James O’Keefe, a well-known maker of politically-charged sting videos, found his own organization at the receiving end of a sting video when one of their intended targets claimed to have turned the tables and caught an operative from his organization, Project Veritas, offering large sums of money if protesters would agree to incite chaos at Donald Trump’s 20 January 2017 inauguration.
O’Keefe’s organization, Project Veritas, released their own videos purportedly showing anti-Trump activists hatching a scheme to shut down a celebration called the “Deploraball” ahead of the inauguration by unleashing a stink bomb and possibly setting off fire sprinklers at the event’s slated location, the National Press Club in downtown Washington, D.C..
A second video produced by O’Keefe purports to show activists plotting to shut down D.C. public transit, while protest organizers claim, as his targets often do, that the videos are misleading and that organizers deliberately fed O’Keefe’s operatives false information. One person featured in O’Keefe’s videos was arrested the day before the inauguration on conspiracy to commit assault charges. O’Keefe told us on 25 January 2017 that while the two operations had been described as “sting and counter-sting,” the two incidents are not related.
In a 10 January 2017 video produced by The Undercurrent, which describes itself as a “grassroots political web-show,” a woman identified by the video’s producers as O’Keefe operative Allison Maass offers the progressive group a large sum of money to shut down a bridge and create chaos during Trump’s inauguration:
Lacy MacAuley, an organizer with #DisruptJ20, sent us a statement asserting that the plans discussed in O’Keefe’s sting video were part of a “false flag” operation they undertook in order to unmask suspect infiltrators:
Over the last few weeks, we have exposed four confirmed infiltrators who have tried to integrate themselves into our organizing. These are people who were working with James O’Keefe and Project Veritas. We must make this clear: These groups are doing the dirty work of Nazis, white nationalists, and other groups who are furthering Trump’s assault on vulnerable communities.
Two infiltrators appeared at an antifascist organizing meeting and immediately fell under suspicion due to their vague backstories, poor education about our movement, and unusual dress. Social media checks showed that one, who called herself “Tarah,” was a failed actress who was friends on Facebook with James O’Keefe.
One of these infiltrators was someone calling himself “Tyler.” Due to suspicions, the organizers initiated their vetting process with a false flag operation. Our allies at the DC Antifascist Coalition met with Tyler. Because they thought it would be a humorous venue, they arranged to meet with Tyler at Comet Ping Pong, which has recently been targeted by right-wing fake news outlets. Though the coalition members did not know who he was working for, they knew Tyler was not who he said he was. So, they met in advance of their meeting with Tyler, and planned to gave him false information about the what they felt was the most humorous red herring available: a false plot to use stink bombs at an event called the Deploraball with the so-called “Alt Right.” Tyler, as it turned out, was recording a video for Project Veritas.
When we asked O’Keefe about the contents of the sting video featuring his group, he did not reply to the allegations that one of his organization’s operatives was offering money as a set-up to incite chaos at the upcoming inaugurations. Instead, he offered only a belligerent diatribe about our previous reporting on his efforts:
You’ve said of our videos they are “virtually impossible to fact check without complete clips” and you reported they are “out-of-context remarks” without ANY evidence that they were indeed out of context.
AFTER you show me what was taken “out of context” and retract your post and issue Project Veritas an apology — only then will I answer your questions and subject myself to a Snopes.com hit piece, which is fake news if there ever was.
Now you ask NOT A WORD about the plans to put butyric Gas into the HVAC systems at the National Press Club, or report on any of the documents. Good luck with your damage control after the second video drops momentarily describing how they want to shut down the DC transportations systems. Do your job and call the FBI for comment.
O’Keefe says in the video that his group notified law enforcement, including the FBI and the D.C. Metro Police, of the activities of the activists captured in his video. The FBI did not respond to our inquiry, as the Bureau often doesn’t confirm or deny the existence of active investigations.
Legba Carrefour, one of the #DisruptJ20 organizers identified in O’Keefe’s videos, said in an e-mail that the videos were misleading because they characterized openly public protest meetings as “undercover operations”:
Mr. O’Keefe portrays his video as undercover work when, in fact, the meetings he recorded were public, publicized events with press in attendance.
Indeed, news of the group’s activities had been made public before O’Keefe’s videos were released. On 28 December 2016, Carrefour spoke to the DCist about their plans:
Throughout the day, hundreds or thousands of protesters plan to paralyze morning traffic into the city, create blockades at checkpoints, march without permits, and possibly disrupt the parade. There will also be a permitted rally for people who don’t wish to risk arrest, starting at Columbus Circle at noon.
“The main thing to keep in mind with the stuff we’re doing is the impact,” Carrefour says. “Let’s say 100,000 people show up to the Women’s March. 100,000 at the Women’s March is going to have a lot less impact than if you get 1,000 people showing up and doing blockades. We can do a lot with few people.”
The D.C. metropolitan police department seemed unaware of the allegations when we initially contacted them. On 25 January 2017, the department told us they were aware of the video and the investigation is ongoing. Scott R. Charney, 34, of Washington, D.C., was arrested on the day of the ball, 19 December 2017, in the area of 14th and Newton Streets Northwest, and charged with one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to commit assault. Two others believed to be involved are “still outstanding.”
