The head of an Ohio teachers union said she suspects the conservative group Project Veritas targeted its schools and offices last week.
The operatives attempted to infiltrate three Ohio schools and three union offices on Wednesday, claiming knowledge of a sexual relationship between a student and teacher at one school before fleeing, said Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
Project Veritas is the organization that uses doctored videos and false claims to spread propaganda and conspiracies. Last year, the group targeted Washington Post reporters by planting a source with a false allegation against former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore in an effort to discredit press coverage of the race. Its founder, James O’Keefe, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in 2010 for using false pretenses to enter a federal building.
Cropper said the teachers union later identified most of the infiltrators as Project Veritas operatives, by comparing video footage and photos from the driver’s licenses of the suspected operatives to a photo gallery on a site that tracks these individuals.
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At one school, “this person had come in saying … they were friends with a teacher in the district, and they suspected this teacher had a sexual relationship with a student,” Cropper said of the incident.
When a school worker asked the woman for ID, “she said it was in her car,” Cropper said. The woman left, and a school resource officer called the police, who pulled over the woman and her male driver. The school resource officer met police at the scene and took photographs of the woman and man’s IDs, later giving them to school officials, Cropper said. Their IDs, Cropper said, revealed the pair as Ermine Desir and Ryan Lopez. The two are part of a “national surge in attacks” against teachers, according to an email from Project Veritas Exposed, described as a resource site for those targeted by Project Veritas.
“It is very concerning to us,” Cropper said. “We find it particularly disturbing that they would go into schools where children are present under false pretenses. People in our small schools especially are feeling very violated by this.”
Asked to comment on the Ohio incidents, Stephen Gordon, communications director with Project Veritas, said in a statement the organization does not “comment on ongoing investigations, real or imagined.”
O’Keefe, the founder of Project Veritas, is a known associate of David Daleiden, who was indicted on felony charges in connection with his anti-choice front group’s discredited smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. Daleiden’s attack against the health-care organization bore the hallmarks of O’Keefe’s sting operations, including the use of deceptively edited, surreptitiously recorded videos, according to the New York Times.
The Donald J. Trump Foundation in 2015 gave $10,000 to Project Veritas.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) said in a statement last week that suspected operatives have recently entered offices and schools in New York and Michigan. Albuquerque teachers union officials said in April that a Project Veritas operative named Christian Hartsock had used a false identity to seek information. Hartsock reportedly pretended to be an Albuquerque teacher who had used racial epithets and physically abused a student.
The incidents come amid a growing push by teachers for higher pay, better benefits, and more school spending in states with Republican-held legislatures that have gutted education investment over the past decade. Cropper doesn’t believe the Ohio incidents are linked to teacher walk-outs in other states.
“We know that [Project Veritas has] been hitting different states, and it appears we were next on their list,” Cropper said.
Meanwhile, the AFT in Michigan has taken Project Veritas to court, alleging a Project Veritas operative used a false name and university student identity to gain access as an intern. A judge lifted a temporary restraining order against Project Veritas late last year and denied the union’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the group, as Politico reported.