Monday, October 5, 2009

ACORN videographer has been pimping race issues for years

By Kathleen Miller

Major news outlets have retracted parts of stories suggesting that ACORN 'pimp' film-maker James O'Keefe was racially motivated in his pursuit of the nonprofit group that focuses on helping minorities, but a Raw Story review of O'Keefe's earlier efforts shows the conservative operative has never been afraid to provoke racial discussions.

The ACORN films created by O'Keefe and his partner Hannah Giles, who played the role of a prostitute, appeared to show ACORN employees in five cities providing guidance on how to avoid detection from tax authorities and law enforcement on income from prostitution. After the release of the videos last month, the U.S. Census cut all ties to ACORN, the House of Representatives voted 345-75 to deny all federal funds to the group and the Senate voted to eliminate ACORN's access to housing and community grant funding.

Since then, O'Keefe has conducted few interviews, leaving many curious about what led him to target ACORN for investigation. While some of those who know O'Keefe say he enjoys exposing illegal activity in leftist organizations, ACORN officials and others have wondered if race was a motivating factor since the group largely serves minority communities.

O'Keefe himself told The Washington Post the day he agreed to work with Giles on the undercover project he was "upset" after watching online videos of ACORN employees busting through locks on foreclosed homes.

Morton Blackwell, the president of the conservative Leadership Institute in Northern Virginia that once employed O'Keefe, told The Star-Ledger that the Rutgers grad "wanted to go out and catch leftists breaking the law."

"His opinion was -- and it's certainly been borne out -- that there is an enormous amount of scandalous and illegal things going on that they were getting away with," Blackwell told the paper.

But ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis, who authorized the firings of several employees implicated in O'Keefe's videos, brought race into the debate over the videos during an interview with C-SPAN.

"I do think it is disturbing, however, that if you want to go undercover, to come into an organization that 99 percent is black and brown people that you would think to dress up as a pimp and a prostitute and sort of bully your way into these offices," Lewis said. "I think that says a little bit about what Mr. O'Keefe thinks that a black and brown organization would go for."

A Raw Story review of O'Keefe's earlier work suggests he certainly doesn't shy away from race issues: A younger O'Keefe once held an "affirmative action bake sale" where he and other organizers sold baked goods for different prices based on the purchaser's race. In other satirical stunts, he held meetings with Rutgers University officials asking them to ban Lucky Charms because he felt their symbols discriminated against Irish-Americans and made phone calls to Planned Parenthood asking them if he could donate money as long as it only went to abort black babies. After the conservative newspaper he founded at Rutgers University fired its faculty adviser, O'Keefe wrote in The Centurion that the former adviser had accused the publication of promoting "white hysteria."

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