Four people were arrested on Monday trying to electronically bug the New Orleans' office of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu. Among the arrested was James O'Keefe, the filmmaker best known for the ACORN videos.
Four people were arrested on Monday trying
to bug telephones in the New Orleans’ office of Democratic Senator Mary
Landrieu. Among those arrested was James O’Keefe, the filmmaker best known for
the ACORN video scandal. Another, Robert Flanagan, is also the son of the
acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, William Flanagan.
According to the FBI affidavit,
Flanagan and [Joseph Basel] entered the federal building at 500 Poydras Street
about 11 a.m. Monday, dressed as telephone company employees, wearing
jeans, fluorescent green vests, tool
belts, and hard hats. When they arrived at Landrieu’s 10th floor office,
O’Keefe was already in the office and had told a staffer he was waiting for
someone to arrive.
When Flanagan and Basel entered the
office, they told the staffer they were there to fix phone problems. At that
time, the staffer, referred to only as Witness 1 in the affidavit, observed
O’Keefe positioning his cell phone in his hand to videotape the operation.
O’Keefe later admitted to agents that he recorded the event.
After being asked, the staffer gave
Basel access to the main phone at the reception desk. The staffer told
investigators that Basel manipulated the handset. He also tried to call the
main office phone using his cell phone, and said the main line wasn’t working.
Flanagan did the same.
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They then told the staffer they
needed to perform repair work on the main phone system and asked where the
telephone closet was located. The staffer showed the men to the main General
Services Administration office on the 10th floor, and both went in. There, a
GSA employee asked for the men’s credentials, after which they stated they left
them in their vehicle.
The U.S. Marshal’s Service apprehended all
four men shortly thereafter.
Robert Flanagan’s attorney, J.
Garrison Jordan, said he believes his client works for the Pelican Institute.
Asked the motivation for the alleged wiretap plot, he said: "I think it
was poor judgment. I don’t think there was any intent or motive to commit a
The Pelican Institute "is a Louisiana-based think tank founded last year by
native New Yorker and Tulane grad Kevin Kane."
Though it labels itself as
"non-partisan," the Pelican Institute is undeniably bent toward conservative
and libertarian political philosophies, with a concentration on limiting
According to Politico
"the four men could each face up to 10 years and a fine of $250,000 if they are
The release of a video produced by anti-choice activists who claim that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal organs has led GOP lawmakers to call for congressional hearings and governors to call for investigations.
However, questions have been raised about the claims of alleged illegal activities and about the agenda and connections of the organization that produced the heavily-edited video.
The video is alleged to show Planned Parenthood Senior Director of Medical Services Dr. Deborah Nucatola discussing the sale of fetal tissue with two unidentified actors posing as buyers from a biological company. The video was filmed without Nucatola’s knowledge at a Los Angeles restaurant on July 25, 2014.
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Contrary to the claims of anti-choice groups, Nucatola never says anything in the video about Planned Parenthood selling fetal organs or tissue.
Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero said in a statement that patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases.
The videos were produced by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), a self-described group of “citizen journalists” who monitor and report on “medical ethics and advances.” David Daleiden, the organization’s project leader, told the Washington Post that the actors wore “police-quality undercover cameras,” but refused to elaborate further on how the video was produced.
“I don’t answer questions about our undercover costumes,” Daleiden said.
Daleiden is also an associate of the right-wing activists James O’Keefe and Charles C. Johnson.
O’Keefe produced similar undercover videos of public figures with his organization Project Veritas, most notably undercover videos that purported to show wrongdoing by employees of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in 2009. O’Keefe pled guilty in 2010 to charges stemming from an attempt to make undercover recordings at the office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), and was sentenced to three years’ probation.
Johnson, who shared the same academic advisor as Daleiden at Claremont McKenna College, wrote in a post on his website Got News that Daleiden worked “largely alone” on the Center for Medical Progress project.
Beyond Daleiden’s connections to these prominent conservative young activists, CMP includes connections to some of the anti-choice movement’s more radical members.
