wife inside of a swampy Trump Hotel lobby for his work hiring women to create false sexual assault allegations in the hopes of discrediting real sexual assault allegations. Read that last part over to yourself again and then think about the kind of terrible hole in one's soul you have to have to be involved in that.

In a video posted to the right-wing disinformation group's YouTube channel, O'Keefe unironically says that Project Veritas' next "story" might be delayed as he works on rebuilding the organizations' infrastructure. In the video, O'Keefe calls himself and his "organization" the "most resilient organization anywhere," and then blathers on with a trite reference to the phoenix rising from the ashes. He finishes by misquoting a poem by Rudyard Kipling in sort of a perfect encapsulation of the conservative movement in our country: conjuring up an old famous imperialist, racist, and anti-Semite and then lacking the intelligence and thoroughness to even properly repeat his least offensive poetry.

Guess he'll be asking for some more of that socialist taxpayer money he and his buddies rail so hard against but love to have in the bank for a rainy day.

Erik Prince Recruited Ex-Spies To Infiltrate Liberal Groups

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

An explosive New York Times report revealed Saturday that notorious war profiteer Erik Prince recruited former American and British spies to work with the right-wing group Project Veritas to infiltrate at least one Democratic congressional campaign and organizations "considered hostile" to President Donald Trump's agenda.

"Secretary DeVos' brother was directly involved in a spying scheme in her home state against a teachers' union she's been hostile with for years. If this doesn't clear the bar for an immediate Congressional investigation, nothing does."
—Derek Martin, Allied Progress

Prince is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and founder of the mercenary firm Blackwater. Through a spokesperson, he declined the Times' request for comment on the piece, which is based on interviews and documents obtained by the newspaper, including internal Project Veritas emails.

"Both Project Veritas and Mr. Prince have ties to President Trump's aides and family," the Times noted. "Whether any Trump administration officials or advisers to the president were involved in the operations, even tacitly, is unclear. But the effort is a glimpse of a vigorous private campaign to try to undermine political groups or individuals perceived to be in opposition to Mr. Trump's agenda."

The results of the Times' investigation were described by readers on social media as "chilling," "stunning," and "insane." Jacobin magazine assistant editor Alex Press declared, "My paranoid fantasies are all true!" In response to a tweet about the reporting, author and activist Naomi Klein simply wrote, "Read."

The consumer watchdog group Allied Progress responded with a statement Saturday night, calling on the House Oversight Committee to conduct an immediate investigation into what DeVos knew about Prince's activities.

"There's not a lot of dots to connect here," said Allied Progress director Derek Martin. "Secretary DeVos' brother was directly involved in a spying scheme in her home state against a teachers' union she's been hostile with for years. If this doesn't clear the bar for an immediate Congressional investigation, nothing does."

"We already know Secretary DeVos is no friend of public education, but if she gave the go-ahead to enlist former intelligence officers to steal documents from public education advocates that she disagrees with, it steps well beyond policy disagreement and into criminal territory," Martin added. "If Secretary DeVos was in any way involved, it will confirm that she stops at nothing to undermine public schools."

According to the Times:

One of the former spies, an ex-MI6 officer named Richard Seddon, helped run a 2017 operation to copy files and record conversations in a Michigan office of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers' unions in the nation. Mr. Seddon directed an undercover operative to secretly tape the union's local leaders and try to gather information that could be made public to damage the organization, documents show.
Using a different alias the next year, the same undercover operative infiltrated the congressional campaign of Abigail Spanberger, then a former CIA officer who went on to win an important House seat in Virginia as a Democrat. The campaign discovered the operative and fired her.
Both operations were run by Project Veritas, a conservative group that has gained attention using hidden cameras and microphones for sting operations on news organizations, Democratic politicians, and liberal advocacy groups. Mr. Seddon's role in the teachers' union operation—detailed in internal Project Veritas emails that have emerged from the discovery process of a court battle between the group and the union—has not previously been reported, nor has Mr. Prince's role in recruiting Mr. Seddon for the group's activities.

