One of the most humiliating segments from the premiere episode of Sacha Baron Cohen’s series Who Is America? came courtesy of gun-rights activist and president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, Philip Van Cleave. He appeared alongside Baron Cohen’s Israeli character Erran Morad in the Kinder-Guardians ad that promoted arming toddlers with guns gussied up as fun stuffed-animal characters like “Puppy Pistol,” “Gunny Rabbit,” and “Uzicorn.” Here’s the full segment:
Unlike some of the other conservatives who appeared in the segment, Van Cleave did not release a public statement in the week leading up to the Who Is America? premiere, but it turns out that he did reflect on his interactions with Morad way back in April. The Daily Beast dug up a Facebook post Van Cleave posted on the Virginia Citizens Defense League page on February 20. At over 1,400 words, it’s a pretty epic recap of his interaction with Baron Cohen and a production crew he suspected was connected to “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.”
Van Cleave claimed he suspected something was up with the mysterious television crew and the “Israel security expert” host, but he went along with a 15-minute interview and the three-hour “Gunimals” ad shoot anyway “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,” he wrote. “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.” Apparently Van Cleave’s warning wasn’t very effective.
Here’s the full, 1,423-word post – or if you’d prefer to an audio version, Van Cleave released a recorded statement as well:
URGENT! share this far and wide!
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
Virginia Citizens Defense League