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During the third and final presidential debate, Republican nominee Donald Trump accused his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton of paying people to incite violence at his rallies.
"If you look at what came out today on the clips," he said, "I was wondering what happened with my rally in Chicago and other rallies where we had such violence. She’s the one, and Obama, that caused the violence. They hired people, they paid them $1,500, and they’re on tape saying, be violent, cause fights, do bad things."
He continued: "When I saw what they did, which is a criminal act by the way, where they’re telling people to go out and start fist-fights and start violence. In particular in Chicago people were hurt, and people could’ve been killed in that riot. And that was now all on tape started by her."
In case you don’t know about "the clips," Trump is referring to a video released this week by Project Veritas Action, a conservative group that went undercover to secretly record Democratic operatives discussing plans to cause trouble at Trump events.
There’s a lot to unravel in Trump’s comment, and too much remains unknown to put it on the Truth-O-Meter. The video Trump referenced also comes from a controversial group that has been accused in the past of purposefully editing footage to advance their agenda.
But the video is certainly provocative and is likely to be discussed in the days to come. So we thought it important to lay out what we know so far.
Project Veritas is an organization founded by James O’Keefe, a 32-year-old conservative activist. He first came to prominence in 2009 when he posted undercover videos that alleged illegal activity by employees of ACORN, the community action group that helped register low-income people to vote.
Previous sting operations from Project Veritas have led to resignations of Democratic operatives and NPR executives.
The 16-minute video released Oct. 17, part one in what will be a four-part series called "Rigging the Election," dramatically begins with O’Keefe promising to expose "the dark background dealings of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign."
"What you’re about to see will make you uncomfortable and angry. It’s graphic, uncensored and disturbing," O’Keefe says. "Our attorneys say there is strong evidence of criminality."
For the most part the video focuses on Scott Foval, who is identified as the national field director at Americans United for Change, a liberal organization. He was a subcontractor working for Democracy Partners, a consulting firm founded by Robert Creamer (who is also featured in the video). Democracy Partners did work for the Democratic National Committee.
From the start, two things are clear: One, the videos are edited in ways that the context of the conversation or the meaning of the statement isn’t always clear, nor do you know when they took place. Two, Project Veritas’ undercover operatives are often goading their subjects with leading statements. It has the effect of making the viewer infer that the people said something that he or she didn’t literally say.
Nevertheless, Foval makes several eyebrow-raising claims about how he trains activists to incite reactions from Trump supporters. If you recall, during the Republican primaries, protesters who interrupted Trump’s events were often escorted out, sometimes at Trump’s urging. Outside, clashes between protesters and Trump supporters were common.
Foval is recorded as saying:
• "If you’re there and you’re protesting and you do these actions, you will be attacked at Trump rallies. That’s what we want. The whole point of it is, we know Trump’s people will freak the (expletive) out, the security team will freak out, and his supporters will lose their (expletive)."
• "There’s a script. There’s a script of engagement. Sometimes the crazies bite, and the crazies don’t bite."
• "The key is initiating the conflict by having leading conversations with people who are naturally psychotic. I mean honestly, it is not hard to get some of these (expletive) to pop off. It’s a matter of showing up, to want to get in the rally in a Planned Parenthood T-shirt. Or Trump is a Nazi. You can message to draw them out and message them to punch you."
The comments were bad enough that they earned an immediate rebuke from DNC interim chair Donna Brazile, who said they "do not in any way comport with our long-standing policies on organizing events, and those statements and sentiments do not represent the values that the Committee holds dear." Foval was laid off by Americans for Change, and Creamer is "stepping back" from his work with the DNC and Clinton campaign, according to the Washington Post.
Another individual in the video, Zulema Rodriguez, bragged at the Republican National Convention that she "did the Chicago event where they shut down" the event. According to the video, she’s referring to Trump’s March 11 Chicago rally that was preemptively cancelled due to a massive anti-Trump protest, whose participants then clashed with Trump supporters, causing several injuries.
Trump said that Clinton and Obama "caused the violence" because "they paid them $1,500, and they’re on tape saying be violent, cause fights, do bad things."
We asked Trump’s campaign for evidence that backs up what the video does not. The video, for example, does not mention payments in that sum, nor does it mention Obama.
Trump’s campaign provided no evidence linking Obama to this controversy in any way.
As far as the claim about the $1,500, spokesman Steven Cheung pointed to campaign finance reports that showed the Clinton campaign paid Rodriguez $1,610 in Arizona on Feb. 29 -- less than two weeks before the Chicago rally, Cheung noted.
Cheung did not have any other examples. So "them" is really one person.
Clinton spokesman Zac Petkanas said Rodriguez worked as an organizer for the campaign in Arizona during part of the month of February leading up to that state’s Democratic Party, and her employment ended Feb. 26.
Rodriguez isn’t on tape saying she attempted to incite violence, and the video did not connect her to Foval as one of his trainees.
Foval wasn’t hired as a subcontractor until June, the DNC said, long after the Chicago protest.
Other people and groups have been given credit for shutting down the Chicago rally. Multiple news reports suggest that University of Illinois Chicago students, MoveOn.org and Bernie Sanders supporters mobilized online to shut down the rally. Hundreds of anti-Trump protesters planted themselves inside the event with the goal of preventing it from even taking place. They succeeded, and clashed with Trump supporters after it was announced the Republican businessman wouldn’t be attending.
FEC reports show Rodriguez also worked for MoveOn.org.
It should be noted, too, that for as problematic as Foval’s statements were, he also says in the tape that he did not coach people to stage confrontations inside the events.
"They’re not starting confrontations in the rally because once they’re inside the rally, they’re under Secret Service’s control," Foval said.
Nor did he say on tape that he told people to "be violent" and "start fist-fights," as Trump alleged. Instead, Foval’s stated goal was to bait Trump supporters into violent acts simply by wearing certain t-shirts or saying anti-Trump remarks.
Third Presidential Debate, Oct. 20, 2016
Email conversation with Steven Cheung, spokesman for Donald Trump, Oct. 20, 2016
Email conversation with Zac Petkanas, spokesman for Hillary Clinton, Oct. 20, 2016
Email conversation with Mark Paustenbach, spokesman for DNC, Oct. 20, 2016
Project Veritas Action, "Rigging the Election: Video 1," Oct. 17, 2016
Washington Post, "Two Democratic operatives lose job after James O'Keefe's sting," Oct. 19, 2016
TIME, "Everything We Know About the Latest James O’Keefe Video Sting," Oct. 18, 2016