The Times reported that it is unclear whether Seddon was involved in the Spanberger operation and the former British intelligence officer—who is married to American diplomat Alice Seddon—did not respond to the newspaper's request for comment.

James O'Keefe of Project Veritas told the Times that his group is a "proud independent news organization" and "no one tells Project Veritas who or what to investigate." Although he declined to discuss the details of the report, he also claimed that various sources are "providing confidential documents, insights into internal processes, and wearing hidden cameras to expose corruption and misconduct."

Past targets of Project Veritas have included the nonprofit healthcare organization Planned Parenthood, the political group Disrupt J20, and recently, David Wright, a 20-year veteran political correspondent at ABC News. Project Veritas has also recorded undercover video of a Times editor and approached the Washington Post with a false story about Roy Moore, a Republican Senate candidate in Alabama.

The Project Veritas operative inside AFT Michigan was Liberty University graduate Marisa Jorge, according to the Times. O'Keefe and Seddon used the code name "LibertyU" for Jorge when discussing the operation over email. Jorge, who also reportedly infiltrated the Spanberger campaign by posing as a volunteer, did not respond to the newspaper's request for comment. The federal lawsuit that AFT Michigan brought against Project Veritas is scheduled to go to trial later this year.

In a statement to the Times, AFT president Randi Weingarten said: "Let's be clear who the wrongdoer is here: Project Veritas used a fake intern to lie her way into our Michigan office, to steal documents and to spy—and they got caught. We're just trying to hold them accountable for this industrial espionage."

Weingarten added on Twitter Saturday, "They didn't succeed in their attempt to hurt our union but note what the right wing will do to try to eliminate workers' voice."

The Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill—who released the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army in 2007—wrote on Twitter Saturday that with this piece, the Times "pushes the 2017 story from [The Intercept's Matthew Cole]⁩ forward about Erik Prince attempts to infiltrate liberal groups via Project Veritas."

Last year, Cole published an article for The Intercept titled "The Complete Mercenary: How Erik Prince Used the Rise of Trump to Make an Improbable Comeback."

Noting that Trump gave Project Veritas thousands of dollars through his foundation and met with O'Keefe shortly after announcing his run for president, Cole reported:

It is unclear if Trump's support of Project Veritas spurred Prince's interest in the group, but in late 2015 or early 2016, Prince arranged for O'Keefe and Project Veritas to receive training in intelligence and elicitation techniques from a retired military intelligence operative named Euripides Rubio Jr. According to a former Trump White House official who discussed the Veritas training with Rubio, the former special operative quit after several weeks of training, complaining that the Veritas group wasn't capable of learning. Rubio did not respond to requests for comment.
In the winter of 2017, Prince arranged for a former British MI6 officer to provide more surveillance and elicitation training for Veritas at his family's Wyoming ranch, according to a person with direct knowledge of the effort. Prince was trying to turn O'Keefe and his group into domestic spies. For his part, O'Keefe posted photos on Instagram and Twitter from the Prince family ranch of himself holding a handgun with a silencer attached and wearing pseudo-military clothing. He described the ranch as a "classified location" where he was learning "spying and self-defense," in an effort to make Project Veritas "the next great intelligence agency."
"Erik was weaponizing a group that had close ties to the Trump White House," said the former White House official familiar with Prince's relationship with O'Keefe and Project Veritas.

Cole acknowledged the Times reporting on Twitter Saturday and highlighted a summary of it tweeted by The Atlantic's Adam Serwer:

Currently, the Times noted, "Prince is under investigation by the Justice Department over whether he lied to a congressional committee examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, and for possible violations of American export laws."

Former FBI assistant director and current NBC News national security contributor Frank Figliuzzi shared the Times report on Twitter Saturday and commented that "there are likely numerous criminal violations here."

The James O’Keefe-Donald Trump-Breitbart News Nexus

Weeks before Election Day, convicted criminal James O’Keefe has come forward with a new set of heavily edited video tapes that he claims prove the conservative myth of widespread voter fraud. Republican nominee Donald Trump is already incorporating the charge into what appears to be his campaign’s closing argument — that he is the victim of a “rigged” election system, and the only way he can lose is if the election is stolen from him.

