Thursday 30 September 2021

Is Project Veritas A Fraud? Are Their Undercover Reporting Grossly Distorting Facts? Re-examining O’Keefe’s 2009 Investigation of ACORN - Ingenious Citizen Journalism or Despicable Frameup?

by Maggie Zhou, PhD (genetics) 

Project Veritas and its founder James O’Keefe have released many important undercover videos exposing many organizations and individuals in the past over a decade, including some ongoing stunning revelations about COVID-19 vaccines.

Many leftists are firmly convinced that this is a despicable organization, due to O’Keefe’s sting operations in 2009 against the left-wing Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in the US, which brought it down (while ACORN International continued to operate).

They believe O’Keefe “unethically” and “misleadingly” edited undercover videos to “mispresent” conversations with low level ACORN employees taken out of context, to serve O’Keefe’s right-wing political agenda.

Even though I firmly believe that one must always judge each revelation on a case-by-case basis based on the evidence directly, and not give too much credence to the reputation of an outlet – still, since this operation against ACORN kept getting brought up by my leftist friends/acquaintances as definitive proof of O’Keefe’s dishonesty and scoundrelness , I wanted to take a closer examination of that famous project.

What Did the Undercover Videos on ACORN Portray?

James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles pretended to be a (in some instances newly graduated) law student and his prostitute girlfriend.  They sought, and obtained in all cases except one, various help and advice from ACORN offices in 7-8 cities for their plan of starting an “international prostitution business” using a dozen underaged girls (12/13-15 y.o.) smuggled in from El Salvador, supposedly to keep them away from an abusive pimp who beats them and deprives them of food and fair pay.  They also made it clear they intended to use part of the profits from their planned prostitution business for O’Keefe’s future political campaign.

I recommend you watch all of the edited videos – each part is only a few (up to 10) minutes.  They’re also available on YouTube as a playlist  A couple of videos had silenced the voice of the ACORN employee due to legal restriction, but most videos have their voices intact.  Watching the videos gives you the direct feel for the nature of the conversations that transpired.

Full-length, unedited videos were simultaneously released with the edited ones on, along with their complete transcripts, and they were also available on at least some government websites, e.g., that of the California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office (see links to the full video files at the bottom of this article), who conducted an investigation of ACORN due to the revelations of these undercover videos.  Remarkably, none of the links to the unedited videos and their transcripts work anymore. (But see more below)

(Note: became in 2012 following Andrew Breitbart’s unexpected death at age 43, which then became, and somewhere along the line, the actual video and transcript files were lost, even though the pages are still there.  The California AG’s website has changed, and keyword searches could not locate these video/transcripts on their current website.)

The CA AG’s report on their investigation of ACORN, and its attachment file did include summaries of the contents of all unedited, full videos.  Comparing the edited videos with the CA AG’s summaries helps establishing any missing context and potential misleading editing.

And then, through a roundabout way, I was able to locate some of the full transcripts on an snapshot of the documentation site used by  But since no search function can be performed on that snapshot page, I was only able to find the most viewed few transcripts.  They’re: San Bernardino, San Diego Part 1, 2, Baltimore, New York, and Washington DC.

The Baltimore office videos, for example, are particularly stunning, in which two ACORN employees gave them many helpful suggestions on how to launder profits from their planned child prostitution business for tax reporting, how to avoid detection by cops and neighbours, and even telling them they could claim child tax credit for the underaged prostitutes, and then proceeded to do their tax returns for them for a fee of $50 (a discount from $150 since they were starting a “new business”).  To various extent all the other offices gave similarly helpful advices and assistance including in how to buy a home to house the group prostitution business, how O’Keefe should distance himself from that business physically and financially (in paper trail) to protect his future political viability, etc.

Having watched all the available videos, it’s clear to me that all the filmed ACORN employees genuinely empathized and wanted to help the young couple (except perhaps the one in San Diego, Juan Carlos Vera, who may have ulterior motives, more below).

This article isn’t intended to judge whether they were right or wrong in their decision to be helpful in planning a prostitution business using smuggled underage girls bought from their families, supposedly to protect them from their current abusive pimp.  I only intend to examine here whether O’Keefe had grossly misrepresented these ACORN employees, and mislead the audience, by selective editing.

