At the time of this writing, James O’Keefe is losing his status as the darling of the right. That's because he and three others are facing jail time for trying to tamper with the phone lines in the New Orleans offices of Senator Mary Landrieu. Of course, before his fall from grace he had got his claim to fame when he decided to take a camera and saunter into a few offices of the group ACORN posing as a pimp bringing along his prostitute - actually Hannah Giles, the daughter of conservative website TownHall.com’s founder Doug Giles. They caught ACORN workers on tape telling them how to evade law enforcement, shield their assets from the government and win loans for their illicit endeavor. Needless to say, all hell has broken loose around an organization that has become the bogeyman for the right over the past year because the man they love to hate, President Barack Obama, was a one time lawyer for the group. Because of the videos, the group had been denounced by the White House, defunded by the Senate, only to restore the funding after ACORN fought back in court, and several employees were under criminal investigation although no charges have ever been filed. Now the consensus in the midst of all of this was that if the charges were legitimate, ACORN needed to simply clean up its act if it was going to continue advocating for poor people. The thing is, when you are dealing with a guy like James O’Keefe, chances are the story isn’t as black and white as it looks. Well, let us rephrase that. It isn’t something you can trust on its face. It being black and white – that’s another story. In short, we have history with this clown O’Keefe.
In 2005, we published an article titled “College Republicans and the Fascists who Love Them”. In it, we spoke of a then-new publication that appeared on the Rutgers University campus called the Centurion. It basically carried the traits of your average right-wing campus publication found on any campus: while leftist – or what they would call leftist for the sake of propaganda – publications try to inform and advance education that addresses concerns of the time, the mission of conservative publications has always been to just attack liberals. Like a little kid having a temper tantrum, the Centurion has been nothing more than zingers aimed at liberals on campus and whatever liberal organizations they feel like harassing. James O’Keefe was one of the founders of the Centurion, and we noted a line in what he called his “Conservative Manifesto” in the section he titled “A Conservative is Politically Incorrect”:
"Buzzwords like 'inclusion,' 'tolerance,' and 'diversity' are racist, hypocritical, and exclusive to, as Leo Strauss said, 'those who have stated clearly and forcefully there are unchangeable standards founded in the nature of man and the nature of things.'"
Now we are used to the neo-con routine of being racist by saying that everyone else but them are racist, and O’Keefe is a prime example of this. His attitude towards people of color has been spotlighted by a Daily Kos blogger who visited his site and found this gem in his now deleted online diary about how he was kicked out of a dorm at Rutgers:
“My freshman year of college I was placed in a triple room on the second floor of Campbell. One of my roomates (sic) was gay. The other was just bizarre. Two months in I volunteered to leave and was put on an all-black, floor, the Paul Robeson floor, on Mettler 3 in November. I was placed with, no joke, an Indian midget named "Hashish" who smelled like shit. Then he transfered (sic). I had a single. For the month of January, I never left my room. Then on Valentines day (sic), the one year anniversary of James/Arielle, in came a greek kid named Paul. Paul was an absolute nightmare. Then, to my horror, he actually said to the all-black RAs that I called everyone on the floor "niggers." - a complete lie. It was my word against his. I was lead out of the room crying and screaming at him and my situation, no friends, no one one (sic) to talk to., forced to go in front of a black man, Dean Tolbert, to defend myself and help explain that I did not call anyone any names.”
Well, perhaps this explains why O’Keefe hates Paul Robeson so much. It’s not because he was a Stalinist, which was how the 2005 Black History Month issue of the Centurion he edited incorrectly tried to paint him. It’s because O’Keefe got himself into a racial row with his roommate and was removed from the dorm. Put his whole concern about diversity and tolerance in a whole new perspective, doesn’t it?
As mentioned, the Centurion’s main mission is to go after anyone they don’t like, and it is often the usual conservative targets: people of color, Muslims, liberals, people who don’t like them, etc. And don’t look for any highbrow stuff either. A cartoon depicting former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, the first openly gay governor in United States history, has him telling a deliveryman asking him where he can take a package for him that he “takes it in the rear”. The Centurion is being funded by the Leadership Institute, the Arlington-based outfit that works to train conservative students to be activists on campuses around the country. In recent years, the racist activism in the Leadership Institute is a little more exposed, whether you are talking about former intern Marcus Epstein attempting to host a forum on race at their building with white supremacist Jared Taylor among the panelists (more on that in a minute), giving speaker funds to Michigan State University’s chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for among other things, inviting people like Taylor and British National Party members on campus to speak, or the founding by Epstein and other Institute members of Youth for Western Civilization, which immediately began to wear out their welcome on college campuses across the country when people started to take notice of the white supremacists they were cozying up to. O’Keefe started working for the Leadership Institute immediately after graduating from Rutgers in 2006. In fact, he was there - very there - during that attempt by Epstein to host Jared Taylor at the Leadership Institute building. That forum ended up being moved to a building at the Georgetown Law School and manning the tables was O'Keefe himself. A DC area photographer took a photo of him while Taylor, homophobic writer John Derbyshire and assorted white supremacists who attended discussed the role of racists in today's society. Now although the Leadership Institute washed their hands of this particular event, they were still cool with O'Keefe and funded his other endeavors.
