A Georgia state representative, Republican Jason Spencer, became the latest political victim of Sacha Baron Cohen’s series “Who Is America?” on Sunday night in an episode featuring Spencer screaming obscenities, taking pictures up a Muslim actor’s robe while pretending to be a “Chinese tourist,” and exposing his bare buttocks in an attempt to “intimidate” a terrorist. “If you want to win, you show some skin,” Cohen told him.
Spencer also appeared to pretend to cut off a fake terrorist’s genitals while using the n-word and other profanities.
He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was led to believe the video would be used as an “educational aid to train elected officials who may be targeted by terrorists.”
Instead, it was used to provoke widespread ridicule — the New York Times asked, ‘Who Is Jason Spencer, the Unfortunate Star of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Latest Show?’ — and prompted the Republican speaker of the Georgia House to call for his resignation.
Cohen’s show, which aired for the first time last week on Showtime, dupes unwitting politicians into fake interviews or other activities in which Cohen disguises himself as a ridiculous character — but perhaps none have been more outrageous than Spencer’s performance in Sunday’s episode.
Cohen, disguised as an “anti-terror expert” named “Capt. Erran Morad,” coaxed Spencer into taking a self-defense class to protect against radical Islamic terrorists. Spencer said he was “fraudulently induced” to participate after the filmmakers learned that he introduced controversial legislation in 2016 that would have banned Muslim women from wearing burqas in public. The backlash over the legislation had “provoked death threats against me and my family,” hence his desire for the self-defense training, as he explained to the Journal-Constitution in a lengthy statement. He said the filmmakers “took advantage of my fears.”
Much of the training revolved around a horrifying possibility: Spencer could be kidnapped by the Islamic State extremist group. What would he do to protect himself?
Here is a full account, sans expletives and racial epithets, of Spencer’s performance, which David Ralston, the House speaker, called “reprehensible.” (The video is too graphic for this family newspaper. See the link at the bottom of the story, at your own risk.)
Dressed in khakis, a blue blazer and gym shoes, Spencer showed up at an apparent boxing training center to meet Cohen — er, Capt. Erran Morad — for the self-defense class. Indeed, the burqa legislation was the subject of Cohen’s first prank: “Do you know how to spot the difference between somebody who is a terrorist in a burqa and a normal woman in a burqa?” Cohen asked, using an accent.
Spencer said he didn’t.
“We have developed a technique,” Cohen told him. “Do you want to know how to do this?”
“Absolutely,” Spencer said.
“We take a selfie stick,” Cohen said, “and we put it underneath.”
Just so Spencer had an accurate idea of how that was supposed to work, Cohen showed him some (graphic) photos of people’s crotches that he had captured apparently by sticking a selfie stick up their garments to check whether they had guns strapped to their inner thighs.
Now it was Spencer’s turn to practice. A fully concealed person wearing a black full-length robe and black burqa appeared on set.
Cohen instructed Spencer to convince the person that Spencer is a “Chinese tourist” with a selfie stick.
He began mumbling gibberish interspersed with mentions of “konnichiwa,” red dragon, chopsticks, sushi, Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City (a miserable attempt to name Chinese things). Then he tried to distract the person with the old “look at that bird” trick while inconspicuously sticking his selfie stick up the person’s robe and between his or her legs.
“Good,” Cohen said. “Let’s look at the picture.”
No gun, just a person’s crotch.
“It’s not a terrorist,” Cohen confirmed.
Next up: Spencer learned how to escape an Islamic State kidnapping, a clip replete with nudity, racial slurs and homophobia.
Cohen told Spencer that “because of who you are, you could be the victim of a kidnapping by ISIS.”
The first defense against this is attracting attention to yourself, Cohen told him. How might Spencer do that?
“You start screaming, take your clothes off,” Spencer surmised, citing two things he would soon actually do.
“In America, there is one forbidden word. It is the n-word. Now, I am going to be the terrorist. You have three seconds to attract attention,” Cohen said.
Spencer proceeded to hysterically yell the n-word at the top of his lungs four times.
“Are you crazy?” Cohen said, informing him that was not the “n-word” he had in mind.
For the grand finale, Spencer would learn how to intimidate terrorists. He would apparently learn this by dropping his pants and yelling in support of the USA.
“ISIS are scared of being seen as” homosexuals, Cohen said. “If your buttock touch them, it means they have become a . . .”
“Homosexual,” Spencer said, finishing his sentence.
“Now I am going to teach you how to use your buttocks to intimidate ISIS.”
Cohen then asked Spencer to show his buttocks. “No, trousers down,” he said.
And then, again, Spencer unhesitatingly complied.
Then with his pants around his ankles, he backed aggressively into the fake terrorist, Cohen, while yelling “America!” to try to touch him with his buttocks. This was when Cohen said, “If you want to win, you show some skin.”
Spencer bared his buttocks and tried again, backpedaling toward him: “I’ll touch you. I’ll touch you with my buttocks! You better drop the gun or I’ll touch you! USA!”
“Okay, stop,” Cohen said. “You have to remind me: If I touch you, you will become a homosexual.”
Spencer tried again. Still baring his backside, he chased Cohen around the ring, running backward and maniacally yelling: “Arrrgh! Arrggh! Arghh! USA!”
He then did it a fourth time, warning that Cohen will become a homosexual.
In a “message to terrorists” at the end of the clip, Spencer says to “sand n—–” in the Middle East that “we are tired of you coming to America, and we are tired of you trying to threaten us. He then warns in highly graphic footage that he will cut off their genitals, which he then acts out.
Spencer did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post seeking an explanation for why he complied with Cohen’s directions.
In a July 16 statement to the Journal-Constitution, before the episode aired, Spencer said he has retained legal counsel to challenge the “illegal and unethical behavior” by “Hollywood liberals” and he would take action if the footage of him was broadcast. He did not specify the grounds on which he would sue.
“They exploited my state of mind for profit and notoriety,” he said in the statement. “This media company’s deceptive and fraudulent behavior is exactly why President Donald Trump was elected. Furthermore, there are sensitive parts of this training that took place under a kidnapping scenario where I was repeatedly asked to shout provocative language which I requested be removed, but I was not afforded that opportunity to have final approval over footage that was initially extended to me by the film makers. It is clear the makers of this film intended to deceive me in an attempt to undermine the American conservative political movement.”
He has not made a statement since then.
(Note: Here’s a link to YouTube footage of the video clip, which includes highly graphic content and profanity.)
Other politicians duped by Cohen include Sarah Palin, former sheriff Joe Arpaio, Bernie Sanders and Richard B. Cheney, who autographed a “waterboard kit” in his fake interview with Cohen.