In this season of redemption, I am reminded of a saying my grandmother had for those who were deceitful, who lied or committed bad acts. Anytime we heard a story of something someone had done to harm another, she would say:
"God don't like ugly and the devil is a liar."
More than three years ago, a man named James O'Keefe, paid by rightwing media entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart, produced deceptively edited videos. The recordings were used to help launch www.BigGovernment.com. With Breitbart's help, the release of these videos set off a spiral of mainstream media attention that began with Fox News and the rightwing echo chamber and ended with the closure of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn) – an organization that since 1970 had served millions of Americans in dire need of housing, social and community justice.
From www.BigGovernment.com, Fox News took these videos and aired them as fact. Shortly thereafter, other mainstream media outlets also aired them – astonishingly failing to do due diligence, thus also failing to protect my friend and colleague Juan Carlos Vera, as well as Acorn itself.
What's shocking is that this was not the first time O'Keefe had attempted to use deception to take down a national organization. Just a year earlier, O'Keefe attacked Planned Parenthood in a very similar manner when he posed as a caller trying to donate money to specifically fund abortions for African Americans. Yet, in Planned Parenthood's case, several activists and elected officials instantly defended the organization.
In 2009, O'Keefe struck again; this time, with Hannah Giles. They went into various Acorn offices posing as a pimp and a prostitute seeking advice on how to dodge tax laws and covertly filmed these meetings. As a result of O'Keefe's video misrepresentation, Vera was fired from his job and, amid the media frenzy that followed, Acorn itself disbanded.
Vera subsequently launched a civil suit against both O'Keefe and Giles for violation of his privacy rights, under section 632 of the California penal code. According to the settlement document obtained by Wonkette, O'Keefe claims to have been unaware that Vera had reported the incident to the police when O'Keefe and Giles published the video online. An investigation by the state attorney general later found that Vera had acted entirely properly.
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Yet, even after the exposure of O'Keefe's sting operation against Planned Parenthood, no one listened to Acorn or New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler in their efforts to combat the allegations from the prank videos. We stood alone in the face of the storm and were forced to end the work we were doing, inevitably leading to the closure of Acorn.
As a result, over the past three years, an unimaginable number of Americans have fallen by the wayside. Millions have not been able to be registered to vote, hundreds of thousands have not been able to find affordable housing, or been able to get a helping hand in our downward-spiraling economy.
Friday's $100,000 settlement made by O'Keefe to Vera (Hannah Giles had already settled with Vera in 2012) brings vindication but no redemption. There is no amount of money and no apology loud enough to give Vera back his good name, to take away his pain, to restore the time and resources millions of Americans could have received from Acorn's services, or to rebuild the network of nearly half a million community members Acorn supported. God don't like ugly, O'Keefe.
What is most incredible is that even after the disbandment of Acorn and the widespread discrediting of O'Keefe, the efforts to stop Acorn's much-needed work still continue. On page 221 of the "continuing budget resolution" for 2013, there is a clause provisioning (pdf) that "none of the funds made available in this act may be distributed to Acorn or its subsidiaries or successors", which, as Representative Nadler has argued, is a bill of attainder and unconstitutional. Despite this, President Barack Obama – a former constitutional law professor – signed the budget into law, blocking funding for a defunct organization, and preventing Acorn from helping future generations.
Despite last week's budget resolution, and despite rightwing attempts to slow voter registration and to prevent hardworking families from getting the social justice they deserve, the work of Acorn lives on. The devil is a liar and O'Keefe is one of the biggest devils there is.
I am proud to continue the work to rebuild our network of community organizations. Today, the legacy of Acorn continues, and there is still work to be done.
Yes, God don't like ugly, and the devil is a liar.