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Sacha Baron Cohen showed up in Olympia, Wash., on Saturday to prank a right-wing protest crowd with a racist song, to which audience members happily sang along.

The organizers of a Saturday rally in Olympia, Washington, to protest the state’s anti-COVID stay-at-home orders—including the militiamen of 3% of Washington—were happy to have what they thought was a conservative PAC step up and finance the event.

The PAC paid for facilities, outhouses, security, and promotion, and it all seemed good.

Then the guy in the fake beard and the goofy overalls leading a country band performing for the audience stepped up to the microphone and began singing a loudly racist song. That was about the time the “Patriots” began to realize they had just been pranked by Sacha Baron Cohen.

The PAC, according to the Seattle Times, calling itself Back to Work America, approached the organizers of the event—called “March For Our Rights”—about assisting with the event by providing security and financial help. It was apparently instead another prank operation by Cohen, the mock-documentary director of such prank-driven films as Borat and Who is America? Cohen is known for creating fictitious characters whose main purpose is to expose the hypocrisy and absurdity of politicians and their followers.

Matt Marshall and his 3% of Washington outfit, who have been among the leaders of the region’s far-right “Patriot” movement pushing back against the stay-at-home orders, were among the eager participants in Saturday’s Olympia rally. And most of the event featured speakers critical of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, as well as other figures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

About an hour into the program, a band called Warren G. Hardings—part of the musical entertainment paid for by the PAC—stepped up on the stage and began playing bluegrass music. Their singer, however, was peculiar: He had an obviously fake beard, and the overalls he wore were almost cartoonish.

Then he began singing a song with such lyrics as: “Obama, what we gotta do, inject him with the Wuhan flu,” and “W-H-O, what we gotta do, chop ‘em like the Saudis do,” and other disparaging references to such figures as Hillary Clinton and Dr. Anthony Fauci. A number of audience members, encouraged by the singer—who in fact was Cohen—happily sang along.

That was about the time that event organizers realized they had been snookered. One man began shouting at the band through a megaphone. Marshall and other members of the 3% militia tried to get backstage and were prevented by the security forces hired by the PAC.

As things began to heat up, Cohen and the band quickly left the stage, jumped into a waiting ambulance, and drove away from the event.

“He came on stage disguised as the lead singer of the last band, singing a bunch of racist, hateful, disgusting shit,” Yelm City Councilman James Blair wrote on Facebook after the event. “His security blocked event organizers from getting him off the stage, or pulling power from the generator.”

Marshall, who also is an enthusiast for the right-wing “Boogaloo” civil war movement, fumed afterward. He thanked the crowd for coming, and then apologized that they had been the butt of one of Cohen’s elaborate jokes. Afterward, he said he wanted an investigation to determine whether or not Inslee was involved in the stunt. 

“The juvenile prank Cohen had orchestrated and his racist bigotry does not reflect the sentiments of the event organizers or the Washington 3%,” he wrote in a Facebook statement. “Cohen and his supporters have passed along their vile actions of hate as an overt act of the Washington 3%, calling us racists. This assertion is simply not true and we will defend this position vehemently.”

“We got catfished,” organizer Alan Acosta told the Times. “There was a singer up here that does not reflect the values of the people that attended there or the organizer.”

“We got had, I guess that’d be the best way to put it,” Marshall said. “We got punked.”

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Former MIT Fundraising Staffer Claims Ronan Farrows Botched Epstein Reporting Trashed My Reputation

Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Peter Cohen, a former staffer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, accused The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow of publishing “botched” reporting — on late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s donations to the university — that “ruined” his reputation.

Cohen, piggy-backing off Ben Smith’s May column for the New York Times that questioned some of Farrow’s reporting, took aim at Farrow in a scathing 6,500-word essay published by Quillette.

In it, Cohen claims Farrow overstated his role in the donation scheme and misinterpreted basic facts “to suggest a neat but misleading narrative.” Cohen demanded corrections from the New Yorker, but said Farrow and the magazine would only discuss correcting information if Cohen acted as a source in future reporting.

