In March 2019, our inbox started to fill with queries from readers who had heard that U. S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was an “actress” who was playing the role of congresswoman in order to further the agenda of a political group. These questions were based on a popular video entitled “The Brains Behind AOC Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” by YouTube user “Mr. Reagan.”
The video, which can be viewed at the end of this article, hits on a number of issues in its 23 minutes, but the essential argument is that Ocasio-Cortez was “cast” by the group Justice Democrats into the “role” of congresswoman, and that she is merely a figurehead (or “puppet congresswoman”) pushing the group’s agenda.
Here’s the opening statement from Mr. Reagan:
Mr. Reagan: Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is not really the congresswoman of new york’s 14th congressional district. She is essentially an actress. She’s merely playing the part of a New York Congresswoman. I know this sounds crazy. But bare with me.
In 2017, a group called the Justice Democrats held auditions for potential congressional candidates that would run on their platform for various congressional seats throughout the country. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ brother Gabriel submitted her for the role. Now I’ve auditioned for many acting roles in my day. I’ve also cast many of my own projects. I know how this works. If you find somebody with star power, even if they don’t 100% fit the part, you go with it.
Obviously AOC has star power. Just look at her. She’s a superstar. The most famous person in congress, maybe ever. Their casting was perfect. Now I didn’t have to go digging for evidence for this, because they freely admit it. They brag about it.
Cut to Alexandra Rojas. Executive Director Justice Democrats, saying: Back in 2016, we put out a call for nominations. We got over 10,000 nominations, out of those 10,000 nominations we found Alexandria.
Cut to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, saying: My brother told me that he had sent my nominations in the summer but I was like literally working out of a restaurant and I was like there’s no way.
Back to Mr. Reagan: A casting call. They had a casting call. They cast Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in the role of congresswoman. And they did this so they could promote their own agenda.
Mr. Reagan repeatedly used words such as “role,” “audition,” “casting call” and labeled Ocasio-Cortez “essentially an actress” in this video in an apparent attempt to paint the congresswoman with the same conspiratorial brush used to promote “crisis actor” and “paid protester” conspiracy theories. Ironically, the only actor in this scenario is Chris Kohls, who plays the character of Mr. Reagan.
Kohls told us in an email that “the use of the word ‘actress’ was illustrative.” He continued: “I did not mean to suggest that this was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s actual profession or an official role. I thought this was clear.” While Kohls admits that the congresswoman was not an actress in the literal sense, he said that he still believes she “audition(ed) for the role of congress woman as a response to an open casting call by Justice Democrats.”
Kohls elaborated on this point via email:
AOC did, however, audition for the role of congress woman as a response to an open casting call by Justice Democrats.
I have never heard of an organization holding auditions, open to the public, for congressional seats.
Perhaps I am naive about that. I have never heard of this, and the response to my video suggests that most Americans find it inappropriate as well.
The “Brains Behind AOC” video correctly states that Ocasio-Cortez was recruited by the Justice Democrats to run for office. However, this fact is presented in the video as if it were an unprecedented act of political malfeasance. In reality, it is quite common for Political Action Committees (PACs) to recruit candidates for office. The Justice Democrats made no attempt to hide this effort and openly discuss their recruitment process on their website and in videos published to their public YouTube page:
PACs, which have been around since the 1940s, are organizations that raise money to help run campaigns for or against political candidates. While these groups may throw their support behind existing candidates who they believe will further their cause, they also recruit like-minded candidates and help them get elected to office. We conducted a brief search for other PACs that publish recruitment material and found numerous of organizations that actively seek candidates for political positions, such as Brand New Congress, Run for Something, Emily’s List, BRAT-PAC, The National Federation for Republican Women, Winning for Women, American Possibilities, Elevate-Pac, The Collective Pac, and Principled Pac.
