MoveOn Uses Fox News Hoaxes, Van Jones And The Roots In Anti-Austerity Campaign

WASHINGTON -- It seemed, at the time, too surreal to be true. In late May, a YouTube user named Hiropro999 posted a video to the site showing the ticker outside of News Corp.'s Manhattan headquarters being hacked and reprogrammed with an anti-FOX News script. The mysterious nature of the poster combined with the high profile of the target produced a tremendous amount of curiosity and netted 300,000-plus views.

FOX News said the video was a fake. It was.

On Wednesday morning, MoveOn.org, the five million-member progressive advocacy organization, finally acknowledged that it had commandeered the elaborate prank in an effort to draw attention to a much larger campaign. On June 23rd, the organization, alongside former White House adviser Van Jones and The Roots, are launching what organizers are calling "Rebuild the Dream," an effort to move the political conversation away from austerity and towards job creation.

"This will be the largest economic campaign we have ever run," Justin Ruben, MoveOn's Executive Director said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "The goal here is to really change the debate and refocus it on the stuff that is necessary to create jobs and make the economy work for regular people ... It is unreal that with widespread misery across the country, Washington is focused on closing the deficit and giving tax breaks to millionaires."

It's a task far more elaborate than engineering a YouTube prank. At a time when both major political parties and the White House have been bit by the austerity bug, arguing that the country actually isn't broke means risking "serious" status inside the Washington beltway. So MoveOn, which has experienced its share of D.C.-rooted discomfort during the Obama era, has focused its sights elsewhere.

On the 23rd, the group will be renting out The Town Hall in midtown Manhattan to host what Ruben describes as a "town hall meeting meets Godzilla meets the Grapes of Wrath meets a great dance party … Not to raise expectations or anything."

Perhaps Ruben is being overly exuberant. It is fair to say, however, that with the "Rebuild the Dream" campaign, MoveOn, which built its identity on challenging conventional political wisdom, be it the impeachment of Bill Clinton or the war in Iraq, is engaging in a type of hyper-aggressive organizing it has never tried before. At a time when the number of political advocacy groups competing for influence and attention is rising -- in what is inherently a finite sphere -- email solicitations and web ads have given way to a more subversive, overtly confrontational touch.

The underlying objective of the video hoax was, as Ruben put it, "to break down the barrier of passive communication." A supposed-hack video that contained a politically charged message could work in facilitating engagement beyond the usual crowd, MoveOn officials figured. But it had to have a strong enough hint of authenticity. Over slightly less than two months, the organization put together the product, consulted actual hackers and made an elaborate identity for Hiropro999, setting up online accounts, an email address, a fake "explainer" video and even a phone number. They swore everyone involved to secrecy and declined multiple media requests that came Hiropro999's way.

"I was alternatively thrilled and worried," said one MoveOn staffer involved in the project. "The bottom line is, we are in an ever-changing frontier in terms of how people communicate online. You have to take risks within reason in order to have an impact."

For its next project, MoveOn once again chose the backyard of a progressive foil as its arena, this time staging a flash mob on Wall Street, protesting stagnant economic recovery and dismissing the idea that budget cuts were the answer.

What the 23rd will have in store, beyond the headliners, is still something of mystery. Jones, for his part, said he would be on stage with The Roots. "I got about two weeks to get our dance moves together."

The former Obama adviser, who said he has spoken to more than 30,000 Americans on college campuses, in churches and in union halls since his exile from the White House, hinted at proverbial fireworks. But the real impact, he predicted, would be what originates from the event.

"I think people will be really surprised by what gets announced on the 23rd and the aggressive campaign that will come out of it," Jones said, in an interview with The Huffington Post. "There will be a presence in every campaign district in the country ... The idea is to help give a megaphone to this silent majority."

"We will be speaking to the main issue that America is not broke," he added. "The pie gets bigger every year -- it is just that the middle class's slices get smaller and smaller."