Confessions of a Conservative Sting Artist

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 21 2011 2:20 PM

Confessions of a Conservative Sting Artist

At the start of 2011, two conservative activists posed as wealthy potential donors to NPR. They wanted to offer checks to the public-private media giant, but first, they wanted to make sure the money would count. They wanted better coverage of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they saw as horribly misunderstood.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

We know what happened next. The sting seemed to work; NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller and president Vivian Schiller resigned. Republicans, having already attached an NPR-defunding rider to the continuing resolution, got new momentum. But the rider died. The stingers had wanted more, a much larger-scale sting,and thought that James O'Keefe, whose Project Veritas published the video, had blown it. The two activists, Shaughn Adeleye and "Simon Templar" (a psuedonym taken from the title character in The Saint), have started talking, most recently for a detail-rich Ken Vogel story. I corresponded with Templar over the weekend to understand the fracas.

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Slate: How did you get associated with Project Veritas in the first place? Did you contact O'Keefe with the story idea? Were you working with PV before this idea germinated? 

"Simon Templar": Let me rephrase your question to "how did I get associated with O'Keefe," because "PV" did not exist in any literal sense to my understanding.  They were not granted any status until May of 2011, long after the NPR project.  As far as I understood "PV" was basically a website people could throw some change at - kind of a glorified team name, I guess.  

I had started talking to him some on Facebook a while ago during a period where I was bedridden for several weeks due to injury.  I was bored, and I would sometimes pitch him ideas or throw him leads he might want to check out.  It became a friendship.  Down the line I also made friends with Shaughn Adeleye and a few other people with mutual interests.  Ideas would be kicked around in conversation as well.  

Eventually I learned of an idea Shaughn had come up with that involved NPR.  Shaughn and I had already been talking a bit about what happened to Juan Williams.  He had already put a fair amount of thought into it, and after working through it, I started to really like it and start adding a ideas of my own.  Shaughn definitely deserves all the credit in the world for originating the idea.  We then brought Ben Wetmore in on the conversations early on.  Eventually O'Keefe caught up to what we were working on and asked us to come up to New Jersey for "training."  My current impression is that's a tax status thing.  

At no point did I ever sign up to "work for" him or anything of the sort, and neither did Shaughn.  As far as I knew, this was all an extremely informal arrangement much the way the ACORN sting was reported to have come about.  I put up a considerable amount of my own money for this because I wanted to do it and because I had a vision for how we could make this a really meaningful project.  At one point James started offering to pay for some things as well, which he said was coming out of his own pocket.  I don't know the exact numbers, but I'm pretty confident I was putting up significantly over 50%. 

Slate: How does the PV editorial process work, exactly? How do folks talk to each other and pitch ideas? 

"Simon Templar": I suppose that depends on how one defines "editorial process" and how one defines "Project Veritas" as well.  To the best of my knowledge, "Project Veritas" as it was eventually established is a training organization not a news organization, so perhaps the real question is more general and simply "how does James do things?"  What I can say would be specific to what I eventually called "Project Muslim Brotherhood," and much of the idea pitching process for that was described above, and did not have to do with "Project Veritas." 

If you're talking about the video editing, that was James' main contribution in addition to the parts of the project for which he volunteered to pay.  It was not until after the project that James somehow decided he in fact had some sort of editorial control over or ownership of the entire project all along.

Slate: What exactly was the larger question you were trying to answer with the bigger version of the sting -- the one that didn't just hit NPR? 

"Simon Templar": This is a matter I have been hoping to elaborate on for some time.  It was very multifaceted and the purpose can be explained from several angles, but the short summary I will give you is that I had designed the project to be a demonstration of the principles laid out in the Center for Security Policy's report Shariah: The Threat to America in action to put them to the test.  The report, which was written and co-signed by a who's who of former intelligence officials, outlines how political correctness enables the Muslim Brotherhood to operate freely in the United States.  It also identifies the influence the Muslim Brotherhood is able to exert over the American Muslim community and over American institutions and government through a network of front groups.  In particular, the report asserts the Muslim Brotherhood is interested in influencing the media and higher education.  

