Project Veritas Uses Deception And Disinformation To Push Far-Right Policies And Politicians While Attacking Everything From Teachers Unions To The 2020 Election Results.
Project Veritas is a far-right disinformation group that uses videos of deceptively edited footage, often secretly recorded during “undercover” sting operations, to discredit its enemies. The organization was founded in 2010 by activist James O’Keefe after he rose to prominence for his misleading undercover recordings attacking community organizing group ACORN that captivated the media in 2009.
While the mainstream media has since grown critical and wary of Project Veritas, the group is influential and beloved in right-wing circles. Notable targets of Project Veritas include labor unions, election officials, mainstream media and tech companies, and liberal candidates and political organizations. The organization is also tied to the Trump and DeVos families.
Project Veritas was at the center of the 2020 election disinformation ecosystem, releasing a slew of content alleging ballot and election fraud in the days following the election – the culmination of a plan that one Project Veritas operative described as a campaign “literally to get Trump reelected.” The organization faces an ongoing libel lawsuit for its misleading videos made to discredit the 2020 election.
O’Keefe and Project Veritas operatives were subjects of FBI and Department of Justice raids related to the theft and publication of the diary of Ashley Biden, the daughter of Joe Biden, in 2021. Prosecutors have tied the theft of the diary directly to Project Veritas and claimed a Project Veritas employee gave instructions to steal additional items. After the 2022 midterms, Republican leaders of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the Department of Justice indicating they intended to investigate the raids of Project Veritas – indicating the organization may take center stage at some point in the 118th Congress.
In February 2023, O’Keefe resigned from Project Veritas under pressure from staff and the board due to abusive treatment of workers and financial malfeasance–being accused of improperly using $60,000 for “dance events.”
O’Keefe’s history of right-wing activism began in college. At Rutgers University, O’Keefe first wrote a column for the school’s newspaper before going on to found a right-wing school paper, the Rutgers Centurion. The Centurion was started with seed money from the conservative Leadership Institute, which works to incubate young conservative talent. O’Keefe’s first operation for the Centurion, which resembled the inflammatory media campaigns he would later run at Project Veritas, accused the University of racism against Irish-Americans for serving Lucky Charms cereal.
After graduation, O’Keefe worked for the Leadership Institute for a year before leaving the organization. His first attempt at a high-profile sting operation came in 2008 when he teamed up with anti-abortion activist Lila Rose and released deceptively edited videos on YouTube targeting Planned Parenthood. The videos were removed from the site after Planned Parenthood issued a cease-and-desist due to violations of California’s voice recording laws. O’Keefe attempted to sting Planned Parenthood again by posing as a donor and making racist statements implying he wanted his donations to be used for the abortion of black children.
In 2009, O’Keefe earned national attention after he released a series of videos he secretly recorded at the offices of grassroots community advocacy group, ACORN. The deceptively edited videos allegedly showed ACORN employees giving O’Keefe advice on how to open and operate a brothel. The videos received notable media attention, leading Congress to vote to freeze federal funding to ACORN, and both the IRS and Census Bureau severed their ties with the organization. ACORN was pushed to the verge of bankruptcy by the videos and largely shut down shortly thereafter. O’Keefe founded Project Veritas following the success of his ACORN campaign and also signed an agreement with the right-wing provocateur Andrew Breitbart to exclusively publish his videos on one of his blogs. Breitbart’s blog network would become the infamous Breitbart News, which later came under the control of far-right leader Steve Bannon after Andrew Breitbart’s passing in 2012.
Since the ACORN videos, O’Keefe has been hailed as the right-wing answer to alternative investigative journalism and gonzo journalism. O’Keefe was even honored by 32 House Republicans who co-sponsored a House bill honoring him for the ACORN sting. O’Keefe has rebuffed criticism of his deceptive tactics as necessary for his journalism. In 2010, O’Keefe pleaded guilty in a scheme where he and other Project Veritas associates impersonated repair workers to infiltrate and attempt to wiretap the offices of then Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA).
