Liberal Groups Fear O’Keefe Election Sting 1

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The election is less than 40 days away. Donald Trump is refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. And now the Trump World hunt is on for material that can be used to discredit any election results that show Joe Biden winning the election.

On to this week’s newsletter!

This week: 

  • James O’Keefe and associates circle voter registration groups.
  • Bogus ballot “destruction” story blows up on the right

Liberal groups fear election infiltration from O’Keefe and allies

This summer, a mystery man named James Fortune began approaching voting rights groups in North Carolina.

Fortune, who claimed to be the operator of a progressive-minded North Carolina gym called “Equality Gym,” donated a few thousand dollars to the groups. Then he started asking whether they could illegally register undocumented immigrants to vote.

As the groups became suspicious, Fortune vanished—leaving behind only a blurry picture of himself, no proof that his gym actually existed, and suspicions that he was using an alias. But the wired money came from a Georgia group with ties to a QAnon House candidate and a network of other Republican figures, raising suspicions among the groups that Fortune was working for right-wing undercover prankster James O’Keefe or an O’Keefe imitator.

Right around the same time that Fortune was attempting to infiltrate progressive North Carolina groups, a so-called documentary film crew called “Zeitgeist Pictures” began interviewing six liberal groups in Wisconsin for what they claimed was a documentary about voting rights. The groups became suspicious, though, after the filmmakers began asking whether the groups were willing to break the law to illegally register voters.

The film crew disappeared as the groups grew more suspicious when they found no proof, aside from a barebones website, that there’s an actual film company called Zeitgeist Pictures. The activists interviewed by the crew claim they were able to identify one of their “interviewers” as O’Keefe associate Christian Hartsock, using pictures of Hartsock online.

Unlike the Wisconsin operation, the North Carolina scheme hasn’t been publicly linked to O’Keefe, and Project Veritas spokesman Neil W. McCabe said O’Keefe’s group won’t “comment on investigations, real or imagined.” But on Monday, Project Veritas plans to release a video that O’Keefe claims will offer “UNDENIABLE VIDEO PROOF OF SYSTEMIC VOTER FRAUD.”

If it’s anything like past O’Keefe stings, the video will likely vastly overstate or decontextualize what actually happened. And it almost certainly will become fodder for the right, considering that Trump not only has ties to O’Keefe (he’s donated in the past to Project Veritas) but is eager to hype evidence of voter fraud. How much the media picks up on this depends both on whether they’ve learned lessons from covering O’Keefe’s past work and, frankly, whether he can actually produce the receipts for his work.

What we know so far is that a North Carolina organization, Fortaleza, received $1,500 in donations from Fortune before he disappeared, according to Fortaleza executive director Angeline Echeverria. But Echeverria grew suspicious of Fortune after he began asking whether her group could register undocumented immigrants.

“We’re really concerned that we may have been recorded, and that they might edit it in some way to give very false impressions of our work and our organization,” Echeverria told me.

Whoever he really is, Fortune appears to have been working on behalf of at least one Republican operative. That $1,500 payment to Fortaleza, according to Echeverria and reporting from the News & Observer, traced back to a mysterious Georgia business called Blue Sky Med Labs.

Blue Sky Med Labs is registered to Jason Boles, a Georgia Republican operative who also registered the campaign organization for Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon believer and Georgia House candidate almost certain to win a congressional seat in November. Boles is also a partner in RTA Strategy, a political consulting group with the motto: “You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.”

It’s not clear whether Boles is connected to O’Keefe, why his company was paying for Fortune’s donations, or whether Fortune was recording his North Carolina meetings. But this wouldn’t be O’Keefe’s first time infiltrating a Democratic group in the close of a presidential race. In 2016, Project Veritas targeted Democratic operative Bob Creamer, releasing video of Creamer that purported to show that he had hired people to stir up trouble at Trump rallies.

“I think that they’re up to manufacturing disinformation that Trump can use in his rhetoric to undermine election integrity,” said Lauren Windsor, who runs Project Veritas Exposed, a site that aims to publicize the identities of O’Keefe operatives.

“Big if true” ballot rumors kick off

Every election cycle, there’s at least one tight race where the right-wing media gets fixated on rumors of phantom ballots—ballots appearing somewhere, disappearing elsewhere, generally ballots just all over the place. But this time, with passions even higher and both parties focused on early voting, the ballot rumors are getting started earlier, too.

On Thursday and Friday, pro-Trump Twitter exploded with pictures that purported to show thousands of ballots being tossed in a dumpster in Sonoma County, California.

“Last night we received these photos from a reader in California,” Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft wrote on Friday morning. “They appear to show hundreds of alleged unopened ballots in a garbage dumpster in California. We are working to verify. Big if true.”

Hoft’s tweet about the supposed election theft racked up more than 5,000 retweets.

“Big if true” typically isn’t the standard journalists are supposed to strive for, especially when alleging plots to steal elections. But Hoft, really, isn’t a journalist, at least in the sense of doing reputable reporting. And he doesn’t appear to have heard back from the Sonoma County election authorities, or stopped to wonder why someone would cook up an election-theft plot in a deep-blue state that will certainly vote for Biden.

In reality, according to beleaguered Sonoma County Registrar of Voters Deva Marie Proto, the election documents in the dumpster didn’t have anything to do with 2020. Proto tells The Daily Beast that the “ballots” in the trash can were in fact extra mail-in ballot envelopes from 2018, rather than ballots or envelopes for 2020.

“They have no relation to the current election at all,” Proto said.

That hasn’t stopped the trashed envelopes from becoming more grist for the right’s quest for ballot fraud. While The Gateway Pundit story gains traction on the right, The Blaze personality Elijah Schaffer’s own post about the supposed destroyed ballots has received nearly 8,000 retweets.

“These are original photos sent to me,” Schaffer tweeted. “Big if true.”