My judgement, after comparing with the full-length transcripts in some cases, and with the summaries of complete videos in the CA AG’s report in other cases, is that the edited ACORN videos on Project Veritas website, do not appear to be selectively edited in such a way as to grossly mislead the audience.

Did the California Attorney General’s Report Conclude that the Videos Mischaracterized the Conversations?


Contrary to what many MSM outlets claimed, the CA AG’s report did not say that the edited undercover videos that were released to the public had mischaracterized the ACORN employees.  In fact, even the whitewashed summary of findings & conclusions on page 2 is definitely not favorable to ACORN, but the report did avoid asking the obvious question: why is it that all except one ACORN employee in one city (out of offices in 7 or 8 different cities) had no problems with the couples’ planned child trafficking prostitution business, and went out of their way to offer all kinds of help and advice?  Didn’t it perhaps reflect a much more systematic problem, of the grim social realities these employees saw around them and were seemingly accustomed to, and didn’t it also reflect the culture of ACORN as an organization, and how their employees were trained?

E.g., one employee at the Brooklyn, NY office said she saw prostitution of little girls “from 13 years down to 3”… makes you wonder why she didn’t call the police to report such.

(For background - prior to O’Keefe’s adventures, a July 2009 Congressional staff report presented by Rep. Darrell Issa was titled “Is ACORN Intentionally Structured as a Criminal Enterprise?”  That report is also missing, but archived here, with a summary here.  I haven't researched into the truthfulness or lack thereof of that report.  But obviously, for the young conservative O’Keefe, it made sense to go investigate some of the rumors and charges against ACORN.)

In fact, it was mostly through a legal technicality, that the California AG’s report did not find the filmed ACORN employees criminally guilty of aiding and abetting child trafficking prostitution.  The paragraph straddling page 15-16, clearly stated that: “Because O’Keefe and Giles’s criminal plans were themselves a ruse, one cannot be criminally complicit in those plans. In order to be liable as an aider and abettor, the perpetrators (in this case, O’Keefe and Giles) must have actually committed the planned or underlying crime.” (emphasis added).

The way the published videos were edited had no bearing on the AG’s conclusion.

That same paragraph summarized the CA AG’s findings of the 3 California ACORN office visits: “The complete and unedited recordings made by O’Keefe and Giles establish that the four California ACORN employees discussed with the couple their plan to conduct a prostitution business, which they described to three of the employees as using captive underage girls who were illegal immigrants.

In one case, that of Lavelle Stewart of ACORN Los Angeles office, the CA AG’s report stated “The released recordings did not include all Giles’ statements regarding the abusive pimp, her tragic life, and fear for the underage girls, or Stewart’s statements that ACORN could not help.”  But watching the 3 part edited videos, all these things were actually there!  There may have been some editing to remove redundancy, therefore technically not “all” such statements were included, but the editing certainly didn’t remove any important context or alter the story.

In the case of the Brooklyn, New York ACORN employees, the edited videos omitted one employee saying to Giles that she couldn’t tell Giles to stop because Giles would not listen.  She also pushed Giles to find her supposed drug addict homeless mother and buy a house for her.  These are things that would have helped gain some viewer sympathy and understanding for the said employee.  However, the edited videos didn’t substantially change the nature of the conversations viewers perceived, and could reasonably be ascribed to the need for video brevity suitable for the attention span of most viewers.

Note - “heavily edited” is different from “selectively edited”.  The former may be for brevity, the latter engenders altering the meaning and context to misrepresent.  The CA AG’s report only said some videos were “heavily edited”.

Retractions of Much Cited Mainstream Media Claims of the “Selective Editing” of the ACORN Videos

The mainstream media made many false claims of the undercover videos at ACORN.  Over the years, many have been forced to issue a retraction.  Project Veritas has a “Wall of Shame” featuring some of these retractions, e.g., here, here and here – some of their lies were widely and circularly cited by other “journalists”.  Amazingly, by early 2020, there were already over 300 retractions for various defaming and mischaracterizations of Project Veritas reports.

