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James O?Keefe potentially destroyed another person?s life this week, and his employer helped. ABC News suspended David Wright, a correspondent captured on tape talking to one of Project Veritas? operatives. In the video, Wright criticizes ABC News and calls himself a socialist.
O?Keefe?s funding might come from right-wing donors but his power comes from the companies and organizations responding to these videos. O?Keefe?s superpower is his ability to isolate his targets from their workplaces and communities. He continues to exist because gatekeepers still cave when Project Veritas videos are released. It?s a model that the pro-MAGA crowd has adopted fully and replicates often. I?ve lost count of how many people I know or who have come to me over the past three years because they find themselves being put through the Fox News Meatgrinder. It works because the targets? peers and professional networks will isolate the victims in the hopes of minimizing damage and keeping the far-right?s glare away from them.
The dismantling of ACORN in 2008 and 2009 is a prescient example of how this tactic works and how we enable it. ACORN conspiracies and disinformation about alleged voter fraud began percolating on the Right in 2008 and were validated by losing Presidential candidate John McCain and his Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin through the end of the 2008 presidential campaign. Legacy media added fuel to the fire. According to an article in the Huffington Post ?U.S. newspapers published over 1,700 stories on ACORN during October ? more than 10 times the average monthly total so far that year. More than three-fourths of these stories were devoted to allegations of ?voter fraud.?
In 2009 O?Keefe released a series of undercover videos, filmed in ACORN offices, via Breitbart news, selectively edited. O?Keefe claimed the videos showed ACORN workers partaking in a variety of illegal activities, all of which would be proven to be untrue. ACORN was exonerated after criminal investigations in New York and California but by then it was too late.
Congress, despite holding a Democratic majority, had already voted to defund them. After a troll campaign that included conspiracy-mongering, harassment of staffers, disinformation, and malinformation ? amplified by legacy media every step of the way ? ACORN was no more. But it worked because many Democrats and progressives abandoned the organization in their hour of need.
Progressives have for the most part learned their lesson here. Thanks to the work of Project Veritas Exposed we have a lot more information about how Project Veritas operates and have become much better at detecting their operatives. In 2018 The Sierra Club caught and exposed an infiltrator from O?Keefe?s organization, Project Veritas. They were able to control the narrative and prevent the release of any potentially damaging information by telling their own story. The Sierra Club?s proactive strategy also allowed them to frame any recordings Project Veritas might release.
But ABC News? reaction this week shows that most media outlets still don?t get it. Suspending David Wright only emboldens O?Keefe and the Right at large. Every win they get at a media outlet, every voice they succeed in silencing, will encourage more targeting journalists and media outlets. It?s a cycle that?s 100% breakable but legacy media companies seem unwilling to do, putting their employees and freelancers at risk. One outlet that does seem to get this is The Verge. Their executive editor, T.C. Sottek wrote a must-read editorial: To our fellow newsrooms: stop surrendering to online attacks on your reporters
One final note, we don?t talk enough about what happens to those individuals who find themselves at the center of these right-wing shitstorms. The professional and personal ramifications are far-reaching and most people who are targeted never bounce back fully from these kinds of attacks. It?s an employment issue that mostly goes unaddressed in companies, academic institutions, and progressive organizations. It?s also a personal trauma with lost friends, needed therapy, and fewer resources just when those resources are needed the most. There?s a growing number of informal support networks for these folks but more resources are needed.
The above article is an excerpt from Ctrl Alt-Right Delete, a newsletter devoted to covering the rise of far-right extremism, white nationalism, disinformation, and online toxicity, delivered on a weekly basis to more than 16,000 subscribers.
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