Conservative Activists Go Undercover at Unions, Liberal Organizations

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An ACORN rally in 2008.

Today in America-is-in-serious-trouble news: The Times reports that young conservative activists are trying to infiltrate institutions like Planned Parenthood and NPR, basically waiting around until someone says something stupid that they can publicize.

These undercover agents pose as "pimps, sex traffickers and Muslim activists," record conversations with employees, and then publish heavily edited videos. A version of this scheme proved the final straw for community-organizing group ACORN, which folded in 2010 after actors dressed as a prostitute and a pimp recorded ACORN employees talking casually about tax evasion and encouraging prostitution.

The Times recounts the tale of Rhea Byer-Ettinger, an organizer for Manhattan Together, who had a close call with one such undercover conservative, albeit one not dressed as a prostitute. A man who introduced himself as Melvin Howting walked into the Manhattan Together office in East Harlem and asked how to start a union, how to get better wages, and whether unions could get more money out of politicians once they joined with employers.

Byer-Ettinger wasn't buying it, nor should she have: The man was actually John M. Howting, an active conservative who created an elaborate (and fake) company website to try to convince union leaders of his legitimacy. He also made a fake Facebook page, where he pretended to like influential liberals like FDR and … Kanye West.

Howting visited the Industrial Areas Foundation and East Brooklyn Congregations, both organizing groups, last week. Byer-Ettinger admitted to being spooked by the scheme:

“It plays with your mind. It really does. You wonder: Did he tape me? Is he cutting and pasting a tape right now?”