Halfway through October, it is clear that Trump is reading from campaign CEO and Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon’s playbook.

O’Keefe, the right-wing videographer behind the nonprofits Project Veritas and Project Veritas Action, is currently rolling out a series of videos based on footage captured by undercover operatives who wore hidden cameras while interviewing Democratic political operatives. The heavily edited videos focus on the Democrats discussing efforts to have activists disrupt Trump events and discussing a proposal — made by the O’Keefe operatives filming them — to engage in a voter fraud plot.

O’Keefe has a long history of engaging in criminal, misogynistic, ethically dubious, and bizarre behavior related to his video stunts. He has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of entering a government office under false pretenses; sought to set up a video “sting” in which he would lure a female CNN reporter onto a boat filled with sex toys and attempt to seduce the reporter on camera; and had to pay a former video target $100,000 and publicly apologize in a legal settlement.

O’Keefe’s videos often make a big splash, but they fall apart under scrutiny by reporters and state investigations. His past work attempting to document the ease of voter fraud is no different. In 2012, Project Veritas released videos that O’Keefe claimed proved “widespread voter fraud” in several states and the District of Columbia. But the videos did not show any instances of voter fraud — or voting at all. Instead, the videos showed actors almost committing a crime by attempting to obtain the ballots of other people under false pretenses, and they accidentally illustrated how difficult it would be to commit actual voter fraud. O’Keefe claimed that another video showed voter fraud in North Carolina, including “ballots being offered out in the name of the dead” and “non-citizens voting.” But the “dead” voter from the video was not actually dead, and the “non-citizen” in the video had become a U.S. citizen decades earlier.

Media outlets were able to point out O’Keefe’s deceptive edits because Project Veritas previously released unedited raw footage from its hidden camera stings. The group has not done so for its latest election projects. Instead, media outlets reporting on the videos are relying solely on the snippets of video and the context that O’Keefe provides.

That matters because O’Keefe’s two latest videos edit down footage from undercover operatives working over a period of several months into 34 minutes of narrated video purporting to show progressive operatives “rigging the election.” “The editing raises questions about what was said and what may come out later,” as The Washington Post’s David Weigel pointed out.

As Time magazine’s Philip Elliott noted following a review of the videos, “Without the full context” omitted by the O’Keefe videos, “it’s impossible to know” what one operative meant in a quote featured in one of the videos, and that “there’s no way of telling if that person said what the tape purports” in another case. He says that exculpatory information showing operatives refusing to engage in voter fraud appears to have been excised; he notes that while some such commentary remains, it comes “long after viewers are convinced they are watching Watergate unfold in real time.”

That’s the review from a reporter who is viewing the tapes skeptically. No such skepticism is in evidence at the launching pad for the videos: Breitbart News. The right-wing website, which has been among Trump’s biggest boosters, received the exclusive on the first the videos O’Keefe released this week and has produced several stories on the allegations.

Trump has been mired in a downward spiral for the past several days, repeatedly claiming that the election has been rigged against him by the media and voter fraud. His claims have been rejected across thespectrum, including by Republican election lawyers and officials who have described the allegations as “unfounded” and “irresponsible” and said they could have “a destabilizing effect on the orderly administration of the election.”

The Trump campaign — headed by Bannon, who is on a leave of absence from his job running Breitbart News — has clung to O’Keefe’s videos as evidence that its candidate is actually right about the election being rigged. Bannon himself was investigated by Florida prosecutors earlier this year following a report that he “was registered in a home in Miami that he rented for his ex-wife.”

Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway claimed during an interview on Fox News’ Hannity that the voter fraud video shows that “Donald Trump was ahead of his time. … He’s been talking about this for the last couple days. People have been criticizing him. He has no evidence. And here we see it goes right to the top.” Campaign surrogate Newt Gingrich said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) should call on the FBI to open an investigation.

At a speech yesterday, Trump highlighted O’Keefe’s video on activists disrupting his rallies. It seems likely that he will use the “voter fraud” video to bolster his bogus claims of a rigged election at tonight’s final presidential debate.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters