February 28, 2023
In recent months I’ve written several pieces that mention my Friends of Abe years. It’s pure coincidence; stories in the news that piqued my interest just happened to contain angles that relate to my time with the “secret” org of Hollywood conservatives.
I’m not trying to be self-indulgent; honest, I ain’t. But if you wanna tell me off about it, please visit my new Substack, where you can comment away.
Okay, that was self-indulgent.
One of the constants at FOA was that if a member achieved even the smallest amount of fame for anything political, they’d make a huge deal of it. If Bill O’Reilly gave passing mention to an FOA member’s viral video, if Glenn Beck linked to something an FOA member did, well…at the next banquet that member would enter the room like Julius Caesar.
“Adore me, cherish me! My music video, ‘Obama’s Marxist Sheeple Will Be Defeated by We the People,’ was linked by Newsbusters. Step aside, peons! I’ve altered the course of mankind!”
So the one thing you’d never expect to see at FOA was somebody with actual bragging rights hiding in a corner.
March 29, 2010, Sen. John Thune (from one of the Dakotas, like it matters) was speaking at our lesser location in the Valley (a run-of-the-mill bistro as opposed to our lavish Brentwood banquet hall). Battling Coldwater traffic from Beverly Hills to Studio City, my friend and I (I being rather drunk already) couldn’t stop cracking each other up by shouting, “Thuuuuuuune!” like the Tick (the cartoon version, and you either get the reference or you don’t).
So we were giddy.
Because I was bringing a nonmember to a banquet, I wasn’t allowed at my usual “good table.” Nonmembers had to sit in the back, lest Kelsey Grammer be forced to see an unfamiliar face.
Jon Voight never cared; he’d lecture a parking attendant if he had the chance.
Voight: “And that’s why the Alinskyite Marxists oppose Sowellism for the benefit of Davos internationalism.”
Parking Attendant: “No entiendo, señor. Five dollar, please.”
So my pal and I were seated in a dank corner, which was fine with us because of the mood we were in.
But then a pretty young girl crept over to our table, alone, and sat, head down, eyes averted, next to me, her back to the room.
A real pretty girl. And I felt like I knew her from somewhere. But I couldn’t place where.
“Hi, I’m Dave,” I said.
“I’m Hannah,” she replied. “Nice to meet you.”
And then it clicked. Hannah. Of course.
“You’re Hannah Giles,” I exclaimed. “From the Breitbart pimp ’n’ hooker ACORN sting video!”
Pro tip: It’s the dumbest thing in the world to tell people who they are.
For those of you who don’t recall, the ACORN sting was what put Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe on the map in late 2009. O’Keefe and Giles, portraying a pimp and his ho, had visited the offices of ACORN, a leftist Obama-supported “community advocacy” organization, and they’d shot undercover video that so embarrassed the org, ACORN had its government funding pulled, eventually shutting down entirely.
The defeat of ACORN was arguably the first major victory against Obama, a full year before he’d be “shellacked” in the 2010 midterms. And Breitbart, who made the O’Keefe video the centerpiece of his newly formed conservative media empire, rode that victory to household-name status on the right.
But those videos had not been 100 percent authentic. O’Keefe and his crew had “creatively” edited several of the clips. And shots had been inserted after the fact of O’Keefe and Giles in outlandish, cartoony 1970s pimp and ho costumes, falsely making it appear as though the two youngsters had entered the ACORN offices looking like characters from Superfly (in reality, they’d been in their regular street clothes).
But in March 2010, none of that was widely known yet. The Breitbart/O’Keefe ACORN sting was the toast of the right.
So why was baby in a corner? Why was Giles, the girl of the hour, in a dark corner table and not at the “captain’s table” with Breitbart himself?
In an instant, I forgot all about mocking Thune’s name, and I became fascinated by Giles’ reluctance to accept kudos.
This was FOA. You never rejected kudos! Breitbart wouldn’t even enter a room until everyone was seated, just so he could make us stand for an ovation.
Studying Giles, prodding her for info, I felt like a baboon looking at a Rolex. I had no frame of reference for what was in front of me.
Someone at FOA rejecting the spotlight? In-con-theivable.
The best I could get out of Giles was that she didn’t want to be part of the Breitbart/O’Keefe circus. But she didn’t tell me why. And why should she? We’d just met. We spent the rest of the evening talking about Vegas (my second home at the time) and how she wanted my advice regarding a Vegas birthday party for her then boyfriend (now husband) Joe Basel (another O’Keefe associate). Hannah and I stayed in touch through June, and that was that.
It wouldn’t be until five years later—May 2015—that I’d solve the mystery of the reticent babe. Giles and Basel (both long separated from O’Keefe) unloaded in the Texas Monthly about their disillusionment with their O’Keefe-era fame.
