The comedian and prankster Sacha Baron Cohen appears to have duped a right-wing group this weekend, leading to a racist sing-along that got some in the crowd chanting lines such as “sushi eaters, what’re we gonna do? Inject them with the Wuhan flu.”
Backed by a five-piece band, a man in lumpy overalls and a European accent goaded the Olympia, WA crowd into a call-and-response number. Witnesses suggested the man was Cohen.
“Journalists, what’re we gonna do? Chop ’em up like the Saudis do!” he sang. “Chop ’em up like the Saudis do,” the crowd, eventually, responded.
Organizers of “March For Our Rights 3.0” — which was meant to be a rally for gun rights and other right-wing causes — say they broke through the security team surrounding the stage and chased the singer off. He was whisked away in an ambulance, they said.
“We got catfished,” one event organizer, libertarian statehouse candidate Allen Acosta, told attendees Saturday after seemingly-Baron-Cohen and his crew left the scene.
Acosta said he was a combat veteran and a naturalized immigrant. “The enemy’s bullets would have been kinder,” he said of “Borat’s” stunt, after the smoke had cleared.
“It’s sad, it’s unfortunate that some people chanted back,” another organizer, Matt Marshall, told NPR.
Marshall, a member of a local school board and contender for a state House seat, founded the armed group Washington Three Percent, part of a larger nationwide “three percent” anti-government movement whose adherents have shown up armed at Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks.
According to organizers, the phony act hid behind a well-heeled (and seemingly fake) political group called “Back to Work USA” that dumped money into the event, paying for everything from a stage rental to porta potties to dozens of security personnel.
“I mean, they played the game,” Marshall told NPR of the group. “We talked to them about how frustrating it was to be labeled racist, and they agreed with us. Like, we really let the guard down and trusted them.”
The prank performance was inserted into the line-up at the last minute, Marshall told NPR. He didn’t have time to vet the group he said — and besides, the deep-pocked “Back to Work USA” had successfully booked other acts, most notably singer Larry Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers.
A press release for “Back to Work USA” says it objects to stay-at-home orders and identifies it as a “a pro-business, pro-Trump, pro-individual rights, and anti-government overreach group.”
But when the last-minute act took to the stage, Marshall told NPR, it was “a guy that’s like wearing almost a clown suit of red, white and blue gets up there.”
“Obvious disguise,” he added. “Like a fake nose and chin. And he starts playing and the first thought when you hear his voice is, ‘Dude, is this like a bad impression of Borat?'”
Eventually, some in the crowd began to object to the performance. A man with a megaphone began yelling about his grandfather, who he said was a Holocaust survivor. “We’ve got antifa here,” the singer said of the people protesting his show.
“We had about 50 security protecting our artists up here today. Those security turned on us when that song turned racist,” Marshall told the crowd after the band fled the stage. “They wouldn’t let us in. They wouldn’t let us cut the generator. We had to forcefully push our way by them to clear the stage.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Baron Cohen pulled off a stunt like this: For his 2006 film “Borat,” in which he performed undercover as a Kazakh journalist, Baron Cohen led a crowded Arizona bar in the chorus line, “throw the Jew down the well!”
An ambulance on the scene on Saturday, from the company American Medical Response, apparently whisked Cohen and some of his crew away after the crowd started to turn, video shows.
In a statement, the company said they weren’t in on the hoax, and that “[a]t one point, four men opened the back door to the ambulance and jumped in. The onsite security guard contact advised our crew that there was an emergency and we needed to leave immediately.”
Washington State Police helped the ambulance leave the scene, AMR said.
“Subsequently, we became aware of reports that an actor was conducting a hoax at the rally. Apparently, his hoax incited members of the crowd to the point he sought to flee the rally in our ambulance, claiming to have an emergency,” they added. “AMR leaders are working with local law enforcement to investigate these acts, including whether criminal laws were violated by fraudulently obtaining AMR’s services.”