Project Veritas is “a multi-million dollar non-profit P.R. machine to promote the James O'Keefe brand,” according to a former employee who says he was fired after he refused to force a colleague to incite protesters into making violent anti-police comments.
Rich Valdes worked for O'Keefe's Project Veritas from February 2014 to January 2015. A New York Post article this week reported that “former top staffer” Valdes says he was fired from the organization for “being unwilling to strong-arm” another Veritas operative into attending a January anti-police brutality event organized by Al Sharpton's National Action Network. The Post reported that the operative's would-be assignment included telling protestors things like, “I wish I could kill some of these cops,” to elicit shocking reactions.
Valdes expanded on the incident that he says led to his dismissal in an interview with Media Matters.
Valdes said O'Keefe wanted him to send the other activist, whom Valdes describes as a “Muslim operative,” to a January National Action Network event related to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after being put in a chokehold by a New York police officer in July 2014.
“In this particular situation, James came to my desk and asked me to send this particular operative into the field,” Valdes recalls about the incident, which he says took place in the organization's Mamaroneck, N.Y., offices. “And he was really anxious and he said, 'do whatever it takes, do whatever it takes, tell him to say whatever he's got to say, get me the content.' Content is king.”
Media Matters has reached out to the operative for comment, with no response yet. O'Keefe referred questions to a Project Veritas spokesman who confirmed Valdes' past employment, but declined to comment on the controversy or specific details of his work.
“He gave me some examples ... about saying he was a Muslim and kind of commiserating with the folks,” Valdes told Media Matters about O'Keefe's pressure. “He tells me, 'tell your guy [to say to others] that, you know, that he had a kid and that he's a Muslim and you don't know what it's like to get stopped by the cops because they think you're a terrorist and they want to search your kid, and that I wish I could have a cop here now.' So as he's saying this at my desk, I'm writing it down.”
Valdes said he emailed the operative with the request; he provided Media Matters with copies of the emails.
“He responded very quickly saying that he didn't want to do it, he didn't think it was legal, this, that and the other thing,” Valdes recalled about the operative's reaction. “I had a discussion with our producer and with James and the consensus was, 'see what you can do, get him to do it.'”
Valdes said he sent another email and tried to convince the operative “that this is not very different from what you've done in the past, you've posed as someone you weren't in the past to get some undercover response from some people.” But he said the man “thought it was really different and he felt it was illegal to talk about killing cops. I myself understood.”
According to Valdes, the colleague also took issue with the assignment because he felt it was intellectually dishonest.
“This particular situation, he made the case that in the past when we were out there, we were just exposing stuff that was already going on, he felt the difference with this ... he felt that what we were trying to achieve, or what James was asking him to do, was to kind of dupe people into saying something they would not ordinarily say and he took exception to that, and of course I respected that.”
Valdes said he was told by O'Keefe to try again a third time.
“I decided not to and I did email [the operative] back and I said, 'I don't want you to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, I respect your opinion and I understand.'”
According to Valdes, after finding out that Valdes had backed down, O'Keefe called him into his office with another Project Veritas executive. “They said, 'we've decided we're going to be terminating your job here at Project Veritas.'”
When Valdes asked why, they said, “we really cannot get into it.”
To top it off, Valdes claims he still has yet to receive his final paycheck that amounts to “several thousand dollars.” “For an organization that raises millions of dollars a year, I find it very distasteful,” he said about the fight over his final check, which he believes will go to court.
Valdes' attorney, Arthur Schwartz, is also reviewing a possible wrongful termination lawsuit.
In addition to detailing the incident that allegedly led to his dismissal, Valdes also had harsh words for Project Veritas, suggesting the organization is less concerned with news and more focused on inflating O'Keefe's standing among conservative media.
“Each story that goes out is designed to push him further ahead as a leader in conservative media,” Valdes said. “I think it's questionable if you purport yourself to be a news outlet and you are nothing more than a P.R. machine. That's something I have learned in my time there.”
Valdes said he had no animosity toward O'Keefe prior to his dismissal and said he believed he has done good work. But asked if he would work with him again, Valdes said: “At this point, no, only because of the personal differences. Him being able to raise as much money as he does because of the earned media that he achieves from the content that Project Veritas creates and not being forthright with me and agreeing to pay me what's owed, I just think it's not the best business practice.”