Usually it is Borat-style prank stuff, something he was good for while an editor of the Centurion. The problem is unlike Sasha Baron Cohen, O’Keefe has to spin the stuff he gets from his “stings” to what he wants them to be. In 2006, he brought fellow Leadership Insitiute member and anti-abortion zealot Lila Rose posing as a pregnant/underage teen to Planned Parenthood facilities with a hidden camera to record the conversations. They managed to catch one of the workers suggesting that they cover up a possible statutory rape situation. In 2008, keeping in tradition of his obsession with racial matters, O’Keefe called the Columbus, OH Planned Parenthood office and requested that his donation be earmarked to abort black babies. Now Planned Parenthood supports abortion rights and wants to make it more accessible for everyone, so it isn’t an issue if someone wants to make abortions accessible for a certain community, and this wasn’t an issue for the person O’Keefe called. O’Keefe then added a nice salvo at the end of this phone call, saying, “Because there's definitely way too may black people in Ohio. So, I'm just trying to do my part." That got a "Hmm. Okay, whatever.” from the Planned Parenthood worker, but unfortunately for her not recoiling in outrage and hanging up the phone is what got the right wing MOB (Manufactured Outrage Brigade) standing outside Planned Parenthood offices and inside Fox News studios. Planned Parenthood put out statements on both incidents saying that the workers did not approach the two cases properly, and James O’Keefe start began to shine among the right. Leadership Institute thought that might have been a bit much however, and jettisoned O'Keefe after the affair.
The ACORN videos are curious however. The organization responded to them by noting things O’Keefe left out. The truth of the matter is when O’Keefe and Giles walked into a number of the ACORN offices he was seen as a joke, most notably by ACORN organizer Tresa Kaelke whom they approached in San Bernadino, CA. “When the actors approached Ms. Kaelke with their provocative costuming and outlandish scenario, she could not take them seriously,” an ACORN statement read. “So she met their outrageousness with her own personal style of outrageousness. She matched their false scenario with her own false scenarios.”
The false scenario that got the right-wing blogs and Fox News pundits salivating and running with the story without checking it was how Kaelke murdered her first husband. That alone was enough for Glenn Beck to spend an entire show on the matter and Sean Hannity and O’Keefe and Giles on his program to talk about it. But when Hannity asked if the filmmakers bothered to check and see if the story was true, Giles responded, “We’re working on that.”
Soon, that job was done for them – by ACORN. NewsHounds.us notes that ACORN released the police report of the investigation into the “homicide” of Kaelke’s husband and found “the claims do not appear to be factual. Investigators have been in contact with the involved party’s known former husbands, who are alive and well.” In addition, NewsHounds.us says, ACORN also points out that the fact that the filmmakers, Breitbart and Fox presented the video as truth, without any independent investigation, calls into question all of their journalistic standards. The organization also questioned why some footage that reflected well on ACORN had been edited out of the video. That might have something to do with their experience at the Philadelphia office on July 24, where things did not go as planned. According to a statement by the office there, "after causing a major disturbance, they were asked to leave the office, and a police report was filed." No charges were filed against O'Keefe or Giles, however, but what’s even more interesting is how this particular video is one that hasn’t been seen in the series of ACORN videos on YouTube or the “fair and balanced” Fox News Channel. This coming from the guy who edited a student publication that once complained of “the selective film editing of Michael Moore and the biased reporting of The New York Times, CNN and CBS”.
One film that we doubt will be edited however is the footage of the time O'Keefe and three of his friends walked into Sen. Landrieu's office saying they wanted to check the phone lines, because that is what has the four of them facing up to ten years in jail. According to reports, on January 25, 2010, O'Keefe and his friends Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan visited the New Orleans office of Senator Mary Landrieu. Basel and Flanagan disguised themselves as repairmen, and attempted to access the office's telephone system by saying there was something wrong with the phone lines. O'Keefe was in the office and videotaped the some of the events with his cell phone camera. Office workers smelled a rat and called the authorities. The three of them were arrested, along with a fourth man Stan Dai, who along with O'Keefe admitted that they planned and coordinated the whole thing. All four individuals have been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony. All were released on $10,000 bond, and O'Keefe has to say with Mommy and Daddy in New Jersey until his hearing.
But always expect conservatives to blame everyone else for what they do. On January 29, O'Keefe posted a statement on Breitbart's biggovernment.com crying about the media coverage of the arrest as being "journalistic malpractice." He still managed to grow a pair and admit, "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."
Too little too late. Conservatives that were praising him as a hero to their cause are now dropping him like a hot potato. There are some that are joining him in taking the media to task for covering his case (!), like his pal Andrew Breitbart, who is among the few that still support him. Still, your more established outlets are running for the hills. The primetime talk programs on the Fox News Channel, which hyped him up after the ACORN videos came out, said not one word about him the day the news broke about his arrest. And posters at Freak Republic admonished O'Keefe, one saying, "Hate to say it, but I think O’Keefe fits the old description that goes something like: 'he’s got more nerve than sense'."
There are bad people in every organization, but you fix the problem. Planned Parenthood and ACORN obviously needed to deal with the issues brought up in the video, but that doesn’t mean the organizations should go away. As Whoopi Goldberg noted on an episode of the View, ACORN is the premier organization that advocates for the poor in this country. They were in New Orleans helping Katrina victims before President Bush even knew there was a situation. If they were to go away, while there are groups ready to take their place there will be a significant hole, and given the history poor black people have had with conservatives, not to mention the history of Leadership Institute and their boy James O’Keefe, one has to wonder if that is not the plan. Today’s conservative is not about the work, only about the win. Everyone who works for a living and puts their time in to make their live better are enemies to the likes of O’Keefe, who while speaking of how conservatives work for a living and don’t have time to engage in activism as liberals who don’t work can, forgets that he is getting paid to be an activist by a group that is increasingly training their guns on people of color. It might be hard out there for a “pimp”, but try being a racist conservative.