The “initial registration form” the organization filed with the Office of the California Attorney General in 2013 lists three people as the organization’s officers: Troy Newman, Albin Rhomberg, and Daleiden.
Newman, who is named as the organization’s secretary, is one of the most prominent and radical activists in the anti-choice movement, and serves as the president of Operation Rescue. After the 2003 execution of Paul Jennings Hill, who was convicted for the 1994 murder of abortion provider John Britton in Pensacola, Florida, Newman issued a press release defending Hill because the “court prevented him from presenting the legal defense that his conduct was justifiable defensive action.”
Another individual, Nichole Surkala, is listed on the initial paperwork as “initial agent,” who under state law would accept legal documents on the organization’s behalf if a lawsuit was filed naming CMP.
Life Legal Defense Foundation revealed its support of CMP this week, prompting Daleiden to praise the organization, reported the Christian News Wire. LLDF provides legal counsel to various anti-choice activists and organizations. It has been involved with litigation with clients including pro-life Mississippi anti-choice activists who were arrested due to protest activities outside the Jackson Women’s Health Center. LLDF also joined Alliance Defending Freedom in filing an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit in support of HB 2 in Texas. “The Center for Medical Progress thanks Life Legal Defense Foundation for their initiative and foresight in consulting on and helping to develop this project,” said Daleiden.
CMP, a nonprofit registered with the IRS as a 501(c)3, is at the center of media firestorm over the videos. However, there is still precious little information publicly available about the organization or the individuals and funding behind it.
There is no office space that houses the organization, as both the address listed in the founding paperwork and the address listed on the organization’s website contact information are private mail boxes rented at PostalAnnex stores. The CMP website was registered through the Bluehost privacy service in April 2013, and the phone number listed goes directly to voicemail.
Daleiden has been the only public face of the organization, but he has given few interviews since the release of the video. Rewire requested an interview with Daleiden through CRC Public Relations, a public relations firm with clients that include conservative organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and the Federalist Society.
Live Action has produced several similar undercover and selectively edited videos attacking Planned Parenthood for alleged wrongdoing. None of Live Action’s claims have ever been successfully proven. In his blog post, Johnson claimed that “the lack of power” in Lila Rose’s recent videos at Live Action “owes mostly to the fact that David [Daleiden] left her organization.”
The release of the video has led to calls for congressional hearings and investigations of Planned Parenthood—a longtime target of anti-choice legislators on the state and federal level.
“When an organization monetizes an unborn child—and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific video—we must all act,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R) said in statement, reported Politico. “As a start, I have asked our relevant committees to look into this matter. I am also calling on President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R) announced Wednesday that his committee would investigate the allegations made against Planned Parenthood.
“Every human life is sacred and should be protected from the atrocities allegedly undertaken by Planned Parenthood. The House Judiciary Committee is investigating these horrific acts including ascertaining how Congress might act,” Goodlatte said in a statement.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary panel, said the upcoming investigations are “another witch hunt” by Republicans, reported the Associated Press.
The fury from at least some Republican lawmakers might not have been as spontaneous as it appeared.
Republican Congressman Tim Murphy, a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, said at a press conference Wednesday that he’d seen the video weeks before, reported CQ Roll Call. Republican Congressman Trent Franks also said that he had seen the video about a month ago.
When Murphy was asked why he and others waited until the video’s release to take action, the congressman reportedly struggled to answer the question before abruptly ending the interview with CQ Roll Call. Murphy then reportedly said that he should not be quoted. “This interview didn’t happen,” Murphy said.
Several anti-choice organizations also expressed outrage over the videos and called for investigations.
Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest said in a statement that there should be an immediate congressional investigation. “We call for an immediate Congressional investigation into these alleged atrocities,” Yoest said. “And just as important, the time is now to de-fund Planned Parenthood. The American taxpayer should not be in business with such callous profiteers.”
Governors of five states have also called for investigations into Planned Parenthood.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) ordered an investigation of Planned Parenthood and moved to block the organization from building a reproductive health-care facility, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced his office is investigating whether the state’s three Planned Parenthood centers broke the law by “profiting from the sale of aborted babies.”
