James O’Keefe, the founder of Project Veritas, was a featured speaker at an event on Sunday in Greenwich.
Project Veritas is known for their controversial hidden-camera operations that typically target liberal politicians and nonprofits, as well as news organizations including CNN and NPR.
Mr. O’Keefe’s visit was part of a tour promoting his recently published book, American Muckraker.
He described a muckraker as one who makes public disclosures that powerful people want kept private.
“It’s something I wrote so that one day it could be taught in journalism schools,” he explained to the crowd in Greenwich on Sunday. “It’s about how to be a journalist. It talks about all things related to journalism – undercover work.”
O’Keefe’s Project Veritas is familiar for a history of sting operations recording people saying things they might not want published front page, above-the-fold – much less shared on YouTube or Twitter.
According to their website, the organization follows the one-party consent rule. “We do not break the law. We maintain one-party consent when recording someone is inherently moral and ethical.”
The one-party consent rule means any one party to a conversation can consent to its recording. But states also have their own laws. Some follow the one-party consent rule, others require the one doing the recording get the consent of all parties in a conversation before recording it.
Memorable targets of Project Veritas have included the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, “ACORN,” in 2009, Planned Parenthood in 2008, and CNN in 2017.
Mr. O’Keefe on Sunday described in detail his early morning arrest in November 2021 by federal agents at his home in Mamaroneck, which was part of an investigation into the reported theft of a diary belonging to Ashley Biden, President Joe Biden’s daughter.
“When you haven’t broken the law, and the Dept of Justice – they’re not going after the guys on Wall St or voter fraud – they’re going after journalists and moms for speaking your conscience,” he said. “If you care about justice, it affects you. It’s traumatizing.”
At the end of O’Keefe’s visit he said his group would have a surprise on Tuesday. Indeed, on Tuesday Project Veritas published video of the New York Times‘ journalist Matthew Rosenberg privately complaining to a woman in a bar, who turned out to be an undercover Project Veritas reporter, about what in his opinion was the left’s exaggerations of the danger of Jan 6 attack on the capital.
Sunday’s event was promoted through the Greenwich Patriots daily e-blast and on their website. On Eventbrite, Arch Street Teen Center was indicated as the event location, and instructions were to park across the street in the commuter lot.
A basic ticket including processing fee was $17.55. Holders of VIP tickets received a copy of O’Keefe’s book and an opportunity for an autograph.
A few days before the event, ticket holders received emails from Eventbrite saying the event had a new venue that would be announced Sunday morning.
On Sunday morning, Eventbrite notified ticket holders the venue would be the Delamar Hotel.
The two hour event – with 150 filled seats and standing room for 50 – featured a warm-up and introduction by Dominic Rapini, a Republican seeking his party’s nomination to run for CT Secretary of State in the fall.
Mr. Rapini alluded to the change in venue.
“The woke Greenwich mob who loves to stifle our freedom of speech and any dissenting opinion thought they were chasing us out of the community center and chased us all the way to this beautiful hotel, the Delamar Hotel,” Rapini said.
Though the event had been advertised on the Greenwich Patriots website and daily e-blast, Jackie Homan said it was not a Patriots event, but rather had been organized by her and her friend George Skakel.
On Sunday night, she wrote in an email, “Today’s event was hosted, not for profit, but to help advance a conversation about journalism that many people were eager to hear, especially in an era of fake news.”
She said the entry fees paid for the hotel, technology and books. They also hired four Greenwich Police officers to work the event.
“Fortunately, we broke even, thanks to several generous donors who were kind enough to help cover the unexpected, additional cost incurred by the last-minute switch,” she added.
Asked about the change in venue she said, “I would encourage you to reach out to Scott Frantz and Kyle (Silver) at the Teen Center for an explanation of why they cancelled my reservation a week before the event.”
Reached by phone this week, Icy Frantz, co-chair of the Teen Center board, said she hadn’t attended the event, but explained the reason for the decision.
“We got some push back prior to hosting the James O’Keefe event,” she said. “And there was controversy over Dr. Scott Atlas.”
“I felt that what we were signing on for was political back-and-forth we didn’t want to be in,” she added. “To stay away from the controversy, we approached the group and said we don’t want to be a part of it. We had gotten aggressive emails and there was back-and-forth on social media.”
Mark Kordick reached out on Tuesday to say he had voiced concerns about the event being held in the town-owned building.
Kordick, a member of the RTM in district 9, said he reached out to Ms Frantz after one of his constituents had brought the James O’Keefe and the Dr. Atlas events to his attention.
Dr. Atlas had been a special Covid advisor to President Trump. That event was moderated by State Rep Kimberly Fiorello (R-149).
Kordick asked whether Sunday’s event was for-profit, and questioned the appearance of a ‘criminal,’ a reference to O’Keefe’s having pleaded guilty to entering real property belonging to the United States under false pretenses.
On Tuesday, Kordick wrote, “The Board of Selectmen should order a complete examination of all the privately arranged events that have occurred at the Teen Center to gain a thorough understanding of why they were permitted, whether or not they violated the Teen Center’s lease and how much money was generated under these ‘sweetheart deals’ to sublet a Town-owned event space.”
Further, he said, “To the extent past events at the Teen Center have been political in nature, someone in Town government should also be checking to ensure no campaign finance laws were violated.”
Ms Frantz explained that while the lease may be just $1.00, the Teen Center receives no money from the Town or Greenwich United Way, and significant expenses are entirely privately funded.
“It’s a large space,” she said. “A lot falls on the board for donations.”
She noted that for two years Neighbor to Neighbor had use of the building during the pandemic for their food donation and delivery operation.
“That was awesome, but we still had to pay insurance and upkeep, utilities and salary for the director,” she said, adding that renting the building on Sundays and other times it is not scheduled for teen events defrays expenses.
The Arch Street Teen Center is the longest running teen center in the US, and Frantz said she was proud of that record and the work the non-profit does.
The teen events, which are repopulating the calendar after the two year pandemic and a false start in the fall, include far more than the dances many people associate with the organization. There is yoga, hip-hop dance, after school homework sessions, ping-pong, and a recording studio.
She acknowledged that indeed the facility has been rented for bar mitzvahs and birthday parties, but also to countless non profit groups, including Offbeat Players, Boys & Girls Club, Kids in Crisis, the Teen Stress and Success speaker series, including one featuring Scooter Braun.
“We just had Darby Fox and the Boys & Girls Club for an event about the psychological impact of Covid on teens. There was one night for parents and one for teens. That goes toward our purpose and mission.”
Other groups who use the building include the Greenwich Alliance for Education for their Turkey Trot, the Greenwich Food + Wine Festival and the Greenwich Town Party.
There are plans to host a Greenwich Together (formerly the Greenwich Prevention Council) event and a Big Brothers, Big Sisters event.
As for the question about political events and their non-profit status, she said both parties in town have rented the building in the past, though the Democratic party has not rented it recently.
“I want people from different political parties to come in,” she said. “We’re not about controversy.”
“We’re a facility maintained and run for the teens. They come first, but also, second, for our community – whether it’s Neighbor to Neighbor, or a group who wants to do a bar mitzvah or a birthday party.”
“We’re going to take every event as they come and completely vet them,” she continued. “We’re going to be more careful. Maybe it was naïve.”
“Maybe this cemented to us that we don’t want to be in this area of controversy. That’s not what Arch Street wants to be around. We don’t want to be part of that division.”
“It’s made us look inward and ask what do we want to be. We want to unite, bring people together and that’s what we do well.”