O’Keefe’s Twitter account was permanently suspended in 2021 for violating the website’s policy against the use of fake accounts to manipulate engagement. In 2023, an internal memo signed by a third of Project Veritas staff accused O’Keefe of mistreating staffers in “outright cruel” ways as well as misusing Project Veritas funds–spending over $20,000 to pay staff to accompany him to an off-broadway production of Oklahoma in which he starred. O’Keefe was placed on paid leave shortly after the release from the letter and officially resigned in February 2023, stating his intention to start a new group in the style of Project Veritas.
Project Veritas is known for utilizing undercover videos that are often deceptively edited to discredit the mainstream media and liberal operatives. Despite the numerous settlements and lawsuits stemming from their operations, Project Veritas’ videos continue to be influential in right-wing circles.
The Intercept reviewed testimony from a Project Veritas member and claimed it showed that the organization violates Facebook policies designed to deter “systematic deception” to push right-wing disinformation.
Project Veritas employed ex-intelligence agents from British and American spy agencies recruited by controversial right-wing megadonor and Blackwater founder, Erik Prince. Prince is the younger brother of former Trump Education Secretary and billionaire Betsy DeVos.
The New York Times reported that ex-spies recruited by Prince were used in infiltrations of the Michigan office of the American Federation Of Teachers and the 2017 congressional campaign of Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA).
An analysis by Media Matters found that Project Veritas launched numerous crowdfunding campaigns for their sources and “whistleblowers” after releasing their stories. The most notable figure to receive a sponsored campaign was Pennsylvania postmaster, Richard Hopkins, who told Project Veritas he witnessed election fraud in 2020 before signing an affidavit recanting his claims.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN was a grassroots community advocacy group that focused on issues affecting poor Americans such as predatory lending and the minimum wage. It also ran large-scale voter registration drives that targeted minority and low-income voters. ACORN was a long-time target of conservatives. In the closing months of the 2008 presidential campaign, GOP presidential candidate John McCain accused ACORN of being deeply connected to Barack Obama and engaging in widespread voter fraud without strong evidence on either count. Even after his election and inauguration, conservatives worked to discredit Obama and ACORN with accusations of systemic voter fraud.
In 2009, James O’Keefe released a series of videos he secretly recorded at ACORN offices that purported to show ACORN employees giving O’Keefe advice on how to open and operate a brothel.
The ACORN videos featured deceptive editing to distort the interactions between O’Keefe and the ACORN workers, a tactic that is a hallmark of O’Keefe’s work. While the videos feature shots of O’Keefe dressed as a cartoonish pimp in “his grandfather’s old wide-brimmed derby hat from his swing-dancing days, his grandmother’s ratty chinchilla shoulder throw,” and a cane, other subtle shots show he was dressed professionally.
Transcripts later released by O’Keefe showed that Project Veritas had edited out key segments of their interactions, with an ACORN employee stating “ACORN would have nothing to do with their prostitution business,” according to CNN. An investigation by California’s Attorney General later cleared multiple ACORN employees of wrongdoing and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. O’Keefe was later forced to release a statement of regret and pay two settlements totalling $150,000 for the deceptive nature of the videos.
Despite the deceptive editing, the videos went viral and sparked widespread media coverage. Congress voted to freeze federal funding to ACORN and both the IRS and Census Bureau served their ties with the organization. ACORN was pushed to the verge of bankruptcy by the videos and largely shut down shortly thereafter.
O’Keefe was hailed as a conservative hero for the videos, and 32 Republicans co-sponsored a House bill honoring him for his efforts. O’Keefe went on to found Project Veritas shortly after the success of the ACORN stings.
In 2010, O’Keefe released a series of undercover videos targeting the New Jersey Education Association, which drew the attention of then-New Jersey governor and Republican Chris Christie. Union employees who were filmed accused the videos of taking their comments out of context. In 2018, Project Veritas again targeted the NJEA and released videos with Project Veritas operatives posing as relatives of a non-existent teacher. The videos ultimately did not result in any penalties for the union administrators targeted.
In 2011, Project Veritas released a series of videos targeting Medicaid offices around the country where operatives posed as drug smugglers and attempted to receive benefits. No benefits were distributed to any of Project Veritas’s operatives. Although the videos did not receive the intense reaction as the ACORN videos, the then-Maine Governor Paul Lepaige and then-South Carolina Department Of Health and Human Services head Anthony Kreck called for investigations into Project Veritas.
