Project Veritas is a right-wing activist group with a history of publishing deceptively edited undercover videos that paint Democrats and progressives as corrupt. On Sunday, September 27, the group, which is led by James O’Keefe, released a video they claimed showed evidence of illegal ballot harvesting in Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar‘s Minnesota district.
According to O’Keefe and Project Veritas, political allies of Omar ran a so-called ballot harvesting operation in which hundreds of ballots were collected from senior citizens and others. The video throws a number of accusations out, including that people were bribed for their vote, but it is heavily edited and a number of the allegations in it are not clearly explained — or given supporting evidence.
Ballot harvesting, also known as voter assistance, is legal in Minnesota. A temporary ban on the practice was struck down in August over state Republicans’ objections, Fox News reported.
O’Keefe’s undercover videos often make a splash in conservative media but are later at least partially debunked, although they have resulted in some notable headlines, as well as O’Keefe’s misdemeanor arrest and conviction in 2010.
Here’s what you need to know about Project Veritas:
1. O’Keefe Founded Project Veritas in 2010, Using Undercover Videos to Attack Planned Parenthood & ACORN
Near the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency, O’Keefe and some associates gained national attention with their surreptitiously recorded videos of organizers at the voter-registration and community organizing group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and officials at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Project Veritas became its own non-profit entity in 2010.
In 2009, O’Keefe and activist Hannah Giles walked into ACORN offices in several cities posing as a pimp and prostitute, seeking advice on how to keep their business operating under the radar, NPR reported.
Although the videos were eventually revealed to have been deceptively edited, their release and the ensuing controversy precipitated the eventual dissolving of ACORN in the United States, the New York Times reported.
O’Keefe and anti-abortion activist Lila Rose also worked together to make and record calls to Planned Parenthood clinics seeking to pay for Black women’s abortions, the New York Times reported.
2. O’Keefe & Other Project Veritas Members Were Arrested in 2010 for Entering Senator Mary Landrieu’s Office in Disguise
In 2010, Project Veritas sought information on Democratic New Orleans then Senator Mary Landrieu amid the Affordable Care Act congressional debate, the New York Times reported. Dressed a telephone repairmen, O’Keefe and three others entered the federal building where Landrieu’s office was located and said they needed to work on the phone lines, the FBI said in a release.
O’Keefe and his fellow Project Veritas members all pleaded guilty to misdemeanors — pleaded down from felony charges. Each of them had to pay a $1,500 fine and O’Keefe got three years of probation and 100 years of community service, the Hill reported.
3. The Group Went After NPR As Well, Secretly Recording an Official Disparaging Conservatives in 2011
Project Veritas set its sights on NPR in 2011 and set out to prove that the public radio network had a liberal bias. O’Keefe’s employees, Shaughn Adeleye and Simon Templar, disguised themselves as members of a Muslim interest group and recorded a conversation with NPR executives Ron Schiller and Betsy Liley, Politico reported.
The Project Veritas employees told the NPR officials that they wanted to donate $5 million to the network, and in the recording, Schiller called members of the Tea Party “scary” and “seriously racist” people.
NPR found that the recording had been edited to, among other things, make it seem that Schiller at one point laughed and joked about “Sharia law.” Still, the recording led to the ouster of Schiller and an NPR spokesperson admitting that he had made some “egregious statements,” despite the deceptive editing.
4. A 2017 Sting Attempt on the Washington Post Was Thwarted by the Paper’s Fact-Checking
Roy Moore, a conservative senate candidate from Alabama, in 2017 faced a flurry of accusers alleging he committed sexual misconduct with underage girls, as reported by Heavy. Project Veritas ran unofficial interference for the Moore campaign and sent an employee posing as a Moore accuser to meet with Post reporters, bearing a story of Moore impregnating her when she was 15, in an effort to discredit the Post’s reporting on the more credible accusations.
“I might know something, but I need to keep myself safe,” the woman initially told the Post. “How do we do this?”
Her interview with a Post reporter however strained credulity, and researchers at the paper found an online post by the woman saying she had taken a job in the “conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceipt (sic) of the liberal [mainstream media].”
In a second interview, which the Post videotaped, the reporter called the Project Veritas employee out with what they had found on her background, and the woman backed out. The failed sting attempt ended up actually bolstering the Post’s credibility when it comes to anonymously sourced stories, Jonathan Chait wrote in New York Magazine.
5. Over the Summer, Project Veritas Claimed Facebook Censors Conservative Content & Congressman Matt Gaetz Filed a Criminal Referral Against Mark Zuckerberg Based on the Allegations
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) July 27, 2020
Along with many other conservative outlets, Project Veritas has heavily hyped the unproven claim that Twitter and Facebook deliberately censor conservatives on their platforms. In July, they released reports and video they said proved Facebook did so, and Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz took the reports all the way to Attorney General Bill Barr.
Hidden-camera recordings, according to Project Veritas, showed Facebook content moderators expressing bias against pro-Trump voices and reveling in deleting pro-Trump content flagged by Facebook’s content moderation AI.
“Their report revealed that the overwhelming majority of content filtered by Facebook’s AI program was content in support of President Donald Trump, Republican candidates for office or conservatism in general,” Gaetz wrote in his referral. “This alone is already an indication of bias within the platform.”
Reminder that amplifying a coordinated right wing effort to delegitimize a free and fair election is not journalism.
— Jeremy Slevin (@jeremyslevin) September 28, 2020
A spokesman for Omar told Newsweek that the Project Veritas ballot harvesting story is false.
“The amount of truth to this story is equal to the amount Donald Trump paid in taxes of ten out of the last fifteen years: zero,” Jeremy Slevin said. “And amplifying a coordinated right-wing campaign to delegitimize a free and fair election this fall undermines our democracy.”
Slevin later tweeted, “Reminder that amplifying a coordinated right-wing effort to delegitimize a free and fair election is not journalism.”