It's been nearly nine months.
Nearly nine months ago, I endured the worst day of my life. It was a day that I'll never forget due to the sheer shame and disgrace I was made to feel. I felt hopeless and helpless, knowing that my job, my career, and my life were all about to come under intense scrutiny. I was worried about my family and friends and how they would respond when they found out. I was worried about my co-workers, whom I had now put in an extremely difficult situation. I was worried about the work we were doing, which I had now seemingly jeopardized. And I was worried about my own personal safety as I was receiving numerous death threats on social media.
I was made to feel this way because of James O'Keefe and Project Veritas.
For three months, a member of O'Keefe's "citizen journalists" infiltrated the Hillary Clinton campaign in Palm Beach County, Florida. Going by the name of "Max Hunt," this embedded campaign volunteer secretly recorded me and other organizers while on the campaign trail. Project Veritas' goal was simple: to create the illusion that there was nefarious activity going on and to fire up their alt-right base with the idea that the Clinton campaign was cheating in order to win. O'Keefe sent staff to various swing states, ones that he knew Donald Trump would have to win in order to become president. This landed "Max" in Palm Beach County, the least blue of Florida's big three Democratic-leaning areas.
From mid-July through mid-October, Max would join me and other campaign volunteers out in the hot Florida sun primarily doing voter registration. We found our way to malls, concerts, tailgates, shopping centers, DMVs, schools, churches, festivals, and any other locales where large numbers of people would gather. By being legally identified as a third party organization engaged in voter registration in the state of Florida, we had an obligation to register people regardless of political affiliation and we were unable to coach them in any way. As for myself, I know I personally registered multiple Republican voters and I know that Max did as well. In fact, I specifically recall an instance when Max returned dismayed from the local shopping plaza after having registered two Republicans to which I responded, "That's okay. We register them, too."
The week of the Florida voter registration deadline was extremely chaotic. The campaign had set its highest goals to date and the last day before the deadline was expected to be an all-out blitz on voter registration. For me personally, I went to a high school in the morning, a college campus in the early afternoon, a strip mall in the late afternoon, and a shopping plaza in the evening in search of potential unregistered voters. It was at that shopping plaza where I got a call from Max, asking where I was. I told him my location and he promised to head to our campaign office to sign out voter registration forms and then would meet me there. I was excited to have one more team member to help me in our final push.
When Max arrived, I noticed a look of consternation on his face. I immediately associated this countenance with the impending voter registration deadline, but I came to find out that Max had something on his mind. He asked if he could discuss something with me and I nodded. I asked what was up and Max ended up breaking down and confessing that he had destroyed Republican voter registration forms in a fit of anger. My heart sank at this news because it was a clear violation of Florida Democratic Party policy and I knew it would have to be addressed with my superior. When Max asked if I would tell anyone right away I shook my head but told him it was very serious and it was something I would have to reflect upon before making a further decision. He nodded and looked downtrodden so I attempted to pick him up by thanking him for telling me and noting how it took courage to do what he did. I then left the shopping plaza to meet with an individual at his home to fill out a voter registration form, all while reeling from what Max had told me. While there, I received a text from Max saying he wanted to talk back at the office. This would be an ideal opportunity to have Max meet with my supervisor and tell him what he had told me. I agreed to this meeting and headed back to our campaign office.
While waiting at the office for Max, I went through the voter registration forms he had checked out for the evening. What struck me as odd was that there were no missing forms. Why would Max say he destroyed forms when he didn't? None of what happened made any sense. As I sat trying to figure this out, a gentleman came in our campaign office and asked to see me. He came to me and asked if I had a campaign volunteer named Max Hunt. I nodded. He then asked if it was Florida Democratic Party policy to destroy voter registration forms. I laughed at this wild accusation but then noticed the man was filming me with his cell phone. He identified himself as a Project Veritas employee and kept badgering me with accusations. At this point, I told him I had no comment and I asked one of our directors to escort the man out. I walked out to my car, voter registration forms in hand, and pulled out of the parking lot driving away but not knowing where I was going. I eventually pulled over two miles down the road in a dimly lit strip mall, breathing heavily and visibly shaken. I finally composed myself enough to call my director and later talked to our regional director about what had happened as well. My director assured me that nothing would come of it.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
Two days later I awoke to a number of Twitter notifications on my phone, which was odd because I hadn't posted anything over the past two days. What I saw were nearly two dozen messages from folks with the word "Deplorable" in their Twitter handles threatening me in various ways for "destroying Republican voter registration forms." I came to find out that Project Veritas had posted the video on its website, which had, in turn, unleashed its troll army my way. The video was conveniently edited to imply that it was common practice for the Florida Democratic Party to destroy Republican voter registration forms, as demonstrated by the secretly recorded video Max had taken of me two days earlier. As I was sitting at home, trying to figure out my next logical move, I received a call from my director, informing me that two members of the state team wanted to meet with me just after noon. I headed to the office, fully prepared to be finding a new line of work by the end of the day.
The next 12 hours were a complete tornado of trauma, courtesy of James O'Keefe and Project Veritas. To start with, I had to meet with two senior members of the Florida Democratic Party who were conducting an investigation as to what happened. Despite an inherent knowledge that I had done nothing wrong, I told the members that I would willingly resign if it was in the best interest of the campaign. I then had to sit in on a statewide call where the state director announced that the video had been published and that our campaign had been potentially compromised. Sitting in a small, crowded room I saw each and every member of the campaign team looking absolutely downtrodden when they learned what had happened. It was because of me that the campaign was now in jeopardy.
