American Family Voices, a progressive political consultancy in Washington, D.C. with strong ties to the Democratic Party, has released a ten-minute YouTube video that claims to show operatives affiliated with President-elect Donald Trump attempting to frame progressives for inciting violence at next week’s presidential inauguration.
The new video, branded as a production of American Family Voices’ investigative program, “The Undercurrent,” contains blurry footage allegedly filmed last week at a local restaurant, in which a blonde woman can be seen in conversation with a man identified as Ryan Clayton, head of an anti-Trump group, Americans Take Action.
“The Undercurrent” presenter Lauren Windsor identifies the woman seen in the video as Allison Maass, a political operative affiliated with a right-wing group, Project Veritas. Maass was caught last year using numerous aliases to try to infiltrate Democratic campaigns, including those of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and former Democratic senator from Wisconsin Russ Feingold.
The video footage is filmed from above the restaurant table, apparently from a camera concealed somewhere in the ceiling or in a light. It is too blurry for viewers to see the woman’s face, or to know if the audio we hear is what was originally in the video.
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According to Windsor, Maass used the alias “Allison Brandt” and represented herself as an employee of a sham political consultancy, Breakthrough Development Group. “Brandt” approached left-leaning groups who would accept payments of between $50,000 to $500,000 to cause chaos during inauguration events, with the goal of inciting violence from Trump supporters and hijacking media narratives surrounding the campaign.
“I’ll give you $100,000 to shut down a bridge, incite a riot, and make sure that we hack the media narrative on inauguration,” says Clayton in the footage, reiterating what he seems to believe Maass is asking his group to do in exchange for large payments from a “Mr. Simon,” the shadowy donor that “Brandt” claims to represent.
What ensues is a sting and counter-sting stand-off, with each operative attempting to prod the other into making incriminating statements.
“Mr. Simon says you know, ‘It’s cool to shut down bridges’ and you know, ‘It’s cool that Trump people riot in response to what we’re doing,'” the man identified as Clayton appears to say.
The woman identified as Maass appears to respond: “You want him to say that? Is that something that if we’re willing to do that, would you do that? Would you guys say yes?”
Windsor uses that footage, along with an email sent to her group by “Brandt,” to fashion a theory linking Maass to a “Republican dirty tricks campaign run amok” reaching to the highest level of the party.
“It’s clear that Project Veritas wants to concoct evidence to ‘prove’ that progressives are inciting violence against Trump supporters,” says Windsor in “The Undercurrent” video. “You just saw their operative conspire to incite violence at the inauguration. And we saw the very same operative try to frame progressive organizers for supposedly inciting violence at campaign rallies last year. It’s obvious that O’Keefe’s ‘investigations’ are nothing more than surgically targeted political hit jobs.”
Windsor concludes her video by asking, “How much did Donald Trump know and when did he know it?”
Certainly, many of the players mentioned by Windsor have deep ties to the Trump team, if not to the Republican Party itself.
Windsor says that Maass’ efforts during 2016 were part of the “sting” videos made by disgraced right-wing activist, James O’Keefe, which he released last October. Those videos were deceptively spliced in an effort to portray Democratic operatives plotting ways to incite violence at Trump campaign rallies.
O’Keefe’s group also targeted her organization as part of that project, Windsor says in the video.
“In September of last year, colleagues in my own office were targeted by Maass and O’Keefe in an elaborate and very expensive plot to portray everyday political campaign work as sinister criminal activity, and to gain intelligence on the inner working of the Clinton presidential campaign, ” she says.
Trump referred to O’Keefe’s videos approvingly during the final presidential debate against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Windsor’s video notes that O’Keefe was invited to that debate as Trump’s personal guest. Her film also includes footage of Donald Trump Jr. after that debate, in which O’Keefe can be seen walking close by. Trump Jr. appears to say of O’Keefe: “He did a great job and I think he’s doing the American people a great service.”
O’Keefe is a controversial figure whose past videos have resulted in a criminal conviction. His attacks on groups such as ACORN and Planned Parenthood have been conclusively discredited, and a California judge ordered O’Keefe to pay $100,000 in compensation to one of the people whose actions and words he distorted in a film that was widely replayed.
Nevertheless, O’Keefe’s actions have had devastating results for his targets.
ACORN collapsed in 2010, a year after O’Keefe released the bogus videos in which he falsely accused the group of criminal conduct. The organization, which for 40 years had provided assistance to low- and moderate-income people and worked on voter registration, filed for bankruptcy because private donations reportedly evaporated in the aftermath of the scandal manufactured by O’Keefe.
O’Keefe has spawned copycat operatives on the right. In particular, O’Keefe was an associate of David Daleiden, whose smear videos against Planned Parenthood have so far produced no evidence of wrongdoing, but have inflicted substantial political and financial cost on the organization, and have been blamed in part for the murders at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015.
He is also tied to Breitbart News, the media organization that became a bullhorn for Trump during the presidential election campaign.
O’Keefe was a protégé of Breitbart’s founder, conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, though even Breitbart ultimately disavowed O’Keefe’s unethical conduct.
Windsor points to several connections between Breitbart News, Project Veritas, and the Trump team.
First, Windsor says that a current Breitbart contributor participated in the most recent Project Veritas sting, which attempted to frame progressives for inciting violence during inauguration events.
She names Christian Hartsock, who is listed as a contributor on the Breitbart website, as the real person behind one of the aliases used by Project Veritas operatives.
Posing as “Steve Packard,” Hartsock presented himself as a political donor consultant for Breakthrough Development Group.
Windsor says the operation was “extensively covered” by Breitbart News, with multiple exclusives—suggesting that there was an especially close relationship between Breitbart News and the “sting” organizers.
Of course, Windsor notes that Trump’s chief strategist and senior adviser, Stephen Bannon, was plucked from his post as head of Breitbart News.
As for Project Veritas itself, Windsor refers to previous news media reports on the connections between Trump and the right-wing group:
Funding for Project Veritas is largely unknown, but we do know the outfit is supported by high-level Republican donors, some of whom used the Koch-connected Donors Trust to hide their role in funding O’Keefe’s operations from public view. Then there’s the Trump Foundation’s five figure donations to Veritas in 2015, and the full-throated support of O’Keefe by president-elect, Donald Trump himself.
Windsor’s thesis is clear: that Trump is potentially involved in fostering the narrative that progressives are inciting violence at inauguration events.
However, her video, like those she criticizes, is highly edited. The film is choppy, with obvious gaps in continuity that make it impossible for viewers to know what was really said, or by whom. The dinner appears to come to an end after Clayton insists that his group is committed to nonviolence, and with another individual apparently confronting Maass, who then declines to say anything further without a lawyer present, and says she is going to leave the dinner.
Windsor says she plans to release additional videos that expose Project Veritas’ operations and operatives.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the crime for which O’Keefe was convicted. He pled guilty to entering a federal building under false pretenses, a misdemeanor.