‘Occupy Unmasked’—Unmasked

‘Occupy Unmasked’—Unmasked

The documentary, starring the late Andrew Breitbart, is a deranged hodge-podge of bizarre memes, wild dot-connecting and unadulterated fury.


It's not that Occupy Wall Street, on principle, is undeserving of criticism. Theoretically, some conservative opponent could make a sensible film pointing out its various shortcomings. But Occupy Unmasked, a “documentary” starring the late Andrew Breitbart, is just total fantasy: a deranged hodge-podge of bizarre memes, wild dot-connecting and unadulterated fury. Its central thesis holds that the movement was founded as—and remains—an elaborate front for the Obama re-election effort, having been surreptitiously organized by actors ranging from the SEIU, Rachel Maddow and “professional anarchists” to Amy Goodman, Hamas, Russia Today, Matt Taibbi and the Anonymous hacktivist collective. Indeed, these folks all conspired, in the words of Citizens United president David Bossie, to “destroy the very fabric of America.”

Occupy Unmasked is a production of Citizens United—yes, that Citizens United—and bankrolled for distribution by Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks franchise and occasional financier of political documentaries. In Occupy Unmasked, ominous voiceovers recorded by Breitbart (still torturing leftists from the grave, apparently) assert with blinkered conviction that Occupy Wall Street was very obviously not an organic grassroots movement, but instead a grand ruse, which the Liberal Media afforded undue attention for cynical reasons. “Bullshit,” Breitbart scoffs at Time for declaring 2011 “The Year of the Protester.” With so much duplicity abound, the task of “unmasking” and exposing Occupy for what it really is has fallen to patriots like he.

The film propagates two key anti-Occupy memes, both very popular in right-wing circles during the movement's heyday in the fall of 2011—namely, a dubiously-sourced image depicting a young man rubbing his buttocks on a police car and an alleged epidemic of rapes at the encampments. Whatever the true genesis of the buttocks photo, to suggest that the significance of Occupy writ large can be reduced to feces seems rather juvenile. But in fact the right-wing has long fixated on bodily excrement as an explanatory emblem for Occupy; much to their amusement last fall, radio hosts would constantly cite “unsanitary conditions” as a reason why police should crack down hard on demonstrators.

Far more pernicious are the vile rape charges. Owing to a few terribly unfortunate (and isolated) incidents of sexual assault at Occupy sites—and omitting reports that NYPD officers were caught sending mentally ill and homeless people into Zuccotti Park—the film hypothetizes a systematic cover-up of rampant rapes. Of course, there is no factual basis for this slur. But in Breitbart's alternate universe, the need for any factual basis has become wholly obsolete, and in the context of the right-wing's inveterate obsession with sexual humiliation, their glomming onto such a canard makes perfect sense.

Also propounded in the film is the notion that Occupiers' complaints regarding police conduct are not just without merit, but yet another sinister scheme to undermine hard-working Americans' way of life. Law Enforcement were “made out to be the bad guys,” intones the narrator, victims of a malicious “ploy.” On this subject, the filmmakers might consult Michelle Fields, a reporter who was clobbered by officers last fall while covering Occupy Wall Street for the right-wing Daily Caller website. “When I was in NYC,” she told me, “the protesters there seemed less rowdy, and it was the police instigating the fights.”

Lee Stranahan, prime investigative journalist for the Breitbart team, conceded that he had only been to Zuccotti Park twice, but was nevertheless confident in his film's portrayal of the Brooklyn Bridge mass arrest episode on October 1, 2011. “They got a bunch of people to show up, and they got the one thing that Occupy needs to get media—which is they got arrested,” Stranahan narrates. “They don't get media unless there's arrests or violence.” Like virtually everything associated with Occupy, the mass arrest (of 700 plus demonstrators) was a complete hoax, in this case “orchestrated by Natasha Lennard from the New York Times!” according to Breitbart (Lennard, then a NYT freelancer, is now assistant news editor for Salon).

Lennard denies the accusation. “Any suggestion that I would plan or orchestrate my own arrest (while at the time applying for new visa status in the US, I might add) and the arrest of 700 plus others,” she told me, “is fanciful and bordering on the deranged. Expressing interest in and support for Occupy, as I did, is one thing. But it seems Occupy Unmasked charges I actively and personally planned illegal acts—an outrageous and provably false claim indeed.”

At a special screening held during the Republican National Convention, one producer indicated that it was Occupy's unrelenting desire “to burn down America” which for him crossed a red line. As it happens, another figure intent on burning down America per the Breitbart framework is our current president—or so claims Dinesh D'Souza's 2016: Obama's America propaganda movie, now the fourth-highest grossing “documentary” of all time. In 2016, D'Souza asks viewers if they have noticed that Obama “seems weirdly sympathetic to Jihadis captured in Iraq and Afghanistan,” or that his fervid support for “socialistic” policies appears rooted in “third-world anti-Americanism.” Because the Obama re-election campaign and the Occupy movement are somehow inextricable, they are both treated as manifestations of the same nebulous scourge.

“No wonder Obama supports the Occupy Wall Street movement so strongly,” intimates D'Souza—an odd concept, it would seem, given the Department of Homeland Security's documented coordination with (largely Democratic) mayors to crush the encampments, the sizable Occupy-led demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention, the “mic check” that Obama was once subjected to in New Hampshire and so forth. But forget all that. Animated by a stealth “anti-capitalist, anti-Christian, and anti-American” agenda, D'Souza posits, together Obama and the Occupiers pose a dire existential threat—the likes of which have not been seen since the Clinton Administration. Ah, gotta love that right-wing imagination!

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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