The undercover video operation run by right-wing operative James O’Keefe is in turmoil, wracked by unhappy donors and O’Keefe’s “outright cruel” behavior towards his staff, according to an internal memo signed by a third of its employees.
Working for O’Keefe at Project Veritas can mean being “publicly humiliated” by him in what amounts to “public crucifixions,” and even being required to take lie detector tests, his unhappy employees write in the memo.
“I would describe Project Veritas’ current environment with this saying: ‘The beatings will continue until morale improves,’” one disgruntled staffer wrote in the memo.
On Monday, Project Veritas staffers presented the nonprofit’s board with the document covering his behavior, saying they were “troubled and frustrated” by O’Keefe’s management style. Later that day, the board voted to reinstate two executives O’Keefe had fired a week earlier, while O’Keefe went on paid leave.
“James will be taking a few weeks of well-deserved [paid time off],” Project Veritas executive director Daniel Strack wrote Monday in an internal Project Veritas group chat obtained by The Daily Beast.
Even though O’Keefe is synonymous with the group he founded, his fate at the nonprofit remains unclear. New York Magazine first reported on the internal dissension and O’Keefe’s leave.
O’Keefe didn’t respond to requests for comment. In a statement, Strack told The Daily Beast the board is “constantly evaluating what the best path forward is for the organization.”
The internal dissension comes as Project Veritas faces a number of threats, including an FBI investigation and an ex-employee’s lawsuit alleging O’Keefe oversaw a raucous, sexually charged workplace complete with at least one drug overdose. Project Veritas has denied breaking any laws in the FBI investigation, and is fighting the lawsuit. In December, the group laid off several staffers.
The memo, which was obtained by The Daily Beast, covers its founder’s demanding and allegedly abusive treatment of his staff, even laying out concerns that Project Veritas will soon collapse entirely as donors and employees flee. Sixteen staffers signed their names to the memo, according to the document.
“James has become a power drunk tyrant,” one staffer complained in the memo.
While employees signed their names to the memo, they didn’t reveal who wrote individual accounts, and The Daily Beast was not able to independently confirm the anecdotes. Still, they offer a glimpse into the internal debate within Project Veritas before O’Keefe went on leave and saw his decisions reversed by the board.
The memo details a series of bizarre incidents. In one, during a Sept. 2022 trial against a Democratic consulting firm that O’Keefe later lost, an employee complained that O’Keefe berated them in front of jurors because he needed something to eat. Ultimately, the employee alleged, O’Keefe took a sandwich from a heavily pregnant woman to sate his hunger.
“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 reads.
In another apparent reference to O’Keefe, a staffer complains about employees at Project Veritas getting spat upon.
“Rule #1: You can’t spit in an employee's face over a tweet,” the message reads. “True story.”
The memo’s authors describe O’Keefe as a paranoiac so fearful of leakers within his organization that he set up at least one “mole hunt” complete with private investigators and a lie detector test. Most staffers were purportedly required to return to the group’s New York headquarters for an interview with the investigators.
In another incident, a top O’Keefe lieutenant was required to take a polygraph as part of a leak investigation.
“If you can’t trust your own team let alone your own team leaders, what kind of trust do you claim to have?” one employee complained in the memo, describing the lie-detector test.
The employees also complained more broadly about O’Keefe’s allegedly widespread use of “verbal abuse,” claiming they could be “publicly humiliated” or face “public crucifixions” at O’Keefe’s hands in front of donors or other employees. Throughout the memo, O’Keefe is described as “berating” various employees so strongly that people who witnessed the alleged abuse apologized to O’Keefe’s targets later.
In one instance, the employees claim O’Keefe called Project Veritas staffer Spencer Meads — a staffer so prominent in the group that the FBI raided his home — a “pussy.”
“They were raided and James still called Spencer that name,” the memo reads.
In another anecdote, staffers were “so severely verbally attacked by James that the staff morale dropped to an all-time low.”
The memo’s authors also raised concerns about O’Keefe’s use of Project Veritas money to promote his own theatrical ambitions. Project Veritas is best known for its undercover stings against Democratic groups and other Republican targets. But O’Keefe, who performed in high-school musicals, has added a series of musical productions to the group’s repertoire, including an elaborate “Project Veritas” experience that involves O’Keefe dancing while wearing a bulletproof vest.
In December, Project Veritas acknowledged improperly giving O’Keefe $20,500 in “excess benefits” to pay for Project Veritas staff to accompany him to Virginia as he performed a lead role in a production of the musical Oklahoma!.
In the memo, one employee worried that all of the money spent on musicals risked alienating donors.
“All the theatre stuff and how that is handled makes me very uneasy,” the memo reads, adding later, “In the end, we are in a deficit now, our fans and potential fans beyond do not respond positively to all of that stuff.”
But musicals weren’t the only thing irritating donors, according to the petition. O’Keefe is portrayed throughout the document as badgering uncomfortable donors for five- and six-figure checks. Other donors didn’t like his treatment of his employees, the employees say.
When a woman O’Keefe had asked for a $75,000 check requested a picture with him, according to the memo, he “very rudely” refused.
“She was humiliated to the point of tears,” the memo reads.