Miami-Dade County

An ISIS club? Undercover video stirs up controversy at Barry University

James O’Keefe, founder of Project Veritas, unveiled an undercover campaign Monday that involved a fake pro-ISIS club at Barry University in Miami Shores.
James O’Keefe, founder of Project Veritas, unveiled an undercover campaign Monday that involved a fake pro-ISIS club at Barry University in Miami Shores. Miami Herald Staff

A controversial conservative activist on Monday trumpeted his latest undercover adventure: trying to trick Barry University in Miami Shores into allowing a pro-ISIS campus club.

James O’Keefe is a self-described “guerrilla journalist and muckraker” known for his baiting tactics on video. On Monday, in an airport Hilton hotel conference room off State Road 836, his team handed out press kits and he talked about the campaign of catching college officials embracing the terror group by endorsing a mock club.

“Brace yourselves, this one is beyond anything you’ve ever seen,” O’Keefe tweeted Monday morning. After the event, he then took to Twitter to tout the media attention.

Here’s what led to his “gotcha” announcement Monday: A Barry student reached out to O’Keefe’s group, Project Veritas, which then cooked up a plan for a fake pro-ISIS club and to get Barry staffers on board.

Barry never approved the club and O’Keefe’s group had no intention of running it. One of the Barry campus coordinators even suggested that “ISIS” be omitted from the club name in favor of “Middle East.”

“It is immensely hurtful to our university community, to the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan who founded and continue to sponsor Barry University, and to the international members of the Dominican Order who have suffered as a result of the violence created by ISIS,” Sister Linda Bevilacqua, the university president, said in a statement on Monday.

The video shows a series of visits the undercover student had with college coordinators about the steps to start the club, Sympathetic Students in Support of the Islamic State.

At first, the student, whose name Project Veritas did not divulge, said she wanted to form “the humanitarian club” to raise money for widows and children of dead Islamic State fighters. The student also mentioned she wants to buy flashlights for fighters being attacked at night so that they can protect themselves.

This is the second time O’Keefe’s group has gone after a college on ISIS. Last week, Project Veritas released a video showing a Cornell dean who advised another undercover student on how to start and fund a pro-ISIS student club.

“We believe that taxpayers and parents need to know what’s happening at universities across the country,” O’Keefe said. “People have talked about some of the malfeasance happening on campuses, about the mentality of professors and administrators and we want to expose that.”

Barry University didn’t take too kindly to the campaign.

“Barry University does not and never will allow or authorize the formation of an ISIS-related humanitarian aid group on campus. There has been no formation of any such group at Barry University. No paper work requesting such an organization has ever been filed with the proper authorities at the University,” Bevilacqua said.

“The images and video released were edited and spliced to unfairly represent the university and staff being featured. It is reprehensible to think any organization would acquire video and edit in such a way as to denigrate the reputation of Barry University or its staff.”

O’Keefe’s provocative style and post-production editing first gained national attention in 2009, when the group targeted a national community organization, Acorn. O’Keefe and an associate, Hannah Giles, posed as a pimp and a prostitute seeking tax advice.

In 2012, O’Keefe’s organization released a video showing an undercover operative proposing a voter-fraud plan to the son of a congressman working on the campaign of his father, Democratic Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia. Patrick Moran resigned soon thereafter.

But in January 2010, O’Keefe’s attempt to break into Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in Baton Rouge, La., disguised as telephone technicians, backfired. O’Keefe and his three partners, each in their mid-20s, were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony when they entered the office of Landrieu, a Democratic senator.

In May 2010, the four defendants pleaded guilty to entering real property belonging to the United States under false pretenses. Three of the four were sentenced to two years probation, a fine of $1,500 and 75 hours of community service. O’Keefe, as the group’s leader, was sentenced to three years probation, a fine $1,500 and 100 hours of community service.

At Barry, university officials said they weren’t aware that the student was videotaping the three club coordinators, and indicated that the recordings are illegally obtained.

O’Keefe compares his organization’s work to undercover investigations by TV networks.

“We don’t believe it was illegal,” O’Keefe said. “There was no expectation of privacy.”

Follow @kathdevaney on Twitter.

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