A controversial blogger and an infamous Internet hacker have teamed up to release hours of covertly filmed videos targeting Planned Parenthood officials and affiliates.
The videos, which were filmed by anti-abortion activist David Daleiden and partially released this summer, had been sealed under a temporary restraining order issued by a federal judge.
But neither the blogger, Charles C. Johnson, nor the hacker, Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, said they were worried about the legal repercussions of releasing the videos.
“To me it’s more of a speech issue than a life issue,” Johnson told The Washington Post on Thursday night. Johnson, who calls himself a “radical” blogger but is often referred to as a right-wing Internet “troll” and who has been blocked from Twitter multiple times, said he is pro-life but “not aggressive” about the issue. Releasing the footage was about the First Amendment, he claimed.
“If it comes to court, I hope the free speech organizations will protect me,” he said. “If not, I guess I’ll litigate it myself.”
Johnson’s general credibility has been called into question on numerous occasions as have his tactics, which have been described as Internet bullying. “Much of what he publishes is either wrong or tasteless,” the late David Carr of the New York Times wrote of him, “but that matters little to Mr. Johnson or his audience
True to his equally controversial reputation, Johnson’s hacker accomplice, Auernheimer, said he mostly did it for the lulz.
“They can extract me but they are going to have to fight the local militias,” he said of U.S. government officials, with whom he’s clashed in the past. Auernheimer claimed he took the videos off of Johnson’s server with the blogger’s permission and uploaded them to torrent Web sites for distribution around the world.
“Clearly this is a matter of public interest,” he said, speaking to The Post from what he claimed was Macedonia. “Every single member of the public needs to be able to watch these videos. The narrative is going to blow open on this one.”
It wasn’t clear as of Thursday night what, exactly, was on the videos, which appear to contain at least five hours of footage, perhaps much more. Planned Parenthood has accused Daleiden’s group, the Center for Medical Progress, of acting “fraudulently and unethically — and perhaps illegally,” and said the tapes released this summer were “deceptively edited.”
Daleiden has accused Planned Parenthood of coldly profiting off of abortions, a charge the organization denies.
The release of hours more footage is sure to stoke that fiery debate once more.
How Johnson got the videos remains murky.
He told The Post he received the unedited, undercover footage from a source he believed to be a congressional staffer and not — as critics claim — from Daleiden, who happens to be a friend from college.
Either way could be problematic. Daleiden is currently locked in a legal battle with the National Abortion Federation over the videos. (They were filmed surreptitiously at NAF conferences. If the judge finds that Daleiden leaked the footage, he could be held in contempt of court.)
“These videos are protected by our temporary restraining order,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the federation, in a statement. “We note that, according to published reports, the individual behind these leaks is a personal friend of David Daleiden’s, so we are not certain that it was the result of a congressional leak.”
Daleiden has denied being Johnson’s source, however, according to Politico.
Similarly, if Johnson’s source is a congressional staffer, that person could also be in trouble. After edited versions of the videos first emerged this summer, congressional Republicans demanded hearings on the controversial footage. Last month, the House Oversight Committee grilled Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards for hours over the tapes, copies of which the committee had obtained.
After the additional videos were posted to the Internet on Thursday, however, the NAF demanded House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) investigate the leak.
“I think Rep. Chaffetz needs to conduct a full investigation to get to the bottom of whether the leak came from Congress,” Saporta told Politico, adding that there had been “an unprecedented number of threats against abortion providers” since the initial release of the videos.
A committee spokesman, meanwhile, told Politico that he wasn’t even aware the videos had been leaked.
But Johnson said he had “no reason to doubt” that his source was a congressional staffer — and he’s fine with that.
“It seems kind of odd to me that Congress should get these videos and the public shouldn’t,” he told The Post. “It’s not like it’s national security or anything. Congressional staffers shouldn’t have access that the rest of us don’t.”
Here is what happened, according to Johnson and Auernheimer, at least.
Johnson told The Post that he received an anonymous e-mail early this week from someone with the username “patriotgeist.” When he later tracked the person’s IP address, Johnson claims it came back as Washington, D.C.
According to Johnson, the e-mail contained a Google Drive link to “all these documents on it, as well as video.” There were too many videos to watch in one sitting, he said, so he downloaded the shortest one. He immediately recognized it as one of Daleiden’s videos since it was his friend’s voice and the same style of surreptitious filming.
