One People's Project
Right-wing video propagandist James O'Keefe, currently facing federal charges for interfering with the phone lines of a US Senator's office, has been an activist ever since his college days at Rutgers University, publishing a right-wing student magazine at the time called the Centurion. When he graduated from Rutgers in June 2006, O'Keefe began working for the conservative activist organization Leadership Institute in Arlington, VA. He is best known as the videographer that dressed as a pimp to catch employees giving unethical and possibly illegal advice. It is now his own legal standing that is in question, after he and three cohorts were arrested by the FBI in New Orleans for allegedly trying to interfere with the office phones of Senator Mary Landrieu. However, as his current activities now go through the legal system and the arena of public opinion, his past work is getting even more scrutiny, particularly his attendance and involvement at a white supremacist forum held on August 30, 2006 in Arlington, VA.
The forum was titled "Race and Conservatism" and was sponsored by the Robert A. Taft Club, a paleoconservative organization that was run by fellow Leadership Institute member Marcus Epstein. It was held at a satellite building for the Georgetown University Law School in Claredon, Va., having been moved at the last minute from its original location at the Leadership Institute building after calls from the Southern Poverty Law Center and One People's Project gave reason for concern. The panel included Jared Taylor, the editor of the white supremacist American Renaissance newsletter who is planning a conference of white supremacists in the Washington DC area next month, and John Derbyshire of the conservative periodical National Review. According to a post on the white supremacist website Stormfront at the time when it was still planned to be held at the Leadership Institute, it was just going to be Taylor and Derbyshire discussing the role of race in policy decisions and the racial future of the Republican party. After the controversy that prompted the Leadership Institute to close its doors to the forum, Kevin Martin of the black conservative organization Project 21 became a last-minute addition to the panel. Approximately 40 persons attended this forum, the majority of whom, among them a longtime associate of Taylor's, Professor Michael Hart, were well-known in white supremacist circles. Other Leadership Institute members were also in attendance.
A DC area photographer snapped a photo of O'Keefe as he maintained a literature table near the panelists. At the time both heand Marcus Epstein were Leadership Institute employees. Epstein, who eventually served as executive director for Bay Buchanan's the American Cause and for Tom Tancredo's Team America PAC, would be arrested almost a year later for drunkenly attacking an African American woman in the Georgetown area of Washington, calling her a racial slur and also fighting with her husband before getting stopped by an off duty secret service agent witnessing the attack. O'Keefe, who was still being listed at the time of the forum on the RU Centurion masthead as "Editor at Large" would eventually be fired from the Leadership Institute after he called a Planned Parenthood office pretending to be a donor who only wanted his donation going to aborting black babies, because in his words, "the less black kids out there the better." It was a ruse to catch Planned Parenthood staffers in an embarrassing situation, which it did, but it also embarrassed his employers at the Leadership Institute as well, and they let him go. Still, David Fenner, Vice President of Programs at the Leadership Institute, said that they would not have restricted their members' participation in the 2006 forum. "This was outside of office hours," he said. "We don't say what our employees should do on their own time."
O'Keefe is currently out on $10,000 bail and had been ordered to stay at his parents' home in Bergen County, NJ. His employer, fellow conservative activist Andrew Brietbart stands behind O'Keefe with his current legal troubles, and O'Keefe released a statement found on Brietbart's BigGovernment.com saying that no one tried to wiretap Senator Landrieu's office but admitted that he should have went about things differently. "On reflection, I could have used a different approach to this investigation, particularly given the sensitivities that people understandably have about security in a federal building," O'Keefe wrote. "The sole intent of our investigation was to determine whether or not Senator Landrieu was purposely trying to avoid constituents who were calling to register their views to her as their Senator. We video taped the entire visit, the government has those tapes, and I'm eager for them to be released because they refute the false claims being repeated by much of the mainstream media."
Ironically, no one from ACORN had ever been charged with a crime behind any of O'Keefe's videos, although Congress had denied funding to the organization, only for the denial to be successfully fought in court. Last week, Katherine Conway-Russel, an ACORN office director in Philadelphia filed suit against O'Keefe and his partner in the videos Hannah Giles claiming the pair "purportedly sought information regarding housing and mortgage opportunities in Philadelphia, but were in reality imposters who deliberately and surreptitiously created video and audio recordings in an attempt to discredit plaintiff Conway-Russell and ACORN Housing Corporation," and that they subsequently "disseminated the illegally obtained recordings in a manner calculated to harm and injure" her. Although ACORN has another lawsuit pending in Baltimore, Md., this is the first such lawsuit by an individual employee.