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The Wages of Never Meeting a Camera You Wouldn’t Jump in Front Of

I have a pretty strict rule: I don’t talk to journalists. I’ve rarely made exceptions to that, but for the most part, that’s my rule. As a result, I’ve given up a lot of opportunities to self-promote and up my profile. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the gun issue, it’s that being an effective self-promoter pays. You can’t swing a cat in the gun rights issue without hitting a dozen self-promoters, at least half of whom will border on shameless.

Definitely in the category of “shameless” is Phil Van Cleave. I understand that as head of a state gun right’s group, Phil can’t take the same policy I do. He has to talk to the media to a great degree. But seriously, you should have walked out of the room long before this:

Since this came out, I don’t think Van Cleave has exactly covered himself in glory. His spin on this is pretty much that he went undercover as a highly trained secret agent, intent on exposing who was behind this charade, and where it was going.

“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,” Van Cleave said. “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.”

Come on, just admit you got snookered. Cohen has snookered a lot of people more prominent than Phil Van Cleave. Or maybe suggest that you were going along with the comedy; that you thought you were participating in an obvious self-deprecating comedy piece and didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to take it seriously. You’d still be a sucker, but at least you’d still have some dignity left.

Does anyone other than rabidly deranged partisans think anyone, even Phil Van Cleave, endorse a “Puppy Pistol?” I like quality self-deprecating humor, but this isn’t it. My issue with Cohen’s comedy is that it’s just not funny. Borat was a menagerie of cultural condescension, and looking down on others. Punching down is never good comedy. I only wish there weren’t so many people in the gun rights movement that weren’t so desperate for attention as to easily become victims of a con artists like Cohen.

UPDATE: Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Phil Van Cleave. Watch Larry Pratt laugh about rape. A big part of appearing on television for interviews is to keep your shit in check and to not forget you’re on TV.

22 Responses to “The Wages of Never Meeting a Camera You Wouldn’t Jump in Front Of”

  1. wof-hornet says:

    You think he would’ve learned to be on his guard after Katie Couric.

  2. National Observer says:

    This seems to me to be a continuation of the theme of the previous “From Russia” thread. Just how flagrant does a kind of “infiltration” need to be, that the target should not have fallen for it, and how politically astute can we believe the target to be, if they did fall for it? Those who want to believe in Phil Van Cleave as a political operative are pretty much obligated to accept his “undercover” story, and they will.

  3. countertop says:

    Though an on again off again member of VCDL I have waivering faith, or trust, in Van Cleave’s political senses. In any case, and in Phil’s defense, this is the email he sent out on February 20th of this year about the interview:

    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
    President
    Virginia Citizens Defense League

    • Patrick Henry, the 2nd says:

      He is still dumb to be a part of it, but if that came out when it did, at least he had the sense to know it was dumb.

  4. Jim S says:

    The explanation doesn’t seem to make sense. First he says this:

    “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”

    Then this:

    “I was now convinced that something wasn’t right.”

    And then, despite knowing this was a setup

    “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.”

    All of these things do not add up. Either he knew it was a setup and continued on, embarrassing American gun owners or he had no clue what was going on and he was lying to everyone he sent that email to.

    But look at the other contradictions in Van Cleave’s email

    “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.”

    and this:

    “I do interviews all the time, and this one didn’t seem to be all that much out of the ordinary”

    so, it’s common place to have the red carpet extended for an interview? Really?

    This guy Van Cleave sounds like a huckster and fraud.

    Boy, it sure is a good thing he was able to do all that detective work after disgracing the gun rights movement.

    This is so precious, bless his heart:

    “In the end we played each other and I confirmed what I feared this was all about.”

    No, Mr. Van Cleave, you did not play anything or anyone except the hundreds of millions of gun owners that you don’t represent.

    • countertop says:

      Van Cleave isn’t a huckster and a fraud. If you have the right to carry a gun, and if you have the right to carry a gun in a national park, he is a larger part of the reason you can exercise that right. He’s one of the original concealed carry grassroots leaders and has had a pretty phenomenal rate of success along with VCDL.

      • Jim S says:

        Ok, maybe he’s not a fraud, but he is most definitely lying, several times in that email.

        You did say you had ‘waivering faith in his political senses’ above, I wonder if it’s not just his political senses that are at issue. I hope it’s not a mental health issue, but take a look at the show and then re-read that email. He’s not even in the same reality that the rest of us are.

        Is he still the head of VCDL? If so, I hope you guys can get another gun group started because there’s no way any legislator is going to touch Puppy Pistol Lobby’s bills or seek endorsements from the Gunny Rabbit singer.

