Conservative provocateur James O’Keefe allegedly instructed an undercover operative to goad Black Lives Matter protesters with statements like “I wish I could just kill some of these cops,” according to one of his ex-employees.
Richard Valdes, the former director of special operations for O’Keefe’s organization Project Veritas, told TPM on Thursday that the guerrilla filmmaker wanted an undercover operative to infiltrate a rally held by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in mid-January. At the time, Black Lives Matter demonstrators were still taking to the streets of New York City to protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict an NYPD officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
Valdes said O’Keefe dictated a script to him and then told him to email it to the operative for use at the rally. Here’s the full text of that script, according to emails provided to TPM by Valdes’ attorney:
As a minority and a Muslim, I know what it’s like when the police treat me unfairly. They have even searched my little daughter’s body. Can you believe that? Do you know what it’s like to have your rights violated because of the color of your skin or because of your name? -PAUSE-
Sometimes, I wish I could just kill some of these cops. Don’t you just wish we could have one of the cops right here in the middle of our group? -PAUSE-
What would you do if we could get Officer Pantoleo (who killed Eric Garner) right here in this crowd? What would you do to him?
In a Jan. 9 email addressed to Valdes, O’Keefe, and other top Project Veritas employees, the undercover operative, Mohammed Alhomsi, apparently declined to carry out the assignment. The email cited both legal concerns and concerns about the language of the script in turning down the project. That email was among those provided to TPM by Valdes’s attorney.
“I will not be able to say anything that’s not the truth to the best of my knowledge. Especially when it comes to the way I was treated as a Muslim in the United States,” Alhomsi wrote, according to a copy of the email. “And I will not say words that will jeopardize my entity, especially when they involve an illegal act of murdering police.”
Valdes then reminded Alhomsi that the assignment wasn’t different from previous projects where the operative had put on a ruse. But he didn’t press the issue further, writing that “we respect your position and don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”
“It struck a nerve with me as well,” Valdes told TPM. “I have two brothers that are retired NYPD. Myself, I served as a volunteer police officer in Essex County, N.J. I understood it, and I was told, ‘Just make it happen.’ I refused.”
For that, Valdes said, he was called into O’Keefe’s office a half hour later and fired from the organization. As the New York Post first reported, Valdes is now planning to sue Project Veritas and O’Keefe for wrongful termination.
“The best that I can do is deduce from the facts of what happened that this is just retaliation towards me for not toeing the James O’Keefe line,” Valdes told TPM.
It wouldn’t be the first time a former Project Veritas employee has taken legal action against O’Keefe. The organization’s former executive director, Dan Francisco, sued Project Veritas and O’Keefe in January 2014 for wrongful termination and defamation, respectively.
In his suit, Francisco alleged that Project Veritas failed to pay him for his final week of employment. Valdes told TPM that he wasn’t paid for his last week of work at Project Veritas, either.
TPM reached out to O’Keefe on Thursday for comment on Valdes’ version of events and on the supposed language in the undercover operative’s script. O’Keefe passed the inquiry on to a spokesman.
“We can confirm that Rich Valdes is a former employee but beyond that we do not publicly discuss employment related matters,” spokesman Daniel Pollock wrote to TPM on Thursday in an email. “As to the alleged emails, we do not comment on past, present or future real, or imagined, investigations.”
That statement differed from what Pollock told the New York Post.
“Project Veritas would never do anything that we believe would incite violence against police officers. Anyone suggesting otherwise is clearly unfamiliar with our body of work,” Pollock told the newspaper.
Valdes said he believed that O’Keefe’s feathers may have been ruffled when Alhomsi wrote that that he wanted a written record of his and the Project Veritas employees’ conversations on the assignment.
“I think it made James pretty nervous,” he told TPM.
Alhomsi did not respond to a request for comment from TPM.
Prior to joining Project Veritas in early 2014, Valdes worked in community outreach and marketing for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) administration and as a political writer for The Washington Times, according to his LinkedIn page.
Valdes told TPM that he thought O’Keefe’s work had been getting more news-oriented in his time with the organization, but he suggested the planned stunt with the protesters crossed a line.
“[Alhomsi] felt that what we were asking him to do was manipulating poor people — and on the phone, he emphasized poor black people — into saying something that would benefit James’ bottom line,” he told TPM. “That opened my eyes.”
“This story was more on the controversial side,” he later added. “Had it come out the way it was planned at that time, I think it would’ve been torn to shreds in the media and made the organization look less than credible.”