Two operatives from documented disinformation peddler Project Veritas made repeated unsuccessful attempts to access CTA’s State Council of Education meeting at the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles in late January.
The duo appeared to be known Project Veritas operative Christian Hartsock and a female companion – Project Veritas and Hartsock have a lengthy history of using secretly obtained video to lie and deceive. They approached numerous CTA members and staff at the hotel over the State Council weekend, attempting to obtain credentials to enter secured meeting areas by misrepresenting their identities and intentions. Among the lies they told: Hartsock and friend said they worked for the Arizona Education Association and claimed the woman was a teacher in Arizona, even attempting to register and obtain badges – where they were turned away by staff.
The Project Veritas operatives also spent some time in hotel common areas, approaching members as “teachers from Arizona” and then asking pointed questions about LGBTQ+ and gender issues. Hartsock and the woman were identified after approaching a CTA member and staff in the lobby and asking questions that seemed suspicious. Upon consulting data available on Project Veritas, it was confirmed the two were targeting CTA State Council and possibly secretly recording members. All members of State Council were notified of the threat, while leaders and staff stepped up vigilance in protecting members and securing our meeting.
Project Veritas is a far-right activist organization, founded by video provocateur James O’Keefe. Project Veritas operatives secretly record individuals, produce deceptive, heavily edited videos and commentary, and launch negative campaigns aimed at targeted institutions and individuals. Project Veritas has a lengthy history of targeting teachers unions and educators across the country in its smear campaigns, including infiltration and gotcha videos, in an attempt to foment distrust in public education systems and spark culture wars in schools nationwide.
Project Veritas targeted a Natomas teacher in 2021, posing as a parent and asking to meet for coffee while secretly recording the conversation. The deceptively edited video package was designed to create a chaotic and dangerous situation, and it did – resulting in the teacher receiving death threats, being harassed at his home, and ultimately having to leave the district.
Project Veritas is a multimillion-dollar disinformation and propaganda machine. While most of its donors have not been publicly disclosed, the Koch-related DonorsTrust (called the “dark money ATM of the conservative right”) contributed more than $8.4 million from 2014-18 (according to the Center for Media and Democracy). Since its founding in 2010, Project Veritas and its employees have been found guilty of multiple crimes and paid fines and sums related to their deceptive practices (list on SourceWatch.org).
Last year, the FBI searched the homes of Project Veritas employees including O’Keefe as part of a U.S. Justice Department investigation into the theft and publication of the diary of Ashley Biden, a daughter of President Joe Biden. And in February, O’Keefe was placed on leave by the Project Veritas board due to his poor treatment of staff and “financial malfeasance.”
Please be aware that Project Veritas and similar disinformation operatives may be lurking at our conferences – be wary of anyone you don’t know who approaches you and starts asking questions, especially about social justice and related issues. In conjunction with NEA, CTA leaders and staff will continue to be vigilant at our meetings and gatherings to ensure they are safe spaces for members to build and learn together.
Visit ProjectVeritas.exposed for information about the organization, including photos of their known operatives.
Protecting Yourself and Others from Hidden Cameras
- If you are approached by someone at a CTA event and it feels weird or suspicious, end the conversation immediately and report the incident to conference staff.
- Make sure people are who they say they are. These operatives use false identities and made-up stories to gain confidence/access and exploit trust. At conferences, all members and attendees wear badges – if someone does not have one, do not assume they are a trusted conference attendee. Badge or not, end any conversation that makes you uncomfortable.
- Look out for each other. If you see a fellow member talking to someone suspicious, interrupt the conversation and ask to speak to them privately.
- If you encounter one operative, assume there is a second – they often work in pairs.
- Be wary of anyone who asks you to help them gain access to a CTA event or workshop for any reason.
- Be mindful of your surroundings after hours and outside of conference sessions, where operatives lurk to build confidence and secretly record conversations.
- Trust your instincts and report any suspicious encounters or situations to leadership and/or staff immediately.