Sacha Baron Cohen, the actor best known for his role as Borat, released a video preview of his new series Who Is America? that will premiere on Showtime.
One of the people who were featured in the video was Philip Van Cleave, the President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VDCL).
Instead of condoning Van Cleave's actions and partaking in Cohen's video, the VDCL took to Facebook and their email list to try to convince supporters that the entire scene was taken out of context.
The first Facebook post was made on Sunday, July 15th, when Cohen released the video (emphasis mine):
We knew this was coming.. Ed.
Here is what Philip sent out 2/20/18
February 20, 2018
Last weekend, while doing what seemed to be a regular interview, I discovered that a movie is being made with the intent to discredit gun-rights leaders across the country.
No, this is not a joke, it is real and we need to get the word out to other gun-rights organizations, gun-rights leaders, and prominent firearms trainers across the country and we need to do this FAST.
Back in 2014, alleged Hollywood sexual predator Harvey Weinstein said he was going to make a movie “that would make the NRA wish they weren’t alive.” (All gun organizations are the NRA in his mind.) And he was dead serious. Michael Moore has been attempting to discredit gun owners and leaders for years by tricking people and using creative editing techniques to make them look foolish or idiotic.
Who’s behind this effort isn’t clear, but they are EXTREMELY WELL FUNDED PROFESSIONALS. For example, to reel me in and to try to make me feel beholden to them, they laid out the red carpet, by providing luxury accommodations, limousine service, and providing a generous monetary allowance to cover meals and other expenses for two days.
They use psychological manipulation, as well as lies and tricks to put their victim into comedic situations that subject them to public shame, embarrassment, and ridicule. I believe the intent is to destroy reputations and even lives.
I did some detective work in the days immediately following the “interview,” and I managed to find out they had targeted at least one nationally known firearms trainer and I know there are more. They appear to be setting up near gun shows. I also found out they covered their tracks carefully to avoid revealing their true identity.
It started when VCDL received an email last week from a company called “First Freedom Television” to do an interview with an “Israeli security expert” on the “shared security interests of like-minded countries, such as the U.S. and Israel.” It went on, “Unlike the misguided position of American liberals, who aim to eradicate guns altogether, Israel has proven that universal gun training and widespread gun ownership actually leads to a safer society.”
I do interviews all the time, and this one didn’t seem to be all that much out of the ordinary.
On Sunday, February 11, 2018, I did the interview in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. About 5 minutes into the interview, my radar turned on big time when the interviewer was making claims about Israeli schools training selected children to use firearms from age 17 down to age 4 (!) as a last ditch effort in stopping a terrorist attack on a school if the teachers and security staff had been killed. The children would have codes to unlock secured firearms in such a case.
When I balked at 4-year-olds being able to do that, he showed me an alleged newscast video on his iPad. The text was in Hebrew, but with an English-speaking narration, talking about how a 4-year-old boy had indeed stopped a terrorist attack at his school. The newscast said that he killed two terrorists using his dad’s gun, which he had brought to school in his backpack to show a friend, in violation of school rules. Israeli Premier Netanyahu was touting him as a hero in the video.
While I’ve never been to Israel, I do know they have some serious terrorism concerns, especially at schools and other public gatherings. The way they handle some of their security can be very different from what we have in the U.S. But that news story just didn’t look right, and 4-year-olds can hold a gun and fire it with supervision, but not take on terrorists, and especially manage to shoot and kill two of them.
Because of this and various other odd things I noticed during the interview, I was now convinced that something wasn’t right. This wasn’t real and probably some sort of a set up.
I could only think of Hollywood’s threat. At a minimum, it could be a comedy which would play only in Israel, but it could be a more damaging attempt to make a “mocumentary,” by someone like Michael Moore, or, even worse, a Sacha Baron Cohen-esq “Borat”-type of shock comedy meant to be devastatingly embarrassing and humiliating to the victim in the crosshairs.
As the 15-minute interview terminated, the interviewer asked me if I, as an English-speaking firearms trainer, would help him make a “gun safety” training video for children of various ages. This had to be the “kicker,” I thought.
For better or for worse, I decided that I would play along with the scheme so I could find out who was behind this and where this was going. I figured if I was right about this being a set up, I could blow the whistle and get a warning out to the gun-rights community across the country to protect as many people as possible and maybe derail this attack. If it turned out to be nothing, then no harm, no foul.
We recorded for almost 3 hours using Airsoft guns as props. They even had a teleprompter!
I was right – it was a set up - and it was much worse than I could have imagined. If you’ve seen the 70’s movie, “The Sting,” it was much like that. It was a well-orchestrated, well-choreographed, psychological manipulation, with a production cast of at least 10 people, to slowly lead a person down the primrose path.
We went step-by-step with a ready, and seemingly logical, answer every time I balked at some crazy part of the training. They seemed to have thought of every thing that a person might question. All I can say is that these people were extremely good at deception and manipulation. And no matter how stupid the things the interviewer and I were doing (we were side-by-side the whole time), no one else cracked a smile or laughed once, and I was watching. The professional actors were keeping up the appearance that this was a serious project.
The end goal was to get the victim to make a “training film” teaching 3 and 4-year-olds how to shoot guns hidden in toy animals at “bad” people, to sing little songs and make gun noises during the training to make it “fun for children,” and even teach little kids how to shoot a rocket-propelled-grenade or a squad automatic weapon at an approaching suicide bomber vehicle!
It all sounds unbelievable. But everything was elaborately and expensively staged; every contingency planned for, with explanations that make unbelievable things seem plausible (fake documents and videos about how Israel handles security in their schools, for example). The interview moved along at a pace, designed not to give the “mark” time to reflect on where things are going. The craziness factor very gradually got more extreme, like cooking a frog by slowly heating up the water so he doesn’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late. It’s a con game, a sting, plain and simple.
