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Interview: James O'Keefe, the Special Forces of the Conservative Movement

BEGIN TRANSCRIPT

RUSH: I'm really proud to have our next guest, James O'Keefe is here.  His first book is out. It came out last week, it's called Breakthrough.  Mr. O'Keefe is an interesting character.  He has been a conservative all his life, but he always believed that it wasn't enough just to talk about them, just to tell people who they are.  He wanted to engage in operations or behavior that was being videotaped that forced them to actually be who they are, and that's what he did.  He believes that in taking on the left, it's not enough to call attention to 'em and act outraged and try to get other people mad about it.  What you have to do is get 'em to act out who they are because they hide who they are.  And so the book is out now.  The first question I want to ask you, James -- and, by the way, welcome to the program.  Great to have you here.

O'KEEFE:  Thank you so much, Rush.  Great to be with you.

RUSH:  Did you mention me in this book?

O'KEEFE:  I may have.  There's a lot of people mentioned.  I know you're such an inspiration, Andrew Breitbart.

RUSH:  Well, it would sell more if you had.  (laughing) 

O'KEEFE: (laughing)

RUSH: I had to say that.  I need to ask you, do you ever feel like -- because your work is well-known, particularly among this audience, with ACORN, Planned Parenthood, NPR, Eric Holder's ballot offered to a stranger, the son of Congressman Jim Moran resigning after encouraging double voting, that was all you.  But have you ever encountered people on our side who've let you down, who've said, "You know, James, you're putting too much pressure on us."  Have you had any people on our side ask you to tone it down?

O'KEEFE:  You know, Rush, one of the things you've said that really resonated with me is you said that our adversaries circle the wagons and our allies circle the firing squad.  I have come to know this over the last few years in a sort of baptism by fire.  People don't know this, when we did the pimp and prostitute videos on ACORN, we had spent our own money to do it, Hannah Giles and I did, and we went to Washington like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, trying to show members of the oversight committee. There's a chapter in this book, Breakthrough, where even Republicans threatened to arrest us if we didn't give them the footage exclusively.  And there are so many more stories in this book about trying to speak truth to power and trying to overcome obstacles, not just from the people you would think, from the government, from the media, from the federal judiciary, and even sometimes, yes, from allies.

RUSH:  Well, it doesn't surprise me.  Because some people are afraid to be -- well, they don't even want to appear to be argumentative, much less confrontational, and a guy like you acting as an independent contractor, so to speak, can make some people on our side nervous.  I'm sure it's a minority compared to the number of people who cheer you on.  At any time in any of your -- I don't want to call them stunts.  What they really are, in their own way they're works of art.  Have you ever felt personally threatened, in danger, during any of these?

O'KEEFE:  Well, yeah, I mean, to say I was in danger was an understatement.  The book starts out with me in federal jail.  We had a federal judge delete my videotapes and then charge me with a crime I didn't commit.  I was confined to my state where I live, New Jersey, for three years, three and a half years. The government would not let me travel without permission from a US attorney, a federal judge, and a probation officer, for a misdemeanor crime which I would argue I didn't even commit.  And I was audited once a month. I had to submit cash inflows and outflows to federal agents.  When I would release an investigation, they'd show up at my parents' house and ask my father, "What's your son doing? What's he doing next?"  We have faced the fire.  And I know that they are politicizing the First Amendment. I see the Department of Justice protecting the guy who bugged McConnell and calling him a journalist, and it is this politicizing of the First Amendment which threatens us.  Not just me, but everyone, all Americans, because if we lose this, if we lose the First Amendment, it's over.  And we have been on the front lines, and that's what my story is about.  It's about surviving them, and overcoming their obstacles and continuing to make a difference, despite everything they've thrown at us.

RUSH:  We're talking with James O'Keefe and his new book out last week called Breakthrough.  You might want to tell people about the very first mock investigation that you did at college.  It's revealing, but, you know, everybody's interested in how people get started, what it is that interests them. You obviously have an aptitude for this, you've had an inclination towards it, but what was the first mock investigation that you engaged in?

O'KEEFE:  Well, Rush, you had said when you first mentioned me after the ACORN videos, you pointed to Saul Alinsky, something in his Rules for Radicals, and it was make your adversaries live up to their own book of rules, bring out their absurdity.  So in college at Rutgers University, I'm 29 years old, when I was a junior at Rutgers in 2005 on St. Patrick's day, I walked into my dining hall and I brought a box of Lucky Charms, the breakfast cereal, and I said, "This box of Lucky Charms is racist against Irish people because there's a little leprechaun, a little green-cladded gnome. I myself am an Irish-American, we're not all short, we have our differences of height."  Rutgers University took my complaint seriously and said that they would remove Lucky Charms because it was in violation of their campus speech code.  So we demonstrated the absurdity of their own argument by using their arguments against them.