When he e-mailed the tipster to ask if he or she congressional staffer, as Johnson guessed, the source simply replied that he was someone who felt “morally interested in having this material come out.” (Johnson said he now has a good guess as to who the source is, but declined to name the person.)
“I called David since it’s obviously David in the video,” Johnson told The Post. “But he had no idea how this came to me.”
Johnson then uploaded the first video, a mere 76 seconds in length, to YouTube. Then, he said, he got a call from one of his five lawyers saying that the NAF wanted to file a restraining order against him, claiming he was an “agent” of Daleiden’s.
Johnson was in San Francisco on a business trip. Once he got home to Clovis, Calif., he fed his dog and was getting ready for bed when there was a knock on his door.
“I opened up the shades and just saw the gun,” he claimed. “I didn’t know if this was someone coming to hurt me, if it was related to Planned Parenthood or something.”
So he called the cops. Eventually, he figured out that the man was a process server sent to give Johnson a legal notice from the NAF. The letter consisted of a copy of the federal court’s restraining order against Daleiden disseminating the Planned Parenthood videos, as well as a warning that Johnson and Got News “are bound [to abide by the restraining order] as ‘persons who are in active concert or participation with’ David Daleiden and/or The Center for Medical Progress. If you make any further disclosures of material covered by the Court’s TRO, you will be potentially subject to severe legal sanctions.”
Johnson defiantly posted the letter to his Web site on Thursday morning.
“We will continue writing about them as our attorneys inform us that GotNews.com is not subject to any temporary restraining order concerning David Daleiden,” he wrote. “The law firm wants GotNews.com to turn over all texts, emails with Daleiden. This is easy. There aren’t any.”
“We are moving from the Planned Parenthood tapes being about the sale of organs to the unconstitutional restrictions on First Amendment,” he added. “GotNews.com will contest any unconstitutional prior restraint of speech all the way to the highest courts in the land.”
Meanwhile, Johnson had already reached out to Auernheimer, aka Weev, for help distributing the videos.
Shaken by his interaction with the armed process server, Johnson told The Post he went online, spotted Auernheimer on Facebook and asked for his assistance “in case something happens to me.” According to Johnson, he then sent the material to the hacker in Macedonia.
Auernheimer, however, said Johnson gave him access to his servers before the blogger received the legal notice.
Either way, Auernheimer gleefully took to Twitter to announce his involvement.
“I’m grabbing the juicy Planned Parenthood videos which were censored by court order from Chuck. I’ll be releasing them by torrent,” he tweeted on Wednesday.
“In defiance of a federal court order, all the censored Planned Parenthood recordings are now online,” he tweeted Thursday, with a link to roughly five hours of footage posted to YouTube.
“I must say it feels f—— great to be circumventing the orders of a federal court again,” he added, in reference to his own, lengthy legal battles.
The blogger and hacker are strange bedfellows. Both are highly controversial. Johnson has been accused of homophobia (though he told The Post he is in favor of gay marriage) while Auernheimer has written about being a white supremacist. But some of their views starkly conflict.
“Chuck is a big backer of Israel,” Auernheimer said. “I’m not so much about the Zionism. I’m more of a Hezbollah guy.”
The two first worked together to out government officials exposed in the Ashley Madison leak.
“I’m a very big Chuck fan,” Auernheimer said. “We have a very funny friendship.”
“I don’t know if I’d call us friends,” Johnson told The Post.
Whatever their relationship, their leak complicates the NAF’s lawsuit.
Auernheimer said he was celebrating his latest act of Internet incitement by drinking Macedonian liquor.
“I’ve riled people up on the Internet many times,” he said. “This is pretty much the status quo.”
Johnson said he was also celebrating on Thursday, but for another reason: it was his 27th birthday.
He spent the day fielding a flurry of calls on Thursday about the leaked footage, including calls from the offices of two state attorneys general, but admitted that he personally found the new videos “boring.”
“Several pro-life organizations called me praising me for doing this,” he said. “But it doesn’t strike me as particularly… whatever. Most of the interesting bits were probably already published by David and his team.”
Johnson told The Post that he had just eaten a birthday dinner with his wife and was about to head to an oyster bar to meet friends.
Among them: David Daleiden.