        • Countertop says:

          1) He is VCDL
          2) Some might call it lying. I’d call it spinning furiously.

          I have no doubt there’s plenty of deception and deceptive edits going on. But this was a tremendous (and tremendously embarrassing) unforced error. Also, in light of how clear his Feb 20th email was about thisbthreat, it’s shocking how many others fell for it and the inability of them to get the word out more widely.

      • Tennx says:

        He was a VERY SMALL part of the Parks repeal although he likes to pretend VCDL was a major player just as NRA tried. ONE person was responsible for 95% of the heavy lifting on that. One person was responsible for three years dogged, relentless work. I suggest you visit http://www.bighammer.net

  5. National Observer says:

    I’d say, forget about Van Cleave, but what about Larry Pratt, and the Republican legislators in this video, who endorsed “Kinderguardians?” Larry Pratt still has a lot more reach than Van Cleave does, and what can you say about conservative political personalities that we elected?

    My analysis has always been, that gun owners for some reason would believe in anyone who would say a few nice words about them or their sport. While the politicians who pander to us are willing to give lip service to anything we appear on be on board with. The levels of gullibility seem just beyond belief.

    • Tennx says:

      The real test will be the level of credibility that exists with the Virginia Legislature when it reconvenes. If there is none then the organization will, eventually, cease to exist.

      • National Observer says:

        The way things have evolved, I’m not sure we can count on what any legislature does being rational, and that makes everything unpredictable. All factions seem to have more than their share of totally bizarre political actors, that once would have gotten themselves and their factions black-balled, but no one even blinks at them anymore.

  6. Another One says:

    It can be annoying to “forget my on TV.”

    Have you found your on TV, yet? Maybe once you’ve found it, it can be an off TV.

  7. I have never turned down an interview opportunity and even a few that turned out to be setups. But don’t let yourself be badgered into something stupid and think before you respond. If someone suggests something absurd (like training 4-year-olds to shoot back, or allowing convicted violent felons to own guns), make it clear that this is stupid. No mealy-mouthing that can be edited to say something different.

  8. Jim W says:

    I think Clayton brings up a good point- if you’re a public representative of the movement or an elected politician, you need to have enough awareness to not be lead into saying or agreeing with stupid things.

    Then again, it’s important to remember that it’s almost impossible to outwit whoever edits the footage. Remember the famous Michael Moore bit where he would use cuts to the audience to cover the fact that he was removing 90 percent of what the speaker was saying to make it sound outrageous? The only clue was that people still had the original footage and it was a completely different speech.

    See also John Stewart- interview someone for 4 hours asking the same question 100 times until the victim messes up. Then splice together footage to change what they said. Remember the interview where they made it look like the gun rights people were just sitting there slack jawed even though they had actually responded to the question?

    • Alpheus says:

      This is why, whenever one goes to an interview, it’s important to record *something*, even if it’s just audio. That way, you’d be in a position to put everything back into context, once it’s been pulled out of context.

  9. Jim W says:

    But I think an important thing we’re missing here is… Who the fuck doesn’t recognize Sasha Baron Cohen anymore? Even in disguise he’s really easy to spot. His voice is really distinctive, even when he’s doing an impression. He’s only been doing this shtick for like 20 years now. How are people still fooled by this shit?

    It’s not like the project veritas guys where the public spokesman doesn’t actually go undercover anymore. It’s still the borat guy in every scene.

    • I confess that I have no idea what this Cohen creature looks like in or out of disguise. Listen for the idiocy. Then who it is does not matter.

      • Alpheus says:

        Indeed. I have heard of some of the things he does, but I’ve never actually seen it. I have the impression it’s deeply offensive and crude stuff, so it’s unlikely that I *would* see it.

  10. National Observer says:

    “Who the fuck doesn’t recognize Sasha Baron Cohen anymore?”

    I might not have. His schticks never appealed to me, so I’ve never spent a minute dwelling on him.

    “How are people still fooled by this shit?”

    I think your problem is, you don’t want to believe our leadership are morons. The name of the show is “Who is America” and the answer he demonstrates is “America has become moron.”

    “It’s not like the project veritas guys”

    I’m glad you brought up the analogy. Turn about is fair play, and fortunately this is just tragi-comedy.

    • Alpheus says:

      The funny thing is, it’s only fair play in one direction: when liberals do this to conservatives and libertarians. If a conservative or libertarian does this to a liberal, then it’s positively awful, in bad taste, etc.

      And this, in turn, results in conservatives and libertarians not trusting the media, with the media not understanding why….

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