Project Veritas ran a sting attempting to discredit NPR as biased against conservatives by releasing a nearly 13-minute video that targeted high-ranking officials and led to the ousting of NPR’s CEO and chief fundraising official. However, upon reviewing a roughly two-hour video O’Keefe released as “largely raw,” journalists found that the videos were deceptively edited to distort the comments made by NPR officials. Reporters who initially broke the story in the mainstream media expressed regret for amplifying the claims purported by the Project Veritas videos without properly vetting them first.
Project Veritas released a series of videos attempting to disrupt the 2016 presidential election in October 2016. The videos targeted the liberal group Democracy Partners, releasing secretly recorded footage of officials discussing commonly used tactics they used to disrupt the Trump campaign and a hypothetical discussion of how a group might engage in voter fraud. While two senior officials resigned after the videos, an investigation by Republican Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schmiel found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. O’Keefe released a video targeting Schmiel after he concluded his investigation, threatening to infiltrate Schmiell’s offices. After O’Keefe’s video, Schmiel went on a right-wing media show and implied he would continue to look into Democracy Partners.
Project Veritas released another sting video in October 2016 that targeted Americans United For Change foundation, alleging they illegally accepted foreign money. AUC returned funds identified in the sting after the videos were released.
After the release of the videos, O’Keefe filed an FEC complaint against the Clinton 2016 campaign and three liberal super PACs alleging a criminal conspiracy. O’Keefe’s complaint resulted in a lawsuit from Democracy Partners alleging Project Veritas lied to gain access to the firm and engaged in illegal wiretapping. Project Veritas lost the lawsuit in 2022.
In the weeks leading up to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration in 2017, a Project Veritas operative filmed herself attempting to bribe members of the anti-Trump group, Americans Take Action, to incite a riot at the inauguration. Another video targeting Antifa activists claimed to show that the activists had planned to set off stink bombs at a conservative event celebrating the inauguration.
In November 2017, The Washington Post published a report credibly accusing Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct. The report had a significant impact on the race, causing Moore’s six point lead to disintegrate.
Within a month, The Post reported that a Project Veritas operative had attempted to sabotage their investigation into Moore by approaching the paper with a false story of misconduct. The Post did not run the story given to them by the Project Veritas operative, as they could not substantiate the claims. After The Post exposed the operation, leading conservative outlets such as The American Conservative and The National Review criticized Project Veritas and O’Keefe accused the paper of liberal bias. The Post was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on Moore and its reporting on their due diligence that exposed Project Veritas’ failed sting on the paper.
In 2017, Project Veritas released a series of videos targeting CNN for perceived anti-Trump bias. The videos purport to show CNN staffers, one falsely portrayed as a senior decision maker at the network, state that their reporting on Trump and Russia was “mostly bullshit” and a “nothingburger.” The videos also show CNN workers disparaging Trump for manipulating his supporters. The videos were touted and promoted by the Trump administration. CNN and staffers targeted claimed the videos were deceptively edited to discredit them and their reporting.
Project Veritas was a key player in the disinformation campaign to discredit the 2020 election. In an interview with a source close to the organization, Project Veritas began planning as early as 2019 to run operations “literally to get Trump reelected.” Project Veritas faces an ongoing libel lawsuit for its misleading videos made to discredit the 2020 election.
In August 2020, The New Republic reported on Project Veritas documents laying out an operation codenamed “Diamond Dog.” According to a source close to Project Veritas, the operation aimed “literally to get Trump reelected” by painting mail voting as prone to inaccuracies and outright fraud.
As a part of “Diamond Dog,” Project Veritas aimed to discredit legal methods of helping low-income, elderly, and minority groups vote by mail, as well as to promote claims of illegal voting by undocumented immigrants and “the sale of absentee ballots and voter profiles on the ‘Dark Web.’” While “Diamond Dog ” existed before the arrival of COVID-19, the pandemic elevated the significance of mail voting for the 2020 election and supported the right-wing conspiracy mongering to discredit it.