RUSH:  I love this.  You're a guy after my own heart.  You do what 60 Minutes used to do.  You just do it in a little bit more creative way. You do it from a different point of view, obviously.  Has anybody in the so-called regular, mainstream media ever praised you, ever welcomed you, ever given you an "attaboy" here or there?

O'KEEFE:  After Congressman Moran's son resigned (his field director was telling us how to vote multiple times in other people's names) you started to see a begrudging respect because of our results.  But let me just say that I have actually sued a journalist for defamation and gotten settlements, which is not an easy thing to do if you're a public figure. You have to prove actual malice.  I have actually gotten money from journalists for defaming me and then use that money to fund more investigations.  It's really incredible.  We've gotten front page retractions at the Washington Post. We've had hundreds of corrections printed on our stories.  And nobody in the mainstream media seems to view me as an ally, and my message is "I'm on the same page as you guys."  We're trying to be government accountability people.  There's a storied tradition of this kind of work going back to Mike Wallace.

RUSH:  But they're not today.  They're part of it all.  Now they're pushing the government agenda.  They're not calling into question anybody in power today.  Certainly not in the administration.  You're it, in doing it the way you're doing it.

O'KEEFE:  It's definitely a challenge, and I think that goes back to your point before about not wanting to shake things up. It is political.  A lot of it's shared politics and ambition and a pinch of fear.  I think it's also just their hands are tied.  There's forces of conformity and compliance in our society and ever since I was in college I was a disrupter.  You know, kind of in the spirit of, you know, some of these people back in Woodward and Bernstein and Alinsky, you have to be a disrupter, you have to go against the grain, and I don't see today's reporters wanting to fight with those in power.  They almost want to protect them for their source material.

RUSH:  Now, don't misunderstand this question, I'm not asking you to toot your horn. I'm asking for an actual self-assessment.  How much of an impact have you had, how successful have you been, and what is your objective in all this?

O'KEEFE:  Sure.  Well, Dave Weigel and Slate -- Slate is not necessarily one of the most friendly of publications to our mission -- had this to say.  Quote, "Project Veritas had more of an impact on the 2012 election than any other journalist," unquote.  And for example, our voter fraud exposes prompted six states to change their voter ID laws. It prompted resignations in the Organizing for America campaign.  It prompted offices to shut down because they were telling us to vote twice and forge ballots.  And it's the results.  We got no media coverage. No one in the mainstream media wanted to talk about this. 

But now we're getting results.  Laws are changing.  Just two weeks ago the Lifeline program, known as Obama phones, they fired all the workers we caught on tape telling us to sell the phones and get drugs and handbags, and they retrained all the workers.  So we're getting real tangible results.  And my vision is that if I just film -- we call it cinema verite, because we show a time slice of reality.  If I'm just filming 1%, or .1% of all the people out there with government -- imagine if I was filming 50% of them?  It's just a confidence interval.  Obviously there's hundreds of these people committing fraud and then we go to the top. We've established the low-level employees, but we go to the top of it and they have to take responsibility if we get enough instances.

RUSH:  James O'Keefe is our guest here.  He's the author of the new book Breakthrough.  He is the artist that videotapes the left without them knowing it as they act out who they really are.  Let me ask you about the ACORN business.  It's not just you. You have some associates that help you.  When I watch the ACORN stuff, if it were me in there, I wouldn't be able to keep a straight face.  How do you do it?  It is so outrageous, some of the stuff that you encounter, some of the stuff that you expose.  It is so outrageous.  And a related question: The more successful you are, the more of these you do, the more known you're going to be, and therefore the tougher I would think it's gonna be to be able to do what you do because they're gonna see you coming.

O'KEEFE:  Yeah, I mean, first of all, we're training a small army of guerrilla investigators.

RUSH:  Oh, yeah.

O'KEEFE:  But it starts with me.  When you laugh, you laugh in character. You're sitting there and they're saying, "Yeah, you know, you can claim the underage prostitutes as dependents on your tax forms," and you kinda laugh it out. You're in character. You're a prostitute and her boyfriend and you're just laughing.  But if they can confine me to my home state and harass my family -- and they won't be able to stop me that way -- I think donning some makeup, gaining some weight, having costumes, we'll do whatever it takes to keep going.

RUSH:  So you do want to keep going. This is your calling?

O'KEEFE:  This is the beginning.  I mean, my vision is to get more information out there.  Like I said, if I can film .01% of federal employees and they all get fired, imagine if I was taking cameras behind all closed doors. We are trying to tell you that if you are committing fraud, if you're abusing the system, if you're acting out absurdly then you're going to be the next unwilling Internet star, Internet sensation. (chuckles) If you look at some of our recent videos, you'll become famous, and that's our message: We want to clean up society, make it a more transparent and ethical place, have people behave more virtuously.  This is the only way I can foresee that happening.