On 24 January 2017, the Washington Post reported that the arrest occurred as a result of O’Keefe’s sting video. The Post noted it is unknown whether the people featured in the video actually obtained butyric acid, but one member did have tickets to the ball. The Post further reported that police believe the sting caused the group to abandon plans to halt transit and block entrances to the area:
The video shows the group discussing getting the acid into a building’s ventilation system and, failing that, spreading it on the floor. Backup plans included finding a way to activate all the sprinklers simultaneously. Police said in the affidavit that one member had tickets to the ball.
The same man described butyric acid as “very efficient” and “very smelly” and said that “a little bit goes a long way. . . . That stuff is nasty enough that it will seep, it will spread.”
A spokesman for O’Keefe would not allow The Washington Post to review the unedited version of the video. He said only the beginning and end were trimmed.
A statement released by the producers of the sting against O’Keefe’s group said that their video was shot on 5 January 2017 at a dinner meeting in Washington, D.C.:
In the video… O’Keefe operative Allison Maass (a/k/a Allison Brandt) can be heard claiming that she has a donor who is willing to spend big to disrupt the Inaugurations, saying “He’d like to turn on some TV and maybe not even see Trump, put a stop the Inauguration, interrupt the parties … I think that would make him ultimately the happiest and wanting to open up his wallet.”
Project Veritas-affiliated Maass also encourages illegally shutting down a bridge, provoking violence from Trump supporters, and inciting a riot, all of which would be paid for by money funneled through her front organization, Breakthrough Dev Group. At the end of the dinner, she was confronted about her work for O’Keefe and refused to answer questions, saying she needed to consult an attorney.
“In coordination with Breitbart News, and with the support of the Donald J Trump Foundation, Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe makes a living ruining innocent people’s lives,” said Lauren Windsor of The Undercurrent, which coordinated the reverse ambush, “This time, they got a taste of their own medicine, and now we can show the world that O’Keefe and his accomplices distort the truth, con unsuspecting victims, and commit not just unethical, but immoral acts in their political hit jobs designed to push the conservative cause forward.”
O’Keefe told us there is no connection between the liberal group that made the video targeting Project Veritas and #DisruptJ20. He has often been accused of selectively editing videos to present his targets in a negative light. In 2010, California Attorney General Jerry Brown called O’Keefe a “partisan zealot” in a press release announcing his official report on O’Keefe’s now-infamous ACORN sting videos. Brown concluded that O’Keefe’s undercover work had been misleading:
Last September, Gov. Schwarzenegger asked Brown to investigate the activities of ACORN in California. His request was triggered by tapes made by undercover videographer James O’Keefe III that purported to show ACORN employees providing advice on how to conduct a prostitution ring and commit other serious crimes.
But new, unedited videotapes discovered through Brown’s investigation, as well as other evidence, shed clearer light on interactions between O’Keefe and the now-defunct ACORN.
Videotapes secretly recorded last summer and severely edited by O’Keefe seemed to show ACORN employees encouraging a “pimp” (O’Keefe) and his “prostitute,” actually a Florida college student named Hannah Giles, in conversations involving prostitution by underage girls, human trafficking and cheating on taxes. Those videos created a media sensation.
Evidence obtained by Brown tells a somewhat different story, however, as reflected in three videotapes made at ACORN locations in California. One ACORN worker in San Diego called the cops. Another ACORN worker in San Bernardino caught on to the scheme and played along with it, claiming among other things that she had murdered her abusive husband. Her two former husbands are alive and well, the Attorney General’s report noted. At the beginning and end of the Internet videos, O’Keefe was dressed as a 1970s Superfly pimp, but in his actual taped sessions with ACORN workers, he was dressed in a shirt and tie, presented himself as a law student, and said he planned to use the prostitution proceeds to run for Congress. He never claimed he was a pimp.
“The evidence illustrates,” Brown said, “that things are not always as partisan zealots portray them through highly selective editing of reality. Sometimes a fuller truth is found on the cutting room floor.”
A Word to Our Loyal Readers
Support Snopes and make a difference for readers everywhere.
- David Mikkelson
- Doreen Marchionni
- David Emery
- Bond Huberman
- Jordan Liles
- Alex Kasprak
- Dan Evon
- Dan MacGuill
- Bethania Palma
- Liz Donaldson
- Vinny Green
- Ryan Miller
- Chris Reilly
- Chad Ort
- Elyssa Young
Most Snopes assignments begin when readers ask us, “Is this true?” Those tips launch our fact-checkers on sprints across a vast range of political, scientific, legal, historical, and visual information. We investigate as thoroughly and quickly as possible and relay what we learn. Then another question arrives, and the race starts again.
We do this work every day at no cost to you, but it is far from free to produce, and we cannot afford to slow down. To ensure Snopes endures — and grows to serve more readers — we need a different kind of tip: We need your financial support.
Support Snopes so we continue to pursue the facts — for you and anyone searching for answers.