As if that wasn't bad enough, I then had to be moved to a secure location. I couldn't engage in any voter registration. I was forbidden to contact any of my campaign volunteers. My fellow organizers were only a few miles away, but if felt like light years. My director was hurriedly in the process of writing up a formal report of the incident. I was ashamed and embarrassed to reach out to my friends and family. I literally had nobody to talk to during a campaign that required constant communication.
The next day I was allowed to return to the campaign office but I still could not engage in any campaign activity. I felt like a pariah knowing I had let down each and every person in that office and had potentially hurt our candidate's chances of winning the state of Florida, and, in turn, the election. I still could not contact volunteers nor engage in any canvassing activities. I was a shell of my former self, drifting through the day feeling depressed and despondent. I had nobody on the campaign I could talk to and nobody outside of the campaign would understand what I was going through. I was in a political no-man's-land, having no clear objective as well as no certain future. All I could do was wait and hope that I could still remain part of the campaign.
Finally, on the third day, I was called into the office with the two members of senior staff and was told that I would be allowed to retain my position as it was determined I had, in fact, done nothing wrong. However, I would have to sign a document assuring that I would not handle any new voter registration forms in light of the extended voter registration deadline that had been granted in the state. As much as this stung to do, I knew it would be in the best interest of the campaign to sign the document so I did so. Despite everything that had happened, one of the senior members of the staff thanked me for my work and was gracious enough to state that he believed I would do great things for the progressive movement.
But the drama did not end there. James O'Keefe had successfully incited his followers and, because of this, our office would receive a steady string of protestors over the next two weeks. Because these protestors were potentially aggressive, we were forced to hire round-the-clock security personnel to prevent any potential altercations. Despite a police presence, there was still an incident where an enraged Trump supporter barged into our office and attempted to rip up a MUSLIMS FOR HILLARY placard that was in our collection. For me personally, I was forced to suspend my Twitter account due to the continuing threats and I also received obscene messages on my Facebook account, my cell phone, and even my parents' home phone number. When my parents asked what the crude message was about I told them it was probably some drunk friend not realizing he had called the house phone by mistake. I also had to avoid any media when they conducted interviews in our office for fear of being identified and then having O'Keefe's followers learn that I was still working on the campaign. This was still two weeks out from the election and I did not want to give these folks any additional fodder that might hurt the campaign.
The controversy died down over the last two weeks, but it still affected me in ways in which I may never be able to recover. After the election, my car window was mysteriously smashed, and I have no idea how or why it happened. When applying for jobs, I knew that any potential employer searching for my name would see the phrase "Voter Fraud" associated with it. I also had to decide if I wanted to pursue legal action against Project Veritas. I officially filed a police report after the election, describing the death threats I had received as a result of the video being posted. I consulted multiple attorneys and went as far as nearly agreeing to accept a contingency fee with a Florida-based lawyer who was willing to take on the case. But in the end, I simply could not agree to go after Project Veritas through legal recourse.
Because this is what they do and who they are. They are the group that lied and defamed ACORN, causing the group to become defunded simply because they had the audacity to register poor voters of color. They tried to illegally wiretap Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu simply because she had the audacity to be a Democratic senator in a red state fighting to support the Affordable Care Act. And they had the audacity to go after the Florida Democratic Party because we, along with other progressive groups in Florida, managed to out-register Republican groups by an absurd 8:1 margin. They do all this because they know that demographics in this country are not in Republicans' favor and unless they keep "those people" from voting, then the Republican Party in its current iteration will cease to exist within a generation.
Project Veritas is the living, breathing definition of fake news. Anytime there is a progressive group or individual doing good in this world, Project Veritas will search for ways to bring them down. If they can't, they'll resort to manipulative video editing that tells the kind of story their audience wants to hear regardless of the truth. Like Donald Trump, they will openly defy the law, daring those to challenge them. Like Donald Trump, they will face legal challenges by simply lawyering up and forcing the matter to be tied up in court, draining any potential plaintiff's resources. And like Donald Trump, they will eventually cave and settle but will force the plaintiff to sign a nondisclosure agreement thereby absolving themselves from any public knowledge of their manipulative and often illegal practices.
At this point Project Veritas no longer tries to hide their true intentions. As a "non-partisan" non-profit, the group's mission statement says it will "Investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions in order to achieve a more ethical and transparent society." Yet every group or organization Project Veritas goes after inevitably has Democratic leanings. They claim to be concerned with voting rights, yet refuse to investigate a state like Wisconsin that had 200,000 citizens who were unable to attain a valid ID for this past election. They claim to be concerned with violent protests, yet refuse to investigate the newly emerging neo-Nazi movement in this country. They claim to be concerned with media bias, yet openly target only CNN whom they, like the President, see as the chief purveyor of "fake news." Project Veritas is as right-wing as they come and the fact that they continue to hold 501(c)3 status should trouble any concerned citizen who cares about journalistic integrity.
So I'm here to tell my story. I survived Project Veritas' personal attack, scarred and bloody. But this story is bigger than me. It's a story about the soul of this country. How many people's lives does Project Veritas have to ruin before someone steps in and does something to stop them? How many nonprofits do they have to shut down because they're registering low-income voters of color? How many CNN reporters do they have to claim as being representative of the entire network before they erode public trust in our free and open press? How many families of young organizers do they have to put in danger because that organizer just so happens to be working for a Democratic candidate? Because unless people in this country step up and say that the kind of guerrilla journalism that Project Veritas is doing is not acceptable, they will continue to engage in it, with zero repercussions for what they do.
And they will ruin this great country in the process.
It's been nearly nine months.