One favorite MSM lie is that there was a legal judgement against O’Keefe, which resulted in him paying $100,000 to the San Diego ACORN employee Juan Carlos Vera, and also an apology to Vera from O’Keefe.

In reality, Vera sued O’Keefe for privacy violation, and O’Keefe decided to settle for $100,000, because he was told it would cost $750,000 to fight the lawsuit to its conclusion.  He later regrated the decision to settle, as it was used falsely to discredit the undercover videos.  In fact the settlement had nothing to do with the way the videos were edited, and you can read the settlement agreement, linked from this page.

Other Popular MSM Lies About the ACORN Videos… Possible Cover-ups?

It’s very instructive to watch the short segment in which Rachel Maddow blatantly lied about the various details in the San Diego incident, presumably to protect ACORN and avert critical examination of ACORN by her viewers, which should only add to suspicion that there was actually something to hide!  Identical lies were told by Forbes and many other MSM outlets too.

Maddow falsely claimed that O’Keefe pretended he went into the ACORN offices in a fur coat to look like a pimp but was actually wearing a dress shirt inside the offices.  But O”Keefe never made such a claimed.  He was only shown wearing the fur coat in the comedic intro and ending clips for effect, but in the actual office visits, he was seen at times wearing a dress shirt (most of the time he was not visible, since he was the one wearing a camera).  E.g., in the very first ACORN video released, which was of their visit to the Baltimore office, at 0:16 mark of Part 1, you can see him entering the ACORN building in a dress shirt.

Maddow also deceivingly abridged the text in the CA Attorney General’s report, to falsely claim that Juan Carlos Vera “immediately” reported the child smuggling prostitution plot to the police (his cousin), which he actually didn’t do until NINE days later on Aug 27, 2009!  And even then, according to what he told the California AG (Attachment C), he said on that call with police that he didn’t have contact info for the couple, which is a total lie, because the following day, he sent O'Keefe and Giles an email asking them to call him.  Then, the day before the release of the San Diego video (after several other undercover videos were already released), Vera gave his employer a slip of paper from the prostitute” with her phone number and email address.  (In the full transcript, it was also very clear they exchanged phone numbers and email addresses during the office visit.)  Why did he lie to the police 20 days earlier and claimed he didn’t have the couple’s contact info?

[The Rachel Maddow Show deceivingly abridged the text in the CA Attorney General’s report to falsify the timeline.]

Furthermore, the couple told him during the taped visit, that the Salvadorian girls were going to be smuggled in 4 days later.  So why did he wait till 9 days after that visit, before actually talking to his police cousin on the phone about the plot, if his intention was to inform the police and intercept the plot?  You can verify all this in the timeline table (Attachment C) of the California AG’s report yourself.

In fact, if you watch the Part 2 (5 minute) video of the San Diego ACORN office visit, you’ll see that Vera was telling the couple NOT to tell others about their plans, to avoid getting caught – why would he instruct that if he intended to report to the police in the first place?  He also told them that his cousin is a police detective, and in Part 1 he said he works with the district attorney too.  He was very keen to find out how much she made for her services.

It appears much more likely to me that he was actually intending to help them smuggle the girls in from El Salvador, via Tijuana (where he claimed to the couple that he had many contacts that could help), with the aid of his police cousin and the district attorney, and take a cut from future prostitution profits.  (Such corruption scenarios have long been talked about, and since they tend to involve large networks of corrupt law enforcement, drug cartels, and various government agencies, it makes sense that the MSM would do their best to lie and spread disinfo in this case.)  Perhaps only when the couple didn’t contact him for 5 days after the date of the supposed arrival of the underage girls, did he decide it must have been a trap, and asked his cousin to report to the police.  Before that, we don’t know if he and his cousin might have already met in person to strategize without leaving any phone record.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the San Diego National City office of ACORN quietly dumped some 20,000 documents in advance of state investigators’ arrival – why, if there’s nothing to hide???  The above linked article also reads: “Other documents provided to show that in the wake of the national scandal involving underage prostitution and human smuggling, ACORN employees were communicating with media, law enforcement and internally among ACORN offices as to how to develop a storyline that could explain the undercover videos taken of Mr. Vera.  One of those documents with San Diego television station 10News is shown below…”

