Democratic campaign worker Michael Kolenc’s love life was finally looking up.
It was July 2018, and Kolenc had just been interviewed in Houston by an amateur politics podcaster named Hope Higgins. After the interview, Higgins invited him to get drinks with her, writing in an email that she would “enjoy the company.”
“She was very flirty, she would touch my arm,” Kolenc told The Daily Beast. “I was definitely picking up a more romantic feeling than a quote-unquote journalist.”
Weeks of text messaging ensued after Higgins returned home to Brooklyn. Kolenc, smitten, flew to New York to see her.
“I’m usually not that daring or romantic,” Kolenc said.
Kolenc spent a few days in New York with Higgins, but she seemed to be looking for excuses to avoid him. And after he flew back to Houston, she ghosted him.
What Kolenc once saw as a promising romance soured more than he could have imagined months later, when he received a voicemail from conservative operative James O’Keefe. Higgins had been secretly recording Kolenc during their meetings. Now the footage of Kolenc criticizing one of his former bosses, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), was set to be released by O’Keefe.
Hope Higgins wasn’t real. Instead, the woman Kolenc knew as Hope was Anna Khait—a one-time Survivor contestant working under that alias for O’Keefe’s Project Veritas.
“It took a toll on my mental health,” Kolenc said. “It made me less trusting of people.”
Interviews with Kolenc and another man who says he was targeted by Khait, along with emails and text messages reviewed by The Daily Beast, reveal more details about both her years-long work as an undercover operative and the tactics employed by right-wing activists. As recently as April, Khait worked for a new incognito conservative operation that is separate from Project Veritas but deploys some of its same strategies—and, in the case of Khait, its personnel.
Khait didn’t respond to requests for comment. The New York Times first reported on Khait’s work for O’Keefe’s organization in May, revealing that she was one of several women working out of a rented Georgetown home who were tasked with secretly recording targets on camera.
“We do not comment on the details, real or imagined, of our investigations,” Project Veritas spokesman Eric Spracklen wrote in an email to The Daily Beast.
Spracklen added that Project Veritas Action—the Project Veritas affiliate that handles many of its political undercover videos—”is proud of its investigations, including that of Oregon Governor Kate Brown.”
In Kolenc’s case, Khait posed as the co-host of a new politics podcast called “Red State Blue State.” Claiming to be a Democrat, she said she was eager to discuss Beto O’Rourke’s chances in the Texas Senate race later that year.
“I am looking forward to hearing about Beto,” Khait wrote Kolenc in one email, using the Hope Higgins name. “I’ve heard some not so great things but we have got to win in 2018!”
Kolenc’s brush with Khait’s “Hope Higgins” persona eventually became grist for a Project Veritas video about Brown, released a month before Oregon’s gubernatorial election in 2018. Kolenc had been fired as Brown’s campaign manager in a special election two years earlier, amid a dispute with other campaign staffers.
In the undercover video recorded by Khait in 2018, Kolenc criticized Brown’s management of her campaign. After O’Keefe’s video was released, Oregon Republicans used it to file an ethics complaint, while the head of the state’s Democratic Party slammed Kolenc as “disgruntled and discredited.”
“I said [Brown] was a bad manager, and I probably would criticize some of her management skills,” Kolenc told The Daily Beast. “But that’s nothing that deserves a hidden camera exposé by someone who’s trying to honey pot me.”
Khait first emerged in the public eye in 2016 as a contestant on Survivor: Kaôh Rōng, the 32nd season of the wilderness competition show. Khait was eliminated relatively early by her fellow castmates and came in 13th.
On Survivor, Khait described herself as a professional poker player. Khait won a total of $12,811 in professional poker tournaments across four years, according to the Global Poker Index, a website that tracks top players.
Despite her undercover work for Project Veritas, Khait also sought a public role on the right after Survivor, fashioning herself as a Christian conservative activist. In 2020, she played a key role promoting a controversial falconer’s conspiracy theory, later embraced by Donald Trump himself, that claimed that Barack Obama and Joe Biden had somehow murdered a team of Navy SEALs to cover up the fact that Osama Bin Laden is still alive.
On her YouTube channel, Khait interprets her dreams and dissects Bible passages. In one recent broadcast, she claimed she had a dream about accompanying armed men to raid a house holding former CIA Director John Brennan—a villain to some on the right. In a June video, Khait and guest John Redenbo alluded to her undercover work for Project Veritas, justifying it by citing Bible verses about spies.
“She’s done undercover work, let’s say,” Redenbo said.
“Project Veritas, you guys know that,” Khait said. “For a year, in 2018.”
In March 2021, the fictional “Hope Higgins” emerged again, this time in West Virginia.
Using the same alias that she had used years earlier on Kolenc in Texas, Khait attempted to catch union activists on tape, this time for a conservative group called Accuracy in Media. The organization, previously known for conservative media criticism, has more recently dabbled in Project Veritas-style undercover videos.
Accuracy in Media didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Posing as Higgins, Khait sent a text message to Jay O’Neal, a union activist and middle school history teacher in West Virginia who was once described as a “major voice” in that state’s 2018 teacher’s strike. Khait told O’Neal that she and her husband were looking to sell a West Virginia house they had inherited and donate the proceeds to an organization in the state.
O’Neal met in a cafe with the person he thought was Hope Higgins and her husband—in reality, Accuracy in Media president Adam Guillette —to discuss how they should donate the money. But O’Neal said that Guillette pressed him instead on questions like whether teacher’s union members were more radical than the leadership, and whether the couple could somehow influence school curricula with their donations—a question that came right as the idea of teachers indoctrinating students with “critical race theory” was becoming a culture-war flashpoint.
“I said, ‘I’m sure you’d have to get it approved,’” O’Neal recalled in an interview with The Daily Beast.
At one point, according to O’Neal, Guillette gave him a fist-bump after the teacher said he was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Thinking back on the meeting, O’Neal realized some things ran false about the would-be undercover operatives. Khait didn’t appear to know where the supposed house she wanted to sell actually was, according to O’Neal, and excused herself from the table when he offered to email her articles on West Virginia labor history. O’Neal later suspected she had left to create a dummy email account to give him.
In April, Accuracy in Media released its video of the undercover sting on O’Neal, combined with footage of another unsuspecting teacher. The video’s message is muddled, with O’Neal appearing briefly talking about his membership in DSA and the other teacher only discussing high salaries for school superintendents. Three months after its publication, the Accuracy in Media video has less than 3,500 views on YouTube.
“I thought ‘Holy shit, this is the weirdest and craziest thing ever,’” O’Neal told The Daily Beast.
Stunned by his appearance in the package, O’Neal researched Guillette’s name online and eventually found Khait’s picture on Project Veritas Exposed, a website devoted to identifying Project Veritas’s associates.
O’Neal is still wondering about why Khait and Guillette had targeted him and the other teacher for their sting, and whether some conservative donor paid for their operation.
“Who paid them to come out here, and what was the purpose?” he said.
Khait’s double life as Higgins wasn’t over yet. In May, local union branches of the Texas American Federation of Teachers started to receive emails from the Higgins alias, using the same email address Khait had once used in the West Virginia sting. This time, Khait wrote that she was applying for a union job and wanted to learn more about “Texas public school culture.”
Suspicious union officials quickly confirmed that “Hope Higgins” was an alias for a would-be undercover sting artist, and warned union members to avoid her.
“The spidey sense was off,” Texas AFT President Zeph Capo told The Daily Beast.