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Right-wing group Project Veritas targets Princeton sex education nonprofit HiTOPS

HiTOPS, the Princeton-based nonprofit that provides sex education and LGTBQ+ programs for young people in schools in New Jersey, is the latest target of Project Veritas, the right-wing activist group that uses heavily edited secret recordings to discredit organizations and individuals.

After Project Veritas posted a story and video on Sept. 13 that claims that HiTOPS uses covert tactics to introduce a “radical” sex curriculum into schools through backdoor channels without parental consent, the organization started receiving threatening emails and phone calls that made staff members concerned for their safety and the safety of the young people they work with. Leaders of HiTOPS told Planet Princeton they had to reach out to the police Wednesday due to the threats.

“Project Veritas has used deceptive, unethical methods to manipulate public perception and misrepresent HiTOPS’ work,” reads a statement to Planet Princeton from HiTOPS. “Their defamatory video incited threatening communications directed at us, which have created fear and anxiety for the safety of our team and the young people we work with. HiTOPS has reached out to the Princeton Police Department, which is investigating the situation.”

Project Veritas works to generate bad publicity for its targets and often spreads disinformation and conspiracies in its videos, which are frequently filmed secretly without the subject’s knowledge by people who misrepresent themselves to gain access to their subjects at conferences and other events. Project Veritas targets have included Democratic Congressional campaigns, labor groups, Planned Parenthood, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, NPR, CNN, and The Washington Post. Project Veritas has received large donations from the conservative Koch-related Donors Trust and other supporters, including the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

The group has a lengthy history of targeting teachers’ unions and educators across the country in its campaigns in an attempt to build distrust in public education systems and spark culture wars in schools. Representatives of the group record subjects during meals and conference sessions where their targets make off-the-cuff comments about how to approach gender and sexuality in schools. In Natomas, California, a teacher received death threats and was harassed at his home after being featured in a Project Veritas video.

In the HiTOPS video posted by Project Veritas on Sept. 13, two HiTOPS staff members who were recorded without their knowledge are asked about their curriculum in schools. Staff members are asked about how the organization sometimes presents educational programs as part of racial justice and inclusivity curriculums in schools that parents do not have the option to opt out of. One staff member says HiTOPS is doing more work in the area of gender-affirming language because of the increased demand for programs in that area. Staff members say the goal is to create a safe, open space to talk about identity issues. One HiTOPS staff member also talks about how teachers can use Google Forms to survey students occasionally about what name they prefer to use and which pronouns. The staff person says some schools have backed out of contracts with HiTOPS for fear of backlash from conservative parental rights groups.

Project Veritas frames what HiTOPS is doing as finding back doors and exploiting loopholes and computer technology to advance radical sexual education without parental knowledge or consent.

HiTOPS has worked with young people and their families for more than 37 years and is considered a trusted expert in the state for youth-focused sex education and support. The organization provides programming to school districts in the Princeton region and beyond, including in the Princeton and Trenton public schools. The organization also offers training online to schools in other states.

Representatives from HiTOPS said the organization openly and proudly works to empower all young people through sex education, LGBTQ+ support, and creating environments that affirm young people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

“HiTOPS has been targeted by an ultra-rightwing, conservative hate group, Project Veritas, who misrepresented themselves to our staff, surreptitiously videoed conversations, and edited them such that it appears that HiTOPS circumvents parental involvement and promotes secrecy between parents and their children. This is not true,” representatives from HiTOPS said in a statement to Planet Princeton.

“Our goal is that all students have access to developmentally appropriate, positive, and medically accurate sex education. We respect a parent’s right to opt their child out of a class or activity. We hope that they won’t, but we respect their right to do so,” reads the statement. “We value parent involvement such that our flagship education program features multiple educational presentations for parents and various opportunities for them to be engaged and involved in our work in schools.”

Representatives for HiTOPS said Project Veritas falsely stated that HiTOPS staff assumes a student’s preferred pronouns based on visual observations of the student.

“This also is not true. Our goal is to create a sense of safety and trust so that students who want to, feel comfortable talking with HITOPS staff openly and honestly,” reads the HiTOPS statement. “Project Veritas accused HITOPS of misusing school computers to avoid parental involvement. Again, not true. The schools have