Was a man serious when he told a journalist that George Soros invited him to lunch, paid him by personal check to protest, and made him rich? No, that's not true: A video of the "paid protester" is a 3-year-old spoof, according to the man who conducted the faux interview and posted the original two-minute video. Furthermore, the man featured in the video reached out to Lead Stories after we published an earlier version of this story to identify himself and say, "Thanks for setting the record straight."
The video clip of the satirical interview reappeared in a YouTube video (archived here) published on May 30, 2020, by an apparent QAnon believer as massive protests spread across the nation in response to George Floyd's death while in police custody. It was titled:
George Soros 'Paid Protester' Opens Up To TYT!
Here's how the video appeared when it resurfaced:
When the original video published on TYT, or The Young Turks, a progressive media outlet, in 2017, its title included a question mark:
George Soros 'Paid Protester' Opens Up To TYT?!
Here's how the original post appeared online:
Journalist Michael Tracey, then with TYT, told Lead Stories that the"paid protester" was not being serious when Tracey interviewed him and then posted the original two-minute video on March 21, 2017. Tracey, who didn't identify the interview subject, said the clip was meant to be a spoof and that the subject was making a mockery of Soros-related conspiracy theories.
In the video, the unnamed man struggles to stifle laughter and stumbles as he begins to improvise his words. He then explains that prospective protesters who want to make money need to just go to GeorgeSoros.com, sign up with their names and email addresses, indicate how often they can protest and write down what they want to get paid. (There is no place to sign up to get paid for protesting at that website, by the way.) The man says his checks are signed by Soros and went further, adding:
He even invited me to lunch. He said if I'm willing to gather some more friends, I can get paid like twice as much for every friend that I gather and kind of set up a pyramid scheme.
When Tracey says, "You can get rich just based on protesting for Soros," the man responds, "I already have."
Tracey, who left TYT two years ago and now works as an independent journalist, told Lead Stories in an email exchange that the video was shot on March 18, 2017, at a town hall meeting in Grass Valley, California, that was hosted by U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a California Republican.
I immediately interpreted the man's behavior as a spoof, and as you can tell by watching the video, played along. It was abundantly obvious to me right away that he was engaged in a "schtick" intended to MOCK the notion that there was a widespread plague of Soros-backed "paid protesters" overrunning town hall meetings. After the video went up, I even posted a clarification video making it 100% clear that the video was satirical.
That video he posted on March 21, 2017, to offer clarification was longer than the video it was clarifying. It was titled:
Was That Weird Guy Really A "Paid Protester"?
Tracey explained in the clarification video how he initially connected with the "paid protester." Tracey also mentioned that he'd stirred up a lot of reactions, including death threats, in response to posting the video, which drove him to post another video offering explanation. In it he said:
If you couldn't see that that was satirical or that was meant to be facetious, then I don't know what to tell you. You need to work on your discernment. ...
Just so everybody's clear, that guy was definitely kidding around. ... He wasn't being serious, okay. He's not a paid protester. His intention and my intention in conducting that interview was to mock the notion that paid protesters are a real thing in any meaningful sense.
People are apparently circulating this old interview I did with a "paid protester" who said he was funded by George Soros. The guy was obviously trolling! It was a schtick. Anyone who actually believes this was authentic is incredibly gullible, lol
Here's how that tweet appeared on social media:
People are apparently circulating this old interview I did with a "paid protester" who said he was funded by George Soros. The guy was obviously trolling! It was a schtick. Anyone who actually believes this was authentic is incredibly gullible, lol https://t.co/rpGA5R29bb
Tracey also mocked those who fell for it, including Greg Raths, a Republican running for U.S. Congress in California. Raths shared a clip from the video on June 1, 2020, in a since-deleted tweet that he introduced with these words:
[email protected] played THIS video, not any conservative news outlet, from MARCH 21 2017, that talks about paid GEORGE SOROS protestors.
From THE YOUNG TURKS--far leftists! @cenkuygur this is his political reporter, Michael Tracey!
Lead Stories asked, given the ongoing confusion about and misinterpretation of the video, if Tracey wishes he'd handled this satirical video in another way. He has no regrets and said this:
I don't think I would've done anything differently; I still find it amusing.
Soon after Lead Stories published a first version of this story, a man named Kipchoge Spencer reached out by email. Spencer, of Nevada City, California, describes himself as a "lifelong activist," says he's started a few non-profit organizations and is in the midst of "working on a voting app." He then pasted language from a post he published on social media. The message he shared started with these words:
That's me in the video. From a more innocent time -- 3 years ago -- before post-truth-landia gobbled up all the sanity. I thought it would be funny to call out the preposterous idea that the only reason millions of people would protest something is for cash.
In the post-truth world satire sucks. Instead of exposing idiocy it reinforces it. Before, a satirist could be clever, funny and unpredictable, now he's just a tool with no self-determination. That's me in the corner, losing my religion and embarrassed to see my already twisted words doubly snaked backwards to bite me and the things I care about in the ass.
With oh so much irony, this video is spreading farther and faster than most any work I've ever earnestly produced. My uncle just sent me a Newsweek article about it, and friends who don't know if I'm joking are confused and/or pissed. So, this is my response and I have a favor to ask: would you be willing to go the video (even both copies of it) and make a comment on my comment so that my comment rises up to the top and I can try to stem any harm that might come from people taking me seriously?
His lengthy message brings up the current protests sweeping across the nation and asks:
What would it take for you to protest something that pisses you off? Wouldn't you do it just because? Just because we live in a country with a long history of being able to stand up and speak when your rights are in danger and/or being trampled? And yet somehow when people whom you disagree with protest, they must be getting paid? wtaf.
Spencer concedes that he could have "done a better job" in the interview or outed himself with a "just kidding." He wrote:
I could have said the web site isgeorgesorosblackmagicchickenhead.com, or that if I weren't paid to protest I'd be experimenting on kittens, or that Soros would pay you even more to infiltrate the cops and "tear gas" the protestors with Bill Gates gas that makes you gay. But, since satire died, what would actually have happened is that the same people would have still used it all as even more sinister proof. I'm sure this comment itself will be used as proof. Proof for anything you believe is suddenly everywhere. It's now the same as a hypothesis. I believe it so I click on it and therefore it is.
He ends his social media message with a clear view of his political stance:
None of this is to deny the well documented truth that paid agents of the state often do pose as protesters and incite violence for the purpose of turning public sentiment against otherwise peaceful assemblies. Because nothing threatens the powerful like a gathering of thousands of grandmas and kids and regular folks peacefully demanding change and singing We Shall Overcome. Come to think of it, maybe that's why people are so willing and wanting to believe that all this unrest is paid for: nobody wants to believe that the great flood of popular opinion is against them or that they're on the wrong side of history. But if you don't think Black Lives Matter, it is and you are.
Indeed, Spencer, the "paid protester" who wasn't, has a lot more to say than he said, jokingly, on video more than three years ago. Here's how his full post appeared on Facebook so you can see it for yourselves:
I accidentally trolled myself and it went viral. In the post-truth world satire sucks. Instead of exposing idiocy it...
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