Many of the conservatives who gleefully promoted James O’Keefe’s past political stunts are feigning shock at his arrest on charges that he and three associates planned to tamper with Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s phone lines. Once upon a time, right-wing pundits hailed the 25-year-old O’Keefe as a creative genius and model of journalistic ethics. Andrew Breitbart, who has paid O’Keefe, called him one of the all-time “great journalists” and said he deserved a Pulitzer for his undercover ACORN video. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly declared he should have earned a “congressional medal.”
His right-wing admirers don’t seem to mind that O’Keefe’s short but storied career has been defined by a series of political stunts shot through with racial resentment. Now an activist organization that monitors hate groups has produced a photo of O’Keefe at a 2006 conference on “Race and Conservatism” that featured leading white nationalists. The photo, first published Jan. 30 on the Web site of the anti-racism group One People’s Project, shows O’Keefe at the gathering, which was so controversial even the ultra-right Leadership Institute, which employed O’Keefe at the time, withdrew its backing. But O’Keefe and fellow young conservative provocateur Marcus Epstein soldiered on to give anti-Semites, professional racists and proponents of Aryanism an opportunity to share their grievances and plans to make inroads in the GOP.
According to One People’s Project founder Daryle Jenkins, O’Keefe was manning the literature table at the gathering that brought together anti-Semites, professional racists and proponents of Aryanism. OPP covered the event at the time, sending a freelance photographer to document the gathering. Jenkins told me the table was filled with tracts from the white supremacist right, including two pseudo-academic publications that have called blacks and Latinos genetically inferior to whites: American Renaissance and the Occidental Quarterly. The leading speaker was Jared Taylor, founder of the white nationalist group American Renaissance. “We can say for certain that James O’Keefe was at the 2006 meeting with Jared Taylor. He has absolutely no way of denying that,” Jenkins said. O’Keefe’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment on his client’s role in the conference.
O’Keefe’s racial issues can be seen in many of his prior stunts, of course. The notorious ACORN videos highlighted images of himself dressed as a pimp, deceptively edited through hidden camera footage as he baited African-American office workers into making statements that could be perceived as incriminating. There were also lesser-known but equally inflammatory spectacles like the “affirmative action bake sale” O’Keefe and his conservative comrades held when they were students at Rutgers University. During the event, O’Keefe stood at a table in the center of campus offering baked goods at reduced prices to Latinos and African-Americans while whites were forced to pay exorbitant amounts. (Native Americans, he announced, would eat free.)