James O'Keefe Can't Get No Respect - 2018-05-01
NEW YORK, N.Y.—It's rush hour on a Tuesday night, and James O'Keefe is racing through Grand Central Station carrying a black bag with a bulletproof vest inside. We had taken an UberXL into midtown Manhattan hours earlier for a special fitting session: O'Keefe, the undercover sting artist and conservative folk hero, needed a new jacket and shirts to fit over the body armor recommended by his security consultants. But the tailor's evaluation—in a suite at the posh Lotte New York Palace, nearly 50 floors above street level with sweeping views of Central Park and the Empire State Building—lasted longer than expected. At this time of day, it could take hours to commute by car back to Mamaroneck, the sleepy New York suburb where O'Keefe's mischievous nonprofit news outfit, Project Veritas, is headquartered. So, O'Keefe, a blur of nervous energy known for quick-twitch decisions, says we are taking the train.
It was nearly a decade ago that O'Keefe snuck onto America's political landscape with his takedown of ACORN, the liberal community organizing behemoth that was defunded after he and Hannah Giles posed as a pimp and prostitute and secretly videotaped employees advising them how to shelter an off-the-books brothel. In the years since, nothing and everything has changed. O'Keefe, 33, is still a leper to the American left and a menace in the eyes of a media complex that frowns on his clandestine tactics. Yet gone is the young, emaciated, caffeine-and-adrenaline-fueled lone wolf whose maxed-out credit card financed the purchase of basic recording devices at Best Buy; in his place is a muscular man who has gained 60 pounds thanks to relentless diet and exercise, who built Project Veritas into a sprawling, high-tech operation, and who last year raised more than $7 million from an expectant donor base that sees O'Keefe as a guerrilla leader on the front lines of America's culture war.
He has grabbed enough headlines to keep the checks coming. In January, for instance, Project Veritas released an undercover investigation of Twitter that roiled Silicon Valley. The substance was intriguing if not explosive—one former employee touted the practice of "shadow-banning" accounts based on ideological content, while a higher-ranking current official admitted that employees peruse the erotic images exchanged by users—and yet the mere fact that O'Keefe's outfit had infiltrated the social media giant was cause for celebration on the right. Not every operation has been a hit, of course. Project Veritas was given a dose of its own medicine last fall when, after an ill-conceived and dreadfully executed attempt to sting the Washington Post went south, the newspaper flipped the script on O'Keefe and released its own tape of reporters unmasking his undercover operative.