Project Veritas, the Koch-funded pseudo-documentary company of the eye-roll inducingest James O’Keefe, has stuck more than its foot in it this time. This time, the ironically-named group, which has tried to sell fake stories and create false narratives in the past, is up to its neck in muck of its own making.
A judge dismissed charges against a slew of #DisruptJ20 demonstrators arrested for protesting the Donald Trump inauguration, largely due to a cache of videos recorded by Project Veritas and turned over to prosecutors. Those videos were not, however, turned over to the defense counsel of the #J20 protesters. The failure to do so is a trampling of their Due Process rights called a “Brady violation.”
Not only did prosecutors withhold the videos, in some cases, according to ThinkProgress, they edited the footage without disclosing that fact.
Let’s pause here. Prosecutors edited evidence against defendants in a criminal trial and did not disclose that they edited the evidence.
What a staggering, staggering slithery mess of constitutional desecration. Our Constitution grants us the right to protest; it’s enshrined in our very first amendment. Criminally prosecuting speech is, on its own, problematic.
But this story is far worse. Not only were government actors — in this case, prosecutors — intent on punishing speech critical of the government, it appears they were willing to alter evidence to do so. Not only does that violate the rights of the #J20 protestors themselves, it violates everyone’s right to protest.
Fear of prosecution puts a chill on free speech. Are you likely to protest if you’ll be arrested? If you know the government will create the evidence it needs to convict you?
There are other constitutional issues here as well, including the question of the degree of cooperation between the Project Veritas members who penetrated the protest groups to create the footage and prosecutors. Any government actor would need a warrant for that type of covert activity. “Private citizens” do not.
But were they private citizens? Or were they acting under color of law, or essentially, on behalf of the state?
Fascism doesn’t reveal itself all at once. Fascism is the soft thrum of a faraway drumbeat, lulling, distant. Fascism is the snake visible for a moment as it lifts its head from the grass, its forked tongue flashing in the murky light.
Until suddenly, as though it was always there, the government is rounding up protesters and manufacturing evidence to imprison them. Sound like another country you know?
We need to reckon with our fascist creep (yes I mean that in both senses of the word) now, before we too have a mysterious dying journalist problem. Because that’s what comes after the “state media” propaganda of groups like Project Veritas.
Ask that other country.