I don’t know if they have other scenarios or they will use other company names to continue concealing their identity, but anyone doing an interview dealing with gun rights where they sense something odd should terminate that interview. Or, better, bring a recorder and tell the other party you are going to make your own recording of the interview. If they say “no,” then walk out. I am going to make that my own policy going forward to protect against any future fake interviews. BTW, they had me leave my cellphone in an office “because it might interfere with the recording devices,” but I think it was so I couldn’t take any photos of them or make any video or audio recordings on that phone.
In the end we played each other and I confirmed what I feared this was all about. Sadly for me, I’m sure I’m going to be in whatever crazy film finally comes out, looking really stupid and, just as sadly, I’ll probably be in good company. A few of us will no doubt get hammered, but if we can get the word out IMMEDIATELY, we might be able to save the reputations of many other good people.
Finally, looking at the possibilities and what I saw while making the “training film,” I’m betting this is going to end up being a “Borat”-style film and it’s going to be vicious on the victims.
Please share this alert far and wide.
Philip Van Cleave
Virginia Citizens Defense League
VCDL members chimed in on Facebook. More than anything, members wanted to know how Van Cleave could allow something like this to occur:
The second Facebook post was made on Monday, July 16th (emphasis mine):
QUICK HISTORY REVIEW
Back in late February, Philip put out two urgent alerts that he requested be spread far and wide on a coming film that would be attacking gun-rights leaders. (I am including the links below to the February alerts, which have far greater detail and should answer most other questions.) At the time Philip noted that the attack was possibly going to be something akin to things that Sasha Baron Cohen had done with his "Borat" movie.
It turns out Philip was correct. It was an attack on gun-rights leaders and it was done in a similar fashion to "Borat." Besides Philip, Sasha Baron Cohen tricked, lied to, and set up a host of people, including Larry Pratt, Trent Lott, Dana Rohrabacher, Joe Wilson, and Joe Walsh. There were others targeted, but a few of those were lucky and dropped out because of horribly botched travel arrangements made by Cohen's team or disinterest in traveling for an interview.
It is a comedic series for Showtime subscribers that began Sunday. In order to attack gun-rights leaders, the antis are using this manipulated and staged farce as if it were a serious, factual, interview.
THE GUN SEGMENT STARTS WITH SLICING AND DICING PHILIP'S COMMENTS
In my discussions with Philip about this issue today, he told me:
"So far I have seen just the early part of the "First Look" at Cohen's series. He had some very crafty and unethical editing done to take a comment I made about one subject and seamlessly splicing it into a different conversation, completely changing the context of what I was talking about.
"For example, NOT seen in the video is a disguised Cohen discussing educating children about gun safety in Israel. He claimed in Israel they start gun safety very young. My response, which is shown, is "we're trying to get that here for 7th and 8th graders, but can't do it." Instead, the video shows Cohen talking about arming kids against terrorists, and then he splices in my response about firearms safety training, so it looks like I'm saying we're trying to arm CHILDREN in schools, instead of teachers and other adults.
"Another example NOT seen on the video is Cohen asking about a bill that VCDL defeated that would have made it illegal for 4 to 6 year-olds to be able to shoot a gun, including an airgun, WITH or without parental supervision and consent. The video shows my response that it was a bad bill and that we killed it. (Not shown was an additional comment that parents should decide such things for their own children.) However, my comment is spliced into a different conversation that makes it sound like I'm condoning 4-year-olds having UNSUPERVISED access to guns and VCDL killed a bill that would have made such a thing illegal!
"My hesitation when Cohen asks me if I'll help him make a safety training video for children is where I was deciding to play along or not in order to figure out who was behind this film, what they were actually doing and how they were doing it, and then getting the word out to head this off at the pass and keep it from being completed.
"BTW, in the "training session," ALL the props were silly plastic guns which were glued to toys or stuffed animals, and the content was read from a teleprompter."
Once Philip realized the game being played, and followed up with some detective work in the subsequent days, he sent out the VA-ALERTs and directly contacted other gun rights organizations across the country to warn them. Sadly, others still became trapped in Cohen's web of lies and deceit.
More to come as we learn more about the actual video.
Here are links to the original VA-ALERTs:
URGENT! An attack on gun-rights leaders is underway - spread the word! (2/20/2018)
Audio version of the VA-ALERT on gun leaders being targeted (2/20/2018)
Update on the fake interview used to discredit gun-rights leaders/trainers (2/26/2018)
Followers, again, weren't very happy with what Van Cleave had to say:
Can you really blame gun rights activists for being upset?
A Bit of Public Relations Advice
One of the biggest issues with what transpired with Van Cleave is a lack of a public relations strategy. When I was a publicist with conservative candidates and campaigns, I was often wary of reporters, especially ones I couldn't vet.
It's very evident than VCDL needs a publicist who knows how to protect the organization's reputation and members. If VCDL had a communications professional who was in charge of public relations efforts, Van Cleave would have never been put in that room with Sacha Baron Cohen. A slight bit of research would have made one thing very evident: this company wasn't a legitimate news organization.
Van Cleave's attempt to spin the "how-to" video as a self-less act, the average Second Amendment supporter can – and will – see right through that BS excuse. He wasn't acting in the best interest of the pro-gun community. If he was, he would have walked out of that interview as soon as he saw teleprompters and stuffed animals glued to fake firearms.
Partaking in this disgusting video wasn't "taking one for the team" but rather putting the team in harm. Now, the Second Amendment community is having to deal with the ramifications of a down right dumb decision made by a few individuals.
Great job, you all. Well done. Mission accomplished.