About the Author
James E. O’Keefe III gained major national attention for his release of video recordings of workers at ACORN offices in 2009, his arrest in early 2010 at the office of Senator Mary Landrieu, and his release of videos of NPR executives in 2011. In June 2010, O’Keefe formed Project Veritas, an organization with the stated mission to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct.”
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Breakthrough THE HOLLOW MEN
Nineteen eighty-four was not just the year I was born.
On the night of January 17, 2012, Kristen Coolidge1, home from college, talked and joked with her three younger siblings around the kitchen island while their mom, Mary*, prepared dinner nearby. The Coolidges lived in Newmarket, New Hampshire, on a quiet street lined with homes as old and picturesque as their one-hundred-year-old colonial.
Kristen heard the sounds first. Startled, she looked up and listened intently. They were footsteps—urgent, masculine footsteps—several sets of feet. She tracked them around the side of the house. Unaware, Mary labored away at the stove until a sharp rap on the seldom-used back door made her jump. She saw the outlines of three grown men dressed in winter gear and instinctively made her way to the door.
“Don’t open it, Mom,” whispered twenty-year-old Tim. Mary hesitated. Sensing her hesitance, the man in front flashed a badge. Mary proceeded to the door and opened it just a crack. “Can I help you?”
The lead officer—gruff, officious, his head shaved down to a military trim—wedged his foot in the opening and barged his way through. The two younger men followed, surveying the room. The Coolidges stood frozen. “We’re looking for Adam Coolidge,” said the lead officer, Mark Myrdeck, a retired police lieutenant now working for the New Hampshire attorney general, Michael Delaney. “We’re told he lives here.”
I learned about the raid as it happened. Nineteen-year-old Jenna Coolidge had the wherewithal to send me a Facebook message from her cell phone. “Hi James, three men just knocked on the door looking for Adam . . . asking about where he lives.”
“What did Adam do?” asked Mary, deeply worried about her twenty-three-year-old son. Myrdeck could not give a direct answer. “We don’t know if he has broken any laws. We just need to talk to him.” He knew better than this. He brought with him a subpoena for Adam to appear before a criminal grand jury. He placed a dossier on the kitchen counter and left it open just enough so that the Coolidges could see photos of Adam and me.
To make sense of his visit, Myrdeck said something about how Adam disrupted a lot of families that had lost a loved one, making them feel uncomfortable. “My son is just trying to do good for the country,” Mary protested, but the men were not listening.
The one person Adam had really made uncomfortable was New Hampshire governor John Lynch. Just six months earlier, a preening Lynch proudly vetoed New Hampshire state bill 129, which would have required voters to show a photo ID. In all his limited wisdom, the governor chastised a heartless legislature for passing a highly “restrictive” voter ID bill “despite any evidence that current law is insufficient protection against voter fraud.”
A week earlier, Adam Coolidge and a few others had shown just how pathetically insufficient those protections were. These guys were the Green Berets of citizen journalism, the proud ground troops of Project Veritas, the nonprofit I had launched to revive investigative journalism. They had calmly walked into a half-dozen voting stations during America’s most closely watched primary and were handed ballots for seven of the eight dead people whose names they volunteered.
Here we were just one week into our election fraud investigation, and we had already tripped the fascist trigger in the government-media complex. Too many people had too much at stake in a look-the-other-way electoral process to let us attack it with impunity. The harassment of the Coolidges was payback time. Six months later we would essentially be cleared of wrongdoing for our investigative reporting on voter fraud, however reluctantly, by the attorney general of the United States. But the Stasi wannabes of New Hampshire had yet to get that memo.
“She was physically shaking,” Kristen said of her mom. “It was not as if they came in during the daytime or came in through the front door. They did to my mom what they hoped to do.” T. S. Eliot had it nailed. “This is the way the world ends,” he wrote in “The Hollow Men” nearly ninety years ago. “Not with a bang but a whimper.” The crimes would be small ones, the persecution petty, the outcry limited to an old colonial in Newmarket, New Hampshire.
I wish I could have been there to help. I wish I could have gone to New Hampshire to oversee the video sting, but I could do neither. I had to direct the operation from the restored carriage house on my family’s property in New Jersey. I could not leave the state without permission from, yes, my probation officer. This fellow was assigned to track me for a misdemeanor I did not even commit. That’s how special I must have seemed to someone.
I was twenty-seven years old, five years into my self-created career as a citizen journalist, and I had already been arrested, imprisoned, nearly killed during my coerced “community service,” commended along with Hannah Giles by the U.S. House of Representatives for exposing ACORN, publicly accused of everything from racism to rape, lauded by the governor of New Jersey for exposing a corrupt union, pursued recklessly on an interstate by a teacher I caught on tape, denounced by Keith Olbermann as the “worst person in the world,” applauded for causing major resignations at National Public Radio, sued multiple times, slandered by half the working journalists in America, and finally inspired to expose voter fraud in the heat of a presidential election, which my late mentor Andrew Breitbart described over the phone to me as “the most consequential thing you ever did.”
In the course of these short few years, I have received an education that few will receive in a lifetime. Some of what I learned came from books, most usefully Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, Tom Wolfe’s Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, and everything by G. K. Chesterton. Some I learned from the people who mentored me, chief among them my father, my grandfather, and the uniquely gifted Andrew Breitbart.
Much of what I learned, I learned through the cold, hard knocks of experience. To learn, I have had to sort my way through legal and media swamps into which no one has ventured before. For those who may want to follow, I have edited what I have learned into a set of guidelines, the Veritas rules. The rules are shaped by my larger vision, simply put, to make the world a more virtuous place.
By showing what is true and what is not, journalists can help forge a more ethical and transparent society, one in which people do what is right because they want to, not because they feel compelled to by the government. “A society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man,” Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said at his justly famous Harvard address. He was talking about us. In solving human problems, we have become increasingly bureaucratic, technocratic, legalistic. The society we have today does not oppress like Solzhenitsyn’s did. It depresses. It demoralizes. It discourages the impulse that motivated Revolutionary War general John Stark to “live free or die.”
Years ago, New Hampshire adopted those stirring words as the state motto. Today New Hampshire officials intimidate families like the Coolidges over the exercise of their basic freedoms. Solzhenitsyn saw the change coming. “Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations,” he said, “there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses.” My colleagues and I had to fight through that paralysis in this, the critical year of the Lord, 2012. There was a lot at stake, and there were only ten months left before the presidential election.
1. Names changed to protect the innocent.
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