A Weekend With O’Keefe

My old boss James O’Keefe recently parted ways with the Project Veritas, the organization that he founded and ran for over a decade, following allegations of abuse from his employees.

Visionaries are rarely loved by their employees. Mountains aren’t moved without sweat and tears, and the man I know can—and did—move mountains.

In 2009, O’Keefe’s work prompted Congress to defund the left-wing community-organizing collective ACORN. In 2012, O’Keefe’s voter fraud series was cited in state legislatures and in congressional hearings. David Weigel, of Slate Magazine, said that O’Keefe “had more of an impact on the 2012 election than any journalist.” In the 2016 election year, O’Keefe exposed left-wing groups disrupting Trump rallies, and how Google insiders censored conservatives online—work that earned praise from President Donald Trump. Earlier this year, O’Keefe released footage of a Pfizer consultant boasting of secret plans to mutate the COVID virus. This has become the most viral story in the history of O’Keefe’s Project Veritas.

Project Veritas would not have been a success without a dynamic, driven person like O’Keefe at its helm. Such a creative, intense personality, it is true, may tend to intimidate or even frighten normal people.

A weekend I spent with O’Keefe in 2011 illustrates what working for James is like—and why it is not for everyone.

James flew me out on a Thursday evening for the festivities—a weekend in Atlantic City. A couple of mutual friends picked me up at the airport and drove me to the original Project Veritas office, a converted carriage house in Westwood, New Jersey. James arrived around midnight, carrying a toolbelt, safety goggles, and a clip board. I assumed this meant that I would be assisting his father with some manual labor in the morning. But James had something else in mind. “John, you are going to ask Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters, if it’s fair for a one-percenter like him to collect a half-million-dollar salary from George Soros while so many people—the 99 percent—struggle to get by,” he said.

“How am I going to do that?” I asked. “By ringing Boehlert’s front doorbell,” James replied. I broke out laughing. “Boehlert doesn’t live far from here,” James continued. “I’ll drive you there and film from my car. You will also wear a camera; we want both angles.”

Boehlert, who practically lived on Twitter, had recently tweeted about his various home repairs. James reasoned that if I wore a toolbelt and said I was conducting a survey, Boehlert’s brain would fill in the blanks. “Boehlert will think you’re from Maytag or some cleaning service until you ask the big question,” James said. “At that point, the worst that can happen is he will slam the door in your face.”

I was worried Boehlert would get aggressive and follow me back to the car. James assured me that would not happen.We argued over this for about ten minutes. Finally, James made me an offer I could not refuse: he’d cover my hotel in Atlantic City, and I could have any pre-workout supplements I could find in the carriage house or in the trunk of his car. Deal!

I knocked on Boehlert’s door midmorning the next day. Sure enough, Boehlert assumed I was working with a company that had recently installed something for him. “On a scale of one to five,” I asked, “How would you rate the timeliness of the worker’s service?” Boehlert replied, “About a one. He showed up like three hours late.”

After a few customer service questions, I asked the big one: “Mr. Boehlert, do you think it is fair and equitable for you to collect a half-million-dollar salary from George Soros while so many Americans—the forgotten 99 percent—are struggling to get by?” The expression on Boehlert’s face quickly shifted from relaxed to confused, and then to angry. I kept pushing for an answer until Boehlert told me to leave. I turned around and began walking back to the car. When I reached the end of his lawn Boehlert jogged up beside me and said, “I’m going to follow you to your car.”

Rather than continuing to the car, where James and Spencer Meads, one of the first Project Veritas employees, were waiting, my flight instinct kicked in and I sprinted in the opposite direction.

I ran and ran until James and Spencer pulled up beside me. I heard Spencer yell, “Eric Boehlert chased you down the street!” We all laughed hysterically all the way back to the carriage house. Then we watched the footage and laughed some more.

A few months later, I left my job in a congressional office to work with James. That memorable weekend was a big part of my decision—one I do not regret. A normal person might feel abused if their boss pressured them into tense and uncomfortable situations, such as buttonholing someone at his front door and challenging him with difficult questions. Investigative journalism, especially the undercover investigative journalism James practiced, is not for normal people. But it is necessary nonetheless.

—John Howting

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