Farrow’s original story — “How an Elite University Research Center Concealed Its Relationship with Jeffrey Epstein” — revealed leaked email correspondence about Epstein’s history of donations at the school.

Farrow’s source for the emails was a junior colleague of Cohen who the latter often cc’d, Cohen said. The report prompted the resignation of Media Lab Director Joi Ito — Cohen’s boss — because of his close ties to Epstein.

Cohen was mentioned 17 times in Farrow’s story. He claims Farrow “chose to assign me a co-starring role in the narrative he spun” despite his back-room role at the university, and that the New Yorker reporter ignored the bigger story due to a lack of research and sourcing. Cohen writes:

If, back in September 2019, Farrow had been successful in uncovering the real story of how at least three MIT vice presidents found ways to variously justify, excuse, whitewash, ignore, or limit Epstein’s involvement with the Media Lab, the New Yorker may well have scooped MIT’s own investigators. But as with Farrow’s other serious journalistic lapses—documented in recent months at the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and here at Quillette—Farrow instead cherry-picked information from the limited sources he had and misinterpreted basic facts along the way, so as to suggest a neat but misleading narrative.

In Farrow’s piece, he reported that Epstein was listed as “disqualified” in MIT’s list of donors, and that staffers like Cohen made sure Epstein’s donations to the university were filed anonymously, so as to conceal them. Farrow included emails from Cohen, cc’d to the junior colleague, that said to make sure a particular Epstein donation was listed as anonymous.

Cohen said Farrow “shoehorned his scattered evidence” to try and create a compelling narrative. He claimed that the emails lacked context, and that “senior administrators at MIT had approved the Media Lab’s taking gifts from Epstein, and had instructed the Lab to mark these as anonymous.”

“Most conspirators don’t cc their colleagues about their secret plans,” Cohen joked of the emails.

In his piece, Cohen also accused Farrow’s 2019 piece of containing inconsistencies, arguing for why The New Yorker should issue corrections to the story. In one passage, he claims Farrow misunderstood what was meant by “disqualified” when reporting that Epstein was listed as such in the donor database.

“On that one word—disqualified—hinged Farrow’s entire conspiracist narrative,” Cohen wrote. “Yet it was clear that the reporter had no idea what ‘disqualified’ meant in the context of MIT’s institutional jargon—either because he didn’t do his research, or didn’t understand the research when it was presented to him.”

He continued:

(1) Based on a set of emails whose context Farrow either didn’t understand or properly investigate, the reporter suggested to readers the existence of a conspiracy within the Media Lab—centered on my boss and me—that sought to secretly accept money from a “disqualified” donor, and to hide evidence of our actions from the rest of MIT by making the source “anonymous”; (2) Farrow’s own source then put forward information that showed his reporting to be undermined by ignorance of MIT institutional protocols; (3) a comprehensive MIT report conclusively demonstrated that the donations from Epstein were received in line with policies that, however misguided, had been explicitly set down by three of the university’s vice presidents; (4) contrary to Farrow’s report, Epstein had never even been classified under the “disqualified” category in the first place.

When MIT released a report on the Epstein donations in January, Cohen was not named specifically because of how minimal his role was in deciding those gifts, he said. Cohen wrote that he did not make any decisions about Epstein’s donations, pinning the blame on Ito, who resigned a day after Farrow’s story was published.

He began asking The New Yorker to add corrections to the story as early as December, and last reached out after Smith’s May column. Cohen included email exchanges with Farrow and three other members of The New Yorker’s editorial team and legal counsel. After quoting their correspondence, Cohen writes:

Will the New Yorker ever correct the record? It’s possible. But based on my reading of my correspondence with the magazine, this will happen only on the condition that I act as a source for a future story about the Media Lab and its donors, something I refuse to do.

He concluded that writing his side of the story would be the only way to attempt to correct the record.

“My own experience shows that Farrow is quite happy to bully others and evade accountability,” Cohen said. “And that he has surrounded himself with enablers who are willing to assist in that project.”

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