President Obama’s support for marriage equality came just one day after North Carolina voters banned same-sex marriage. Twitter storms followed each development, in which tweeters first declared that black people were homophobic as a group, then just as sweepingly that they were not. Somehow, the North Carolina defeat for marriage equality was seen as proof that all blacks hate all gays, whereas President Obama’s support was proof of the opposite.
This overgeneralization is somewhat similar to some of the commentary in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. We heard that “black violence” was somehow worse and more endemic than violence committed by non-black perpetrators. This idea was also the organizing principle behind the blog-post that got John Derbyshire fired from the National Review for advising his children to avoid contact with black people who are, Derbyshire argued, statistically more likely to be arbitrarily violent, especially toward whites.
It is not hard to see the racist undertones of all of these arguments, down to the very notion that everyone of a certain “race” has personal character traits that are inescapably and intrinsically linked to their skin color. It is also not hard to find information to disprove them: many blacks in North Carolina opposed the constitutional same-sex marriage ban. And Justice Department statistics show that most violence is carried out within racial homogeneous communities, so that, for example, black-on-white homicides are a rare exception rather than the rule.
There are, of course, good reasons to pool and parse statistical information about any population using group criteria that may illustrate unequal policy outcomes for individuals associated with those groups. In fact, we expect governments to collect and separate statistics with a view to analysing policy effectiveness and equal access to benefits, rights, and care. Generalizations about groups can also be helpful in visualizing the underlying reasons for inequality and devising strategies to overcome it.
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However, problems arise when our only understanding and interactions with specific people result in our treating them as part of a group and not as individuals. Whatever else may be true about George Zimmerman’s interaction with Trayvon Martin, it is clear from his phone comments to the police dispatcher that he had preconceived notions about Martin’s “dangerousness” even before he got out of the car — preconceptions that therefore only could be based on Martin’s appearance, including his sex, age, color, and apparel, and most likely the combination of all of them.
The corollary of this notion is that one way to overcome racism and homophobia and other “group-isms” is for people to relate to each other as individuals. While it is true that some people are able to reconcile a generalized negative feeling about certain groups (“all blacks are violent”) while nurturing positive sentiments about individuals from that group (“some of my best friends are black”), it is also true that most people start seeing a group differently when they know and love someone who belongs to it. A generally homophobic parent with a gay child may not feel compelled to campaign for marriage equality any more than they did before their child was “out.” However, most will at least start questioning negative portrayals of “all gays” in the media. This is why Derbyshire’s advice to his children to actively avoid contact with blacks is so insidious: it pushes a false notion of otherness that is purposefully static.
Even more serious problems arise when policies that should be informed by data and statistics instead are influenced by such Derbyshire-style perceptions of static and false otherness. The racial profiling of stop-and-frisk practices is one blatant example. Along those lines, Michelle Alexander has amassed examples of situations where police departments target predominantly black communities for aggressive interventions and arrests for drug-related crimes, even where data shows that in that specific state or city, the main users or sellers of drugs are not black. Many of the arguments voiced against marriage equality are equally based on false ideas that all gay people are promiscuous, sexually predatory, or bad parents.
And perhaps this is where the real issue lies. It is almost instinctual for us to organize information about the world around us based on visual cues and personal experiences. And it is equally human to use these cues and experiences to generate assumptions about what might happen and what we should do about it. It is when we confuse trends or, worse, preconceptions with reality that abuse, inequality, and discrimination can take hold.
More disturbingly, negative generalizations about what everyone in a given group wants, thinks, and does help to justify those who actually do. When we portray all black people as homophobic we exonerate individuals of color who feel prejudiced against gays. They are not responsible for their beliefs—their skin color made them do it.
I would not wish to be called homophobic just because quite of lot of individuals who happen to be white make anti-gay remarks. Even less would I want these individuals to be able to brush off their anti-gay sentiments as a natural part of their “whiteness.” Prejudice is prejudice, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes. Respect dictates we treat it as such.