James O’Keefe Put Project Veritas Staff Through ‘Public Crucifixions,’ Leaked Memo Says
James O’Keefe, the founder of right-wing video organization Project Veritas, took a paid leave as his leadership role at the nonprofit undergoes a review from its board, according to former and current staff members in a NY Mag report.
The chairman’s position is being considered for removal as the conservative organization is embroiled with complaints of O’Keefe’s “outright cruel” behavior towards employees and disgruntled donors, according to an internal memo signed by a third of its employees obtained by The Daily Beast.
Daniel Strack, the nonprofit’s executive director, sent an internal message to Project Veritas staff that said O’Keefe would be taking “a few weeks of well-deserved PTO,” per the NY Mag report.
“Like all newsrooms at this stage, the Project Veritas Board of Directors and Management are constantly evaluating what the best path forward is for the organization,” read another statement released by Strack through a Project Veritas spokesman, per the report.
In the memo acquired by The Daily Beast, employees wrote that working for O’Keefe at Project Veritas could mean being “publicly humiliated” by the founder and “public crucifixions.” Employees also claimed that staff could even be required to undergo lie detector tests, that O’Keefe was a “power drunk tyrant” (according to one complaint), and that the chairman once took a sandwich from a pregnant woman because he was hungry.
“I was yelled at in front of jurors because he was hungry and then he took the 8-month pregnant woman’s sandwich,” the account by an employee alleged, detailing an incident during a Sept. 2022 trial against a Democratic consulting firm that O’Keefe ultimately lost.
In the memo, employees also brought up the use of Project Veritas money to boost O’Keefe’s own theatrical interests. In December, Project Veritas said it provided a prohibited $20,500 in “excess benefits” to O’Keefe last year to pay for staff to accompany him to Virginia when he starred in a 2021 production of “Oklahoma!”
“All the theatre stuff and how that is handled makes me very uneasy,” the memo stated, and added, “In the end, we are in a deficit now, our fans and potential fans beyond do not respond positively to all of that stuff.” The memo also raised concerns that the money dedicated to musicals risked alienating donors.
In February last year, Rolling Stone’s Laura Jedeed attended O’Keefe’s American Muckrake book launch party that included a 50-minute musical-theater production dedicated to telling O’Keefe’s story in song, dance, and strobe light.
As Jedeed pointed out, O’Keefe has an over dozen year track record of dubious reporting practices, and his resume of issuing few retractions is nothing to be proud of: ethical journalists correct their mistakes, O’Keefe doubles down. Veritas reporters have been known to not simply ask questions, but instead actively manipulate and pressure their targets into the reactions, sometimes by going on multiple dates with their chosen targets, sometimes by relentlessly badgering them, sometimes by targeting customer-service workers trained to mollify even the most aggressive and unpleasant customers or risk losing their jobs.
In what seems to be another reference to O’Keefe in the memo, an employee complained about Project Veritas workers being spat on.
“Rule #1: You can’t spit in an employee’s face over a tweet,” the note read. “True story.”
The nonprofit group O’Keefe built from a carriage house behind his parents’ house in suburban Westwood, New Jersey has grown into a news organization with a more than $20 million annual operating budget, per the report. With O’Keefe’s leadership position under consideration and what seems to be a slew of unhappy donors and former and current staffers, his reign may soon be coming to a close.