The phrases “someone should” or “someone needs to” make me cringe — they explain why the organized Left has beaten conservatives for the last two decades. The Left doesn’t wait around for someone else to do it. Breakthrough: Our Guerrilla War to Expose Fraud and Save Democracy, the new book by James O’Keefe, makes clear this problem to armchair patriots who think someone else is better qualified to engage in direct action. It is a how-to guide for a modern activist craving a blueprint for action.
O’Keefe didn’t accomplish his many stings with the backing of a billionaire. The book begins with O’Keefe at rock-bottom:
I woke up in a fetal position, on a green mattress stained with seminal fluid, to the sound of my fellow prisoners chanting the Qu’ran.
It didn’t get much better after that. Between working on a road chain gang breaking up rocks, O’Keefe was able to expose NPR fundraisers as even more biased than we assumed, to expose massive vulnerabilities in our electoral system, and to expose gun opponents as the hypocrites they are.
Breakthrough mentions this bootstrap approach in Veritas Rule #2: “You must do what you can with what you have.” O’Keefe accomplished these narrative-altering events amidst far stronger headwinds than most of you reading this review face. O’Keefe takes you inside each of his stings, from the planning, to the scouting of the target, to the endless battles with the establishment media and their efforts to crush his narrative.
O’Keefe, a fellow Eagle scout, also had to battle the law. His famous case arising out of the botched sting of Senator Mary Landrieu’s office is just one example. In New Hampshire, O’Keefe also crossed the appropriately named Dick Head, a state assistant attorney general (who has still failed to produce records which I requested in a Freedom of Information Act request a year ago. Mr. Head must not be familiar with past FOIA lawsuits from these parts against far bigger non-compliant fish).
Per Veritas Rule #5: “The law will always surround you. Learn it.” Head harassed O’Keefe by serving subpoenas on his group after they exposed massive vulnerabilities in New Hampshire elections. In the absence of voter ID, O’Keefe’s crew were given ballot after ballot for dead voters. (A personal memory: I’ll never forget spending a solid 15 minutes on the phone laughing convulsively with Andrew Breitbart at the sight of poll official Ryk Bullock describing how nobody could ever obtain a ballot for dead voter — after watching a bunch of people do precisely that. Neither of us could speak. O’Keefe’s stunt was perfect; activist lightning.)
O’Keefe describes the “anti-journalists” who are quick to defend the government or the status quo: anti-journalists don’t expose the powerful and corrupt, but rather make a career of defending them. After O’Keefe began his stings of state election sites, instead of criticizing the vulnerabilities his videos exposed, some journalists attacked O’Keefe. One headline is laughable in hindsight: “Election Law Experts Say James O’Keefe Allies Could Face Charges Over Voter Fraud Stunt,” from Ryan Reilly at TPM Muckraker. Reilly’s article appeared on January 11, 2012. Reilly’s partisan sources were wrong — O’Keefe has never been charged because he did nothing illegal; “experts” Rick Hasen (“risk a felony conviction”) and David Schultz (“what they did violated the law”) both blew it. Naturally, these sources were recruited by Reilly because they are known primarily for denying the existence of voter fraud — some people actually do build a career on providing intellectual cover for criminals.
O’Keefe writes in Breakthrough of the power of images: video quickly changes minds; words, not so much. That’s why Congress defunded ACORN before defenders of the organization could rally to their aid. That’s why states like Minnesota, Virginia, and New Hampshire passed voter ID laws after O’Keefe’s crew rolled into those states and exposed vulnerabilities in the system through video.
O’Keefe is a brawler who makes scholars uncomfortable. Scholars speak to a few thousand people on their best days, and usually far fewer — just a few dozen captive students. Brawlers like O’Keefe have an audience of millions tuned into their narrative-altering video content.
Veritas Rule #36: “Mau-mau the flak catchers.” Breakthrough describes a new model for conservative activists, one adopted not only by O’Keefe but also by the entire conservative new media. For decades, the Left has enjoyed a monopoly on the cultural narrative, one so entrenched that many working for the monopoly think their ideas are mainstream. They don’t even consider themselves ideological. These circumstances create blind spots among those who spend most of their time speaking to only the like-minded.
This allowed O’Keefe to capture ACORN workers willingly assisting a child prostitution ring. It allowed him to capture unionized New Jersey teachers boasting about how little work they did, and how even using the N-word wouldn’t result in discipline to a tenured teacher. It allowed us to see the anti-Christian, anti-Israel proclivities of officials in government-funded radio.
It gave O’Keefe a chance to expose the willingness of Obama campaign operatives to aid federal felonies and to facilitate double voting. We saw the blind spot of Patrick Moran, a Democrat operative and son of Congressman Jim Moran, when he helped devise tactics to commit felony voter fraud in Virginia.
O’Keefe takes a portion of the culture, the law, the system that has degraded to a left-leaning equilibrium, and he teases it out for all to see. The reaction of the establishment media to O’Keefe demonstrates the danger he poses to their monopoly: without O’Keefe, many would still think ACORN was a worthwhile organization; that NPR is neutral in the Israel-Palestinian dispute; that criminal tendencies didn’t exist in the Obama campaign; and on and on.
Breakthrough tells you how he did it with next to nothing, and usually with worse than nothing. Government and media headwinds were always against him. But he managed to tack and tack and tack again to get to the destination where we no longer take anti-journalists, NPR, and the establishment media narrative quite as seriously as before.