Internal documents related to “Diamond Dog” seemed to reveal that Project Veritas operatives were coordinating with the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as early as 2019 to influence the 2020 election. The New Republic speculated Texas was central to Project Veritas’s “Diamond Dog” plan due to changing demographics that increasingly favored Democrats in the state.
In September 2020, six liberal groups asked Wisconsin’s Attorney General to investigate infiltrations of their organizations by a Project Veritas operative. According to the groups, two men used fake identities to set up meetings with them and their representatives.
In late September 2020, Project Veritas launched a campaign working to discredit the primary re-election of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). The videos released by Project Veritas were promoted by official Trump 2020 campaign surrogates such as Mike Lindell and Donald Trump Jr. Researchers who spoke to The New York Times believed that the release of the first video targeting Omar was timed with a Times article investigating Donald Trump’s tax returns. The researchers also stated the timing implied the Trump campaign was coordinating directly with Project Veritas on the release of the videos.
The videos released by Project Veritas alleged a paid ballot harvesting scheme to benefit Rep. Omar, who is herself a Somalian immigrant, that rested on clips of people speaking Somali to one another, as well as the testimony of Minnesota resident Omar Jamal, falsely identified as a local law enforcement officer. Sahan Journal, a news outlet dedicated to covering immigrant communities in Minnesota, described Omar Jamal as a “community activist with a questionable reputation” whose claims lacked evidence. Fact-checking website Snopes, as well as USA Today, could not verify the accuracy of the Somali to english translations, and The New York Times claimed the videos were part of a “coordinated disinformation campaign.” Sahan Journal claimed that “with all the anonymous sources and vague allegations, even people sympathetic to O’Keefe’s conspiracy theory may have trouble following the plotline.”
Project Veritas refused to release the raw footage following media pushback. Omar Jamal would later make contradictory statements to those he gave to Project Veritas, claiming he never met any person engaged in a cash-for-ballots scheme. Project Veritas later sued The New York Times for its coverage of the Minnesota videos.
Project Veritas also sued Stanford University for defamation over a blog post from an affiliated group that questioned Project Veritas’s Minnesota videos. Project Veritas lost the case and was forced to pay the university nearly $150,000 in legal fees.
Shortly after the 2020 election was called for Joe Biden by most media outlets, Project Veritas released a video where a postmaster in Erie, PA claimed without evidence that he had witnessed ballot tampering. The postmaster making the accusations also had a GoFundMe launched for him by Project Veritas.
After the release of the Project Veritas video, the Postal Service Office of Inspector General told Congress that the Erie, the PA postmaster signed an affidavit recanting his claims. However, the video was cited by Republicans and the Trump campaign as they attempted to challenge the validity of the election.
Project Veritas later released an audio recording between the postmaster and investigators, and the Washington Post claimed it was unclear whether Project Veritas doctored the recording. Despite this, in the recording, the postmaster claimed Project Veritas wrote his initial affidavit alleging fraud and that he was not paying too close attention when interacting with them. Even following a March 2021 report from the Post Service GAO disproving the claims, Project Veritas continued to promote the false claim from the video.
The postal official falsely accused of ballot tampering in Project Veritas’s videos has launched a libel lawsuit against the organization. In July 2022, a Pennsylvania judge ruled the case could go into the discovery stage.
In January 2021, Project Veritas released an edited video of a woman that appears to show her helping an elderly woman fill out a mail ballot. The woman appearing to offering assistance, Raquel Rodriguez, was arrested on election fraud charges after the video was released. Rodriguez has since moved to have the charges dismissed because the elderly woman was a relative and it is not illegal to help relatives vote.
O’Keefe and Project Veritas have longstanding ties to Donald Trump and his family.
O’Keefe said that Trump pushed him to infiltrate Columbia University to obtain records on Barack Obama that would prove Trump’s claims Obama was not an American citizen in 2013. In 2015, The Donald J. Trump Foundation gave Project Veritas $20,000 – the same year Trump announced his presidential bid. Trump would cite unsubstantiated Project Veritas videos in one of his 2016 debates with Hillary Clinton. O’Keefe was also listed as a guest at Donald Trump Jr.’s wedding.
Project Veritas’ debunked videos pushing allegations of election fraud in the 2020 election were also seized upon by the Trump campaign and became key evidence in their legal battle to overturn the 2020 election.