Giles told the Monthly that in 2009, as a “laid-back surfer kid from Miami,” she’d been moved to action by Roger Stone (yes, that Roger Stone), who counseled her “Above all, attack, attack, attack. Never defend” (this is roughly the same as Breitbart’s “double-down double-down, fuck you, war!” motto: Never cede, even if you’re wrong. What matters is the offensive, the propaganda. Counter their lies with yours; truth has no place in war).
She told the Monthly that the lesson she got from Stone and Breitbart was that “all life is warfare.”
But now she and Basel were disillusioned with the right, “philosophically and politically.” The exploitation also stung. “Every organization and their dog were raising money off my ACORN investigation,” she told the Monthly, with Basel adding, “What we saw there made us so cynical of the American right that we have no country in that sense.”
Giles and Basel are parents and farmers these days. So now baby’s in a cornfield.
Back to 2010, my evening with Giles made me wary of the Brietbart/O’Keefe medicine show. And everything I saw from that point on made me warier. When it was revealed that the pimp and ho outfits were a hoax, Breitbart threw O’Keefe under the bus, claiming that he too had been duped into thinking the getups had been worn during the ACORN interviews. That was not what Breitbart told us privately; indeed, he’d taken credit for inventing the pimp and ho costume idea, as a way of “jazzing up the video” to guarantee headlines.
Then, in early 2011, Breitbart protégé Christian Hartsock (a kid in his 20s) asked me if I could supply any “babes” for a James O’Keefe dancing video.
It was then I learned that at heart O’Keefe was mainly interested in musical theater. He wanted to be a showman, and he was spending his donors’ dough on a Michael Jackson-esque music video (you can watch it here…but don’t). I liked Christian; we always got on well. So I let him have a couple of my bims (I joked that the credits should read “Dancing babes on loan from the David Stein collection”).
Once I knew where O’Keefe’s heart was (every few months he’d release another self-indulgent dance video), his series of “undercover” flubs made perfect sense. The Washington Post/Roy Moore disaster. The “Soros sting” self-own. The Abbie Boudreau/CNN catastrophe. The Mary Landrieu embarrassment. The Hillary Clinton T-shirt fumble.
I found the Boudreau incident so troubling that when I couldn’t get anyone in Breitbart’s inner circle to comment on the record about it (I was writing at the time for a well-connected conservative news site), I took to Facebook (here) to express my concerns (and even with, at the time, 3,000 Abe and GOP followers, you can see from the paltry, well, ZERO number of responses the extent to which nobody wanted to talk about this blight elephant).
And O’Keefe just kept doing those idiotic music videos, even into 2021, using donor money to do the same tired Michael Jackson impression that nobody wanted to see. And—in a move so fucking insane it defies 300,000 years of human cranial evolution—he used donor money to star in an “off-Broadway” (Roseland, Virginia; way off-Broadway) production of Oklahoma!, rationalizing it by claiming that “by bringing my voice to the cultural arts, I can inspire others to break through the wall of bias and censorship currently dominating the entertainment industry.”
James O’Keefe in a vanity project singing about corn owns the libs.
We see two pathologies at work here. One, my favorite sadly-not-dead horse to beat, is the prevalence of failed, frustrated moviemakers and actors among the top conservative fundraisers. Shapiro, Boreing, O’Keefe…people who lie to you about “make a movie to change the culture” so they can get you to fund the entertainment career they couldn’t earn through skill.
And two, the triumph of Breitbartism, which begat Trumpism: our lies vs. theirs. O’Keefe’s “stings” haven’t gotten better; MAGA’s just made rightists less demanding.
Take O’Keefe’s “bombshell” Pfizer story, which either involves a Pfizer exec copping (on a date) to Frankensteining the Covid virus, or a gay black dude (on a date) manufacturing tall tales to make himself look grandiose because he’s angling for an ass-boning.
As Snopes, in a startlingly reasonable piece (and damn O’Keefe to hell for making Snopes look reasonable) explains, the big question is, did that black dude really have the pull at Pfizer that he claimed?
We can’t know, because following O’Keefe’s video, he’s vanished.
Any good documentarian (and I’ve been doing that shit for 33 years) knows, you confirm your target’s bona fides before you release the “gotcha,” because once you do, he and everyone associated with him will circle the wagons.
Before he knows he’s been stung, contact the dude’s employers and get them on the record regarding his duties.
How hard would that’ve been? “Hello, Pfizer, we’re doing a piece on black heroes of Covid research. Could you give us the background on this fellow?”
O’Keefe didn’t do that because he knows his fans don’t care about proof. They’ll believe him because they want to. “FUCK YOU! WAR!” Our propaganda vs. theirs; to hell with convincing the noncombatants.
So with the Pfizer story O’Keefe gave you something that won’t move the needle at all societally, but it’ll certainly persuade you to fund his next musical theater venture.
Good on Hannah Giles for leaving that sickness behind to have kids and grow crops.
Turns out that night in 2010 when we all fellated Breitbart and O’Keefe, the corner was the sanest place to be.
Next week, Part II: “Breitbartism begat Trumpism.”