RUSH:  Now, again, I don't mean this question to be an intrusion.  I'm more interested in how you are maintaining, sustaining, and growing.  How do you fund yourself?  How do you earn money doing it?

O'KEEFE:  It's a very unique business model.  Some people are doing it.  We basically crowdsource our funding using a charity.  We have thousands of people send us $20, $40, sometimes $10.  Honest to God, I actually paid for the ACORN videos and those NPR videos on my credit card because nobody... People thought I was crazy.  And after my unfortunate, unjust incarceration, nobody really wanted to support my efforts moving forward, so I actually just put it on my credit card and then I sent out some letters saying, "Hey, I've got this credit card debt, couple thousand dollars. Could you help me pay it off?" 

That's what we've been doing. We've been pleading. We've been begging. I'm not a natural fundraiser. That's not what I was born to do. It's just a means to an end of doing what I have to do. Alinsky wrote, "Tactics mean doing what you can with what you have," and so many people -- especially in the conservative movement -- wish they had all these resources.  This book is trying to inspire you: You already have the technology in your pocket. You have an iPhone. You have the clothes on your question back.  You don't need anything else to be effective.

RUSH:  James O'Keefe, author of Breakthrough.  This probably hasn't happened yet, has it?  Have you been approached by moneyed people on the left and offered something to stop?

O'KEEFE:  You know, that hasn't happened yet. (chuckling) I've been through a lot of, you know, the indictments and the prosecutions and the lawsuits, but I have kept a pretty... I've kept my head down. I've kept a pretty tight knit team. I'm sure that's gonna happen.

RUSH:  It will.

O'KEEFE:  But we're doing our best to vet people.

RUSH:  It will. As you become more effective, they'll either try to shut you down or, failing that, maybe try to co-opt you.  At any rate, it's great to have you here, and congratulations on this. You're doing something that really is unique, and unlike the guy who made the video that blew up the Middle East, you haven't been put in jail yet, and you have not been incarcerated without bail. So congratulations. You're ahead of the game.

O'KEEFE:  Yeah, that's good. When you read this book, by the end you'll stand up and cheer because you can't believe what you can overcome if you just focus on content, focus on the truth. You'll survive whatever they throw at you, and I know you understand that, and you've been through a lot, too.

RUSH:  Well, you know, James, a lot of people... I've been doing this 25 years, and over the 25 years issues are starting to repeat themselves now, and one of the things that you have is you're a young guy. You've got this early arrival energy and nobody's stopping you.  Don't ever lose that, whatever you do. There are people now that have been at this for so long that think victory is unachievable, and they're basically in a mode of, "Gosh, maybe just hold onto what we've got." 

And there are a lot of really depressed, frustrated people on our side, just average, ordinary Americans who don't think they got any leadership. The Republican Party's not advocating what they believe, not standing up for it. They're puzzled by it.  Somebody coming along and doing what you're doing inspires others, and I hope you keep it up. I hope you keep loving it, and I hope you continue to have a profound effect with it because it's great.  It really is.

O'KEEFE:  We will.  There's an old adage: There's no profit in social change. But, you know, there's a lot of profit in this rhetoric.  But, I mean, we get results. We're not gonna stop, never give up, never surrender.  No matter what they throw at me, it's obviously not enough. So they're gonna have to up their game a little bit.  I really am happy to have the supporters. I don't care how small you are. If you're sending us $5, you know, that's how we continue.  So thank you for all the grassroots people out there.  I could not have done it without you.

RUSH:  They love you.  Now, the title of the book is Breakthrough, right?

O'KEEFE:  It's Breakthrough: Our Guerrilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy, because it's up to ordinary people. We cannot rely upon politicians to do this.  It has to be you.  You can do it. You can make a difference.  I'm living proof that ordinary people can make a difference.

RUSH:  Is it available in traditional places, brick-and-mortar bookstores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble?

O'KEEFE:  Yeah, it's available in Barnes & Noble. They probably have it up in the corner up in their top floor. Obviously, it's on Amazon.  Breakthrough by James O'Keefe.  It's gotten all positive reviews from both sides of the spectrum.  It's really more of a thriller book. It's more like Gulliver's Travels than it is your typical political book.  It's a really exciting story.

RUSH:  Thanks for your time.  James O'Keefe, Breakthrough is the book.

BREAK TRANSCRIPT

RUSH:  James O'Keefe. Maybe a good description, a good analogy would be to compare him to the Special Forces of the conservative movement. He's infiltrating enemy lines and coming amongst them and getting them on videotape being who they are.  Therefore, no explanation is required. It isn't necessary to warn people and tell people, for example, what ACORN is.  O'Keefe made them show everybody what they do and who they are, what they're really all about.  The title of his book again is Breakthrough: Our Guerrilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy, by James O'Keefe.

END TRANSCRIPT

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