Clarification — and Mea Culpa — on James O’Keefe and ‘Race and Conservatism’

Created: February 05, 2010 08:38 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

On Wednesday, I wrote a post reacting to Max Blumenthal’s story “James O’Keefe’s Race Problem” and was too quick with a description of the August 30, 2006 Robert Taft Club event on “race and conservatism.” Specifically, I wrote this:

A zoomed-in headshot of James O’Keefe (after the jump), then working for the Leadership Institute, survived, although it cropped out the table he was sitting at, covered in controversial literature.

In a later post, I walked this back: While I’d been at the event, it was Isis, a photographer/investigator for the One People’s Project, who told me that her photo was actually a picture of O’Keefe at a table of controversial literature. But several e-mailers and commenters have pointed out that my first post appeared to endorse Blumenthal’s whole story. I want to quickly walk through that story and point out the parts that, based on my experience at the event and interviews with Isis and event organizer Marcus Epstein, were not true.

1) OPP has a “photo of O’Keefe at a 2006 conference on ‘Race and Conservatism’ that featured leading white nationalists.”

As Epstein’s August 28, 2006 post on the nativist site VDare.com makes clear, it was a two-hour debate, not a conference. I made this clear in my initial post. The only “white nationalist” onstage was Taylor. John Derbyshire has some controversial views on race, but co-panelist Kevin Martin is and was, as Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism delights in pointing out, African-American.

2) “The leading speaker was Jared Taylor, founder of the white nationalist group American Renaissance.”

Taylor, who is incredibly controversial — and pretty nakedly racist — was the source of the event’s controversy, but he was only one of three speakers.

3) “Together, O’Keefe and Epstein planned an event in August 2006 that would wed their extreme views on race with their ambitions.”

O’Keefe has denied any role in planning the event, and Epstein has backed him up. In an interview yesterday, Isis told me: “I don’t believe O’Keefe planned the event.”

4) “A speaker from the right-wing black front group Project 21, founded by white conservative David Almasi to shill for corporate clients and provide cover for conservative politicians, was added at the last minute.”

Kevin Martin and Project 21 have pushed back against this on their own, but I also asked Epstein when he invited Martin to join and balance the panel. He forwarded me this email, dated August 1, 2006 — 29 days before the event.

epstein email

5) “According to One People’s Project founder Daryle Jenkins, O’Keefe was manning the literature table at the gathering that brought together anti-Semites, professional racists and proponents of Aryanism.”

This is Blumenthal’s sourcing, but according to Larry O’Connor of Big Journalism, Jenkins cited me as a “witness.” I talked to Isis, not Jenkins. And I never told anyone that O’Keefe had “planned” the event or “manned” the table, because I could not confirm those things. I did tell Isis, after seeing her photo of O’Keefe, and hearing her description of the event — and remembering her walking around, taking photos — that her photo definitely jogged my memory of O’Keefe being there. And O’Keefe has confirmed that he was there.

In my original post, I wrote that “O’Keefe’s position at the Leadership Institute gave him some ownership of the event, but in general the crowd consisted of conservatives and libertarians who wanted to see some controversy.” What I meant was that unlike the reporters in the room or the college students watching the spectacle, O’Keefe was Epstein’s co-worker. He didn’t wander in off the street — he knew his colleague was planning an event, knew it was so controversial it was moved out of the building, and he tagged along. But to some readers, that sentence suggested that O’Keefe was, indeed, a planner of the event. He absolutely wasn’t.

I stand by the rest of my description of the event in my original post. But later that day, as Breitbart started pushing back against the story, I wrote: “I’m curious to see what Breitbart goes after — I was at the 2006 event that leads Blumenthal’s story and can confirm all the details about it.” That was sloppy phrasing — I meant that I could confirm all the stuff I’d already written. I had no idea that One People’s Project had told Breitbart’s reporter that I could confirm the facts as presented by them. They should stand by their own story — and they really, really need to produce a full photo of O’Keefe at the event.

I’m really not used to being part of a story like this. In one week, James O’Keefe — who I’ve been writing about for months — has been linked to an organization that gave me a fellowship (the Collegiate Network) and an event I happened to be at in 2006. So I apologize for giving the impression that I confirmed all the details of the OPP and Salon stories, and I’m glad that The Village Voice has clarified its own reporting using my research.

As for my original point that there’s a conservative subculture that indulges in extremist politics with the expectation that no one will find out and care — well, I stand by that, and I think this episode has gone some way toward changing that.