Therefore, I decided we would provide a demonstration for the American public to see involving a number of media organizations and institutions of higher learning.  We would tell them up front in every way possible without using the words "front group" that we were a Muslim Brotherhood front group.  I had made arrangements and meetings with several organizations and universities for similar purposes.  

There were also aspects that I had custom tailored to each institution.  The best part about the NPR sting was that people would get to see the juxtaposition of NPR executives' attitudes about the Muslim Brotherhood, an actual subversive, bigoted, and violent organization, and their attitudes about the Tea Party, which they have been trying to tell us is all of those things.  With appropriate planning, all of this could be seen in a single, continuous, highly entertaining and explosive video.  NPR would never be able to justify the outrageously upside down attitudes towards these two organizations that was on display.  

The other best part about the entire project was that once published in its entirety, if delivered properly there was no way the media would be able to avoid it.  That would force the media, in addition to NPR, to cut through the PC stuff and have a serious discussion about radical Islam and the organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood.  If done right, all of these organizations would have to weigh in on whether or not it is actually appropriate to be making alliances with Islamists or the Muslim Brotherhood.  So would the Whitehouse.  

A serious discussion is especially important at a time when the current administration is embracing the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists both at home and abroad, and legitimate discussion of Islamism and Shariah are being increasingly suppressed worldwide.   There is a big difference between “hate,” which we simply can’t have, and legitimate intellectual discourse.  America is plenty strong enough and compassionate enough to have honest discussions about sensitive issues, which Americans do all the time whether it is religion, politics, or what have you.  

What happened at Fort Hood is exactly what happens when political correctness supersedes both common sense and intelligent discussion.  Ignorance imposed by political correctness of this kind leads to vulnerability and bad policy.  Problems metastasize if they can’t be discussed forthrightly. 

Slate: What do you think was lost by focusing on NPR and not broadening the investigation? I ask because Congress didn't end up defunding CPB/NPR in its final bill. 

"Simon Templar": It wasn't merely that we focused on NPR that caused so much to be lost, which was always the primary focus.  I wasn't anywhere near finished with NPR when O'Keefe basically lied his ass off to hustle Shaughn and I into aborting the project and turning it over to him.  I had these guys right where I wanted them, and we were just getting started.  The critical point of the sting, if it was going to occur, hadn't even taken place.  

That critical point would be if and when NPR ever did "reject" the Muslim Brotherhood donation, which they definitely did not.  At that point, NPR would have to try and explain their rejection and somehow square it with NPR's own PC attitudes about the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islam broadcast daily as well as the attitudes of the current administration.  Then they would have to explain to us why they were so Islamophobic and bigoted.  They would also have to explain why we get seemingly different treatment compared to CAIR, the external organization most responsible for Williams firing, whose founders and current leaders Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad, both of whom the CSP report outlines have been established conclusively as members of Hamas.  

There was no way out for NPR.  If they reject the money in spite of NPR's own professed views, then they're Islamophobic and more "bigoted" than Juan Williams simply by their own standards.  If they don't reject any money, and continue demonstrating their interest in forming an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood as they were when we left off, then frankly they're idiots and they just embraced a very dangerous, bigoted and seditious organization dedicated to the destruction of western civilization.  As a news organization they would have no legitimate "ignorance" excuses.  Good luck defending that publicly, especially if we take it far enough that we show up with some interns with balloons and a giant check from the Muslim Brotherhood to take a picture with Vivian Schiller (there was never going to be a real check, as I don't have $5 million and don't want to be accused of check fraud).  

Either way, the public would get a moment of truth from NPR about the realities of radical Islam, either during or after the sting.  

One of my regrets about aborting the sting when we did is that I had intended to get as many people at the top of NPR "on the hook" so to speak in terms of demonstrating their approval of this Muslim Brotherhood alliance and/or their Tea Party attitudes.  That would eliminate their ability to try to solve their problems by firing some poor guy like Ron Schiller and would demonstrate that this is not a problem with one person, it's an institutional issue, and it's a PC problem.  I'm not sure we felt as bad about losing Vivian Schiller though. 

I am confident Ron Schiller and Betsy Liley are wonderful people.  They were never intended as the “targets” of the project.  The only thing they were ever guilty of was expressing much of what is regarded as both “tolerant” and as objectively factual at NPR and in other elite and secluded worlds. 

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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