In the case of the Justice Democrats, their main platform ideas are Medicare for All, protecting the environment, and racial justice. Mr. Reagan would have viewers believe that Ocasio-Cortez had no interest in politics before she was “cast” by the Justice Democrats, and that she was only taking up these causes because she was a “puppet congresswoman.” But that isn’t the case. Before Ocasio-Cortez ran for office, she volunteered for Bernie Sanders‘ 2016 campaign (a candidate who supports the same issues as the Justice Democrats). She was also involved in the Standing Rock protests and talked about issues such as civil rights, social change, and income equality before receiving support from the Justice Democrats.
The fact that she shares these beliefs is not proof that Justice Democrats are “controlling” her. It’s merely evidence that AOC and the Justice Democrats were a good fit.
While Mr. Reagan argues in “The Brains Behind AOC” that Ocasio-Cortez is a “puppet congresswoman” controlled by the Justice Democrats, Kohls told us, again, that this was pure speculation:
My assertion is that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is presenting ideas to congress and to the public as of they are her own, but that they are not her own. They are the idea of the Justice Democrats and that this group, in particular Saikat Chakrabarti, are drafting everything for her. When I say “everything” I mean her official proposals to congress, her answers to questions by the media, her tweets and her unofficial propositions to the public.
I also believe that she is directed on how to vote, but this is pure speculation.
Mr. Reagan argues in “Brains Behind AOC” that Ocasio-Cortez “does not make her own policy decisions… decides which way she votes on legislation” but that “she defers completely to her team.” In addition to admitting in his email that these claims are based purely on speculation, this argument also appears to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how politicians operate.
While the public may be more familiar with the names and faces of senators and representatives, lawmakers have teams of people behind them that help guide them through interviews, debates, public messaging, and other political responsibilities. In short, it is not uncommon for a lawmaker to prepare for an interview or speech with the help of her staff.
Saikat Chakrabarti, the congresswoman’s chief of staff, pushed back on the “Brains Behind AOC” video and said that Ocasio-Cortez does more than most lawmakers when it comes to her own messaging:
The right-wing actually cannot believe that a working class latina like @AOC is smart, talented, and capable. They are creating entire conspiracy theories to try to disprove her intelligence. So here’s some @AOC facts to show y’all just how good she is.
1) @AOC runs her own Twitter/IG. This is VERY rare in Congress. Most politicians have staff come up with what to say/figure out how to frame things. But @AOC’s knowledge of issues is so deep that she does the communicating/framing herself.
2) @AOC writes all her own speeches. Though, TBH, most of her 🔥 speeches are off the dome. Just watch Coates interview her. She can talk in depth on policy issues for hours (unlike most politicians) because she REALLY knows what she’s talking about.
3) Unlike most MoCs [members of Congress], @AOC sits through full committee hearings and will often improvise on questions based on what she’s observing. Nobody prepped her to “play a game” in the HR1 hearing, and her entire staff watched it live with jaws dropped.
4) @AOC is one of the smartest & hardest working people I’ve ever known. Right wingers not comprehending this is peak racism/sexism — and also fear. If @AOC can do this, what’s to stop other talented working-class women of color from vying for power? Must keep ’em up at night.
For those unfamiliar with political action committees or political advisers, “The Brains Behind AOC” may appear to be a well-produced video featuring a convincing narrative of how a political group “cast” a “star” into the role of congresswoman in order to further their agenda. However, the arguments made in this video are pure speculation and seem to largely be based on a misunderstanding of how PACs operate. It’s actually rather common for PACs, such as Justice Democrats, to seek out candidates, such as Ocasio-Cortez, who share their core beliefs, and even more commonplace for politicians to seek out the advice of their staff.
You can watch the “Brains Behind AOC” video in full below:
Boston University Student Activities. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”
Retrieved 13 March 2019.
Sonenshine, Tara. “The Art of the Great Political Speech.”
The Hill. 6 June 2016.
Weigel, David. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The Democrat Who Challenged Her Party’s Establishment — and Won.”
The Washington Post. 27 June 2018.
Solnit, Rebecca. “Standing Rock Inspired Ocasio-Cortez to Run. That’s the Power of Protest.”
The Guardian. 14 January 2019.