The people behind the tiki hate hoax in Virginia last week are now claiming the stunt was always intended to be just that, an obvious stunt. The Intercept reported yesterday that organizer Lauren Windsor gave reporters direct access to her email account so they could verify that the plan, as written, was to march out with tiki torches and then admit to anyone who asked that they were there with the Lincoln Project.
The operatives were instructed to reveal to any reporter who asked that they were there on behalf of the Lincoln Project. The problem for the actors: Nobody in the media approached them. They were likely scared off by the drizzle, said Pete Callahan, another Democratic operative.
Windsor made clear in an email Sunday evening that the plan was to be transparent about who they were working for:
1. IAN IS ONLY SPOKESPERSON
Only questions to be answered are:
Who are you with? We’re here with the Lincoln Project.
And Why are you here? We’re here to remind Virginians what an endorsement from Donald Trump really means
That was the plan, but of course it didn’t play out that way. What actually happened is the tiki hoaxers were noticed by a local news reporter who posted an image on Twitter. Then McAuliffe’s social media guy, Charlie Olaf, amplified that and finally, “Democratic operative Adam Parkhomenko…boosted the Olaf post.” Very quickly, a hoax was born and was spreading rapidly on the left even as people on the right were calling BS.
Here’s where the attempted clean up by Lauren Windsor and the Lincoln Project falls apart. As I pointed out here, when the hoax started spreading, they helped it along:
As it went viral, both the Lincoln Project and Windsor boosted posts that treated the stunt as real, despite the guidance the night before.
Here’s Windsor’s reaction:
— Lauren Windsor (@lawindsor) October 29, 2021
And here’s the Lincoln Project’s RT of Charlie Olaf:
After boosting the hoax, the Lincoln Project sat around for a while deciding how best to confess they were behind it.
…the delay in claiming credit came down to Lincoln Project operatives deliberating over their statement. “I was surprised people bit on it, thinking it wasn’t a stunt. It didn’t make sense to me that it wouldn’t be a stunt. I just assumed nobody would think it’s real,” said Callahan.
“A lot of that, at least as far as I know, was because Lincoln, who was kind of calling the play here, wanted to make a statement and take their time doing it. In hindsight, we should have knocked it down right away.”
Why the delay if the plan was to confess all along?
And there’s one more wrinkle. A Reuters photo editor says they did ask who the group was with and didn’t get an answer.
Jim, if that were the case, why didn't you say that in your reporting?? cc @ryangrim
— Lauren Windsor (@lawindsor) November 3, 2021
The Intercept clarifies that Bourg wasn’t there that day but the Reuters photographer who was there, Jonathan Ernst, told Bourg he asked who they were with and they didn’t respond. As you can see above, Lauren Windsor wants to know why, if that’s the case, Reuters didn’t report it in their story about the hoax.
Ian Golden, who was the organizer on the ground that day, i.e. one of the five tiki hoaxers, remembers Ernst being there but claims no one ever asked them who they were with or if they did ask that he never heard it.
Golden said he remembered the photographer. “The group was doing the [‘We’re all in for Glenn’] chant. He said, ‘It’s okay, I’m not recording video, just taking stills.’ And then went back inside the event. I did not hear a question from him before or after.
To sum all of this up, there was a plan in place for the hoaxers to admit they were with the Lincoln Project, but, perhaps because it was raining, they only reporter who got close enough to talk to them was a Reuters photographer. He claims he asked who they were with and they didn’t respond. They claim they didn’t hear the question. Without calling anyone a liar, I’ll just say it seems odd to me that the one thing they were supposed to say they never said to anyone.
Even if you believe that was just a mistake, it doesn’t explain why Windsor and the Lincoln Project (2.6 million followers) amplified the initial reaction that the tiki squad was real. They literally helped the hoax along and watched other people push it and then took their sweet time confessing they were behind it.
So the hoaxers themselves didn’t mention the Lincoln Project and then the Lincoln Project also didn’t mention the Lincoln Project. I’m seeing a pattern here.
They can claim they were caught by surprise but it still looks to me like this stunt worked even better than they expected and they decided to play it out and see what happened. And then the pushback started looking bad for McAuliffe and they had no choice but to confess.
I guess the lesson here is if you’re a young man and someone with the Lincoln Project asks you to play dress up, just say no.
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