Surreptitiously recorded video footage produced by an anti-choice front group was leaked to and published by a right-wing website Thursday, defying a restraining order issued by a judge.
The videos were published on the YouTube channel of infamous Internet hacker Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer in coordination with Charles C. Johnson, the controversial conservative activist and publisher of GotNews.
“Clearly this is a matter of public interest,” Johnson told the Washington Post. “Every single member of the public needs to be able to watch these videos. The narrative is going to blow open on this one.”
The National Abortion Federation (NAF) in July filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prohibit the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) from making public any video or audio recordings or materials from NAF educational meetings.
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The lawsuit named CMP as a defendant, as well as BioMax Procurement Services, the fake company created in order to deceive people working for Planned Parenthood and other organizations.
CMP’s leader, David Daleiden, is also named in the lawsuit, as well as founding member Troy Newman, who is the president of the radical anti-choice organization Operation Rescue.
The organization has been praised by anti-choice activists and Republican politicians, but questions have been raised about CMP’s deceptive tactics, ideological agenda, and connections to violent anti-choice activists.
Johnson claims that GotNews “obtained all of the Planned Parenthood tapes.” About 275 minutes of video footage was published on YouTube. The footage published represents just a fraction of the 503 hours and 58 minutes of audio/video recordings taken at NAF’s annual meetings in 2014 and 2015 that was obtained by NAF during discovery, according to court documents.
GotNews was sent a cease and desist letter upon the publication of the videos from the law firm representing the NAF, and Johnson was reportedly served with papers at his place of residence.
The source of the leak is unclear. Some reports have attributed the leak to “hackers,” while others have claimed that a member of Congress or a congressional staff member leaked the video. CMP has worked closely with GOP lawmakers in releasing its series of Planned Parenthood smear videos. More than one member of Congress had access to the videos before they were originally published. Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) both told Roll Call that they had seen the first CMP video before it was published.
NAF CEO Vicki Saporta said in a statement that Congress needs to “conduct a full investigation” to determine whether a member of Congress was the source of the leak, and noted that violence against Planned Parenthood clinics have increased since the publication of the CMP attack videos.
“Our concern is that since the first videos have been released there has been an unprecedented number of threats against abortion providers,” Saporta said. “Since the first video was released, there have been four arsons in Planned Parenthood clinics in different parts of the country. Just yesterday in another Planned Parenthood facility, an individual with a hatchet destroyed the inside of the clinic.”
There has been a wave of violent attacks against Planned Parenthood clinics and other reproductive health-care providers since the release of the CMP videos. Planned Parenthood clinics were set on fire in California and in Washington, and this week a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Hampshire was vandalized.
“To me it’s more of a speech issue than a life issue,” Johnson told the Washington Post. “If it comes to court, I hope the free speech organizations will protect me. If not, I guess I’ll litigate it myself.”
Johnson has denied that Daleiden is the source of the leak, and claims that there are no text or emails between himself or Daleiden. “I called David since it’s obviously David in the video,” Johnson told the Washington Post. “But he had no idea how this came to me.”
The two conservative activists have a long, personal history. Daleiden and Johnson attended Claremont McKenna College together and shared the same academic adviser.
Daleiden worked for Live Action, where fellow anti-choice activist Lila Rose published several deceptively edited videos of secret recordings at Planned Parenthood clinics. Daleiden and Johnson attended the California Students for Life conference in 2008, and it was there that Daleiden first met Rose, at the time a junior at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
When the CMP videos were first published, Johnson publicly praised Daleiden for the work, and wrote in a GotNews post that Daleiden worked “largely alone” on the CMP project. Johnson even went so far as to claim that “the lack of power” in Rose’s recent videos at Live Action “owes mostly to the fact that David [Daleiden] left her organization.”
When the Washington Post interviewed Johnson about the leak Thursday, he said that he had just had dinner celebrating his birthday with his wife and was about to meet other friends to celebrate, including Daleiden.