In 2010, O’Keefe and four of his associates broke into the office of then Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and were arrested by the FBI. Two of O’Keefe’s associates, disguised as telephone company workers, illegally entered Sen. Landreiu’s office and met O’Keefe within. They then deceived one of Landreiu’s staffers and tampered with Sen. Landreiu’s office phone. The five men were charged with federal felonies and faced up to a decade in prison. O’Keefe claimed he was investigating whether Sen. Landreiu was ignoring calls from constituents.
The charges were reduced and O’Keefe ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of entering a federal building and was sentenced to three years probation, 100 hours of community service, and a $1,500 fine.
O’Keefe planned a sting operation targeting CNN correspondent Abbie Bourdreau in 2010. O’Keefe booked a meeting at his office with Bourdreau, who was working on a piece about young conservatives. Boudreau was interrupted by Project Veritas’s then executive director, Izzy Santa, who warned the CNN reporter that O’Keefe intended to bring her to a boat where he would attempt to seduce her while filming the interaction with hidden cameras. After the incident, Project Veritas paid Santa a settlement after she threatened to sue.
According to a document published by CNN, O’Keefe’s attempted seduction would include props such as pornography, condoms, and “fuzzy” handcuffs. Despite O’Keefe publicly denying he intended to follow the plan, emails shared with CNN from Santa suggested otherwise.
In October 2020, right-wing outlet, the National File, published leaked excerpts from the diary of Joe Biden’s daughter, Ashley Biden. The diary was allegedly stolen and Donald Trump’s Justice Department opened an investigation into the diary’s theft shortly after the leaked excerpts were first published. While the story emerging from the National File did not reach national or even mainstream conservative news, it did make waves on conspiratorial outlets such as InfoWars.
In November 2021, the Justice Department carried out searches on locations related to two Project Veritas operatives involved in the theft of the diary. After the raid, O’Keefe released a video claiming that Project Veritas had been given the diary and believed it was legally obtained and purchased the rights to publish it, but O’Keefe and Project Veritas refused to directly publish it due to fact-checking concerns. Shortly thereafter, O’Keefe’s house was raided by the FBI in conjunction with the investigation. Project Veritas later complained that the Justice Department secretly and illegally obtained internal Project Veritas emails as a part of the investigation.
In September 2022, two Floridians plead guilty to charges related to the theft of Ashley Biden’s Diary. That same month, the publisher of the National File claimed that the diary had been leaked to him by Project Veritas – though he was unsure of O’Keefe’s direct involvement. Prosecutors have tied the theft of the diary directly to Project Veritas and claimed a Project Veritas employee gave instructions to steal additional items.
After the 2022 midterms election results indicated that Republicans would take control of the House of Representatives in the upcoming term, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the Department of Justice indicating they intended to investigate the DOJ’s raid and prosecution of Project Veritas for their role in the theft of Ashley Biden diary.
Relying on a small budget in its early years, Project Veritas’ fundraising surged since 2015. The bulk of Project Veritas’ known funding comes from “dark-money ATM of the right” DonorsTrust, right-wing megafunder the Bradley Impact Fund, and the conservative Triad Foundation – funded by the Duncan Hines fortune.
It was also reported that right-wing billionaire Peter Thiel, who has launched his own dark money funding apparatus, the Rockbridge Network, gave O’Keefe $30,000 for his ACORN videos before the formal establishment of Project Veritas.
The Donald J. Trump Foundation also notably gave Project Veritas $20,000 in 2015 – the same year Trump launched his 2016 presidential campaign.
Notable Major Contributions to Project Veritas:
|2020||$6,510,825||Bradley Impact Fund|
|2021||$2,122,474||Bradley Impact Fund|
|2012||$105,000||Donors Capital Fund|
|2013||$55,000||Donors Capital Fund|
|2019||$23,181||Bradley Impact Fund|
|2015||$20,000||Donald J Trump Foundation|
|2016||$15,000||Bradley Impact Fund|
|2015||$10,000||Donors Capital Fund|
|2014||$10,000||Donors Capital Fund|
|2015||$10,000||Bradley Impact Fund|
|2018||$6,000||Bradley Impact Fund|
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