The Curious Case of the San Bernardino Office Visit

Perhaps the most curious visit of all the ACORN offices, was that of the San Bernardino office, where ACORN employee Tresa Kaelke not only furnished them practical advices on how to set up their business disguised as a spa, invest in a line of vitamins and herbal supplies to display in the window to avoid suspicion, and possibly also disguising the house as a “group home” for exchange students to alleviate any doubt from the landlord…, she also claimed she had run an escort service herself, and had shot and killed her abusive ex-husband in a premeditated murder.  She even took them to visit her neighbour friend, Jim Miller, who gave additional advises.

After the undercover videos were released, she told a police detective who questioned her, that she knew at the time that the young couple were joking, and she was only joking with them.

But you need to watch the 3 part videos totalling about 22 minutes, and read the full-length unedited transcript that contains so much more details and nuances, to really appreciate that there’s no hint of joking-ness by any of the conversants, and that she appeared genuinely trying to help the young couple, as she was obviously very fond of them, and approved of their unconventional ideas which matched her claimed background and ideology.  Furthermore, she and her neighbour friend Mr. Jim Miller both gave real scoops on the corrupt political and law enforcement scene in San Bernardino and elsewhere in California, and her attitude on the sex trade and everything else she said during the entire visit were completely congruent.

The police investigation of her consisted only of interviewing her (before she was stopped from talking to them further by the instructions of ACORN’s attorney), obtaining the phone numbers of both of her ex-husbands from her, calling those two phone numbers and speaking to the two men who were supposedly her ex-husbands.  Both men assured the police that they were still alive and well, and that Tresa did not murder them.

The police reports did NOT indicate they conducted any further investigation, e.g., in-person interviews of the two ex-husbands, verifying their identities, checking with IRS, local marriage registries, any California homicide records, and any other potential databases to verify that Tresa Kaelke had no other previous marriages, etc.  They seemed to have relied entirely on the phone calls with the two ex-husbands, and that’s it.

Detective Carr’s report stated (on page 31/55 in the CA AG’s Attachment file) that a TV program aired at the time showed Tresa claiming in the undercover video, that she was 35 years old when she shot and killed her ex-husband (this was not in the edited video, but I verified it in the full transcript).  Her birthdate was Aug 6, 1948 (p.25/55).  That would put the year of the claimed murder in 1983-84.

Her second ex-husband, Ronald Kaelke, told police he ‘met Tresa following her divorce from Duane Burhow... Following the separation with Duane, Tresa was "on the road" as a truck driver. It was in 1980 that Tresa and Ronald had entered into their relationship, They were married in 1984 and divorced in 1987.

Yet her first ex-husband, Duane Burhow, told police he and Tresa were married from 1974 to around 1983.  So how could Tresa have met Ronald Kaelke in 1980, if they met “following her divorce from Duane Burhow”?  The timelines of the two accounts conflict with each other.

If indeed Tresa and Burhow divorced in 1983, and she married Ronald Kaelke in 1984, could she have had another short marriage in 1983, which ended with her murdering an abusive spouse?  The police investigation was very limited, as described above, before it was closed, so I wouldn’t say this can be ruled out…

To get a flavor of the genuineness of the conversations, here’s one detail from the full transcript (emphasis added):

(Note: The ACORN employee referred to as "Tresa Kaelke" in the CA AG’s and the police reports, was referred to here in the transcript as “Theresa”.)

James: We won't use any more of your time. Thank you again. It was wonderful meeting you.

Theresa (Acorn): Okay, Yeah. You, too. What are you driving?

James: I drive a crappy, old Kia.

Theresa (Acorn): Really? Hey- I had a Kia one time, and then, my husband took it away from me. It was a brand new one.

James: Well, did you get it back once you shot him?

Theresa (Acorn): No. I didn't. I didn't want it back after

Hannah (Eden): Yeah.

Theresa (Acorn): You know.

James: Brought back memories.

Theresa (Acorn): No. Not really. I can get over [unintelligible] like that.

(all laugh)

Hannah (Eden): Just need a new car.

(all laugh)

Theresa (Acorn): Yeah. Oh, exactly. It still had payments on it. I don't want something that's not paid for. Just make sure that you keep that in mind. 

She also taught the young couple that the strategy to prevent the young girls from asking their clients how much they pay Hannah (Eden) for the girls’ services, is to have a list of by-laws and rules for the whore houseObviously, this is someone with experience running such a service, just as she claimed.

But if this was only one individual employee who might have had a murder history being inadvertently revealed by the undercover hit, what would be the reason to shut down a proper police investigation on a low profile homicide?  Afterall, it’s not ACORN’s fault what she did in her past…

I think the answer lies precisely in the accuracy of the picture she and Mr. Miller painted of the California sex trade, as well as the police department corruption, and that of the criminal justice system.  It would shine a spotlight on all these things, if she was not treated as simply joking her way through.

For example (emphasis added):

Mr. Jim Miller: One thing you want to consider is that from about one block east of here. That's east. Over about a mile is what the Police Department call Project Phoenix.

James: Okay.

Mr. Jim Miller: The goal and dedication and commitment is to take every drug peddler and every prostitute out.

James: Okay.

Theresa (Acorn): Yeah. But how how Project Phoenix went to Hell.

Mr. Jim Miller: It did. Yeah.

Theresa (Acorn): It it's non existent anymore. Um, they only use it now to justify the funds that that that the Police were given.

Ryan (Jeff): Sss You guys should get involved with that.

Theresa (Acorn): Yes. Now.

Ryan (Jeff): It seems like a waste. If they're not. You know.

Theresa (Acorn): Yeah. Um, it was given the Project Phoenix the money was given to the cops.

Ryan (Jeff): Yeah.

Theresa (Acorn): It actually didn't help a bunch of kids the way it was supposed to.

Hannah (Eden): The Police stole the money?

Theresa (Acorn): Um, no. They didn't steal it. They were it was given to them. Uh, and so Morez, Mayor Morez, really that was his baby, right?

Mr. Jim Miller: Alright.

Theresa (Acorn): Yeah. 

Earlier in the conversation, Tresa/Theresa talked about her “hero”, Heidi Fleiss, who ran an upscale call-girl service with many prominent and wealthy clients.  Eventually Fleiss was arrested and served “a little bit of time, but it was nothing… And she's out and doing it again.”

The friendly neighbour, Mr. Jim Miller, also told Hannah (Eden) where in San Bernardino she would find clients - the business motels where people come in to “do business with the state offices. Because there's nothing else here.”  He also told her who her competitors are (the black ladies) and their goings rates ($20-40).  Obviously, he knows all this stuff, and it’s all very practical and real information they were furnishing.  Not a joke at all!


The editing of the undercover videos of James O”Keefe and Hannah Giles visiting ACORN offices across the United States were, in the main, faithful to the conversations that transpired, although due to the trimming of the video lengths down to attention-retaining 15-20 minutes per visit, less detailed human interaction were seen, while when one reads the full transcript, one understands more on a human level, why these employees were obviously so empathetic.

It still doesn’t explain why none of these employees told them they should not use the underage girls for their prostitution business and profit from them, but rather that they should either try to return the girls to their families in El Salvador, or to help them go to the authorities for protection - did they all know that the Child Protection Services are themselves a part of the human trafficking machine?!

The MSM deliberately obfuscated and lied about the editing of the videos, and about the subsequent court case between San Diego ACORN employee Juan Carlos Vera and O’Keefe / Giles.  The motivation for doing so, besides protecting ACORN (in which case there must have been some major rot there for the MSM to try to protect them), likely had to do with the need to brush under the rug the real pictures of corruption, sex trade, and human trafficking revealed by the dialogues and attitudes of many of these lower level ACORN employees, who were mostly just being sympathetic and trying to help.

You can follow the links given here and compare the edited videos with descriptions of the full-length videos in the CAAG’s report and its attachmentfile, to reach your own conclusions.


Credit:  The following article contained many links which proved helpful in the research of this article.


Maggie Zhou received her PhD in genetics from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1997, and worked as a computational biologist for a number of years.  She is currently an independent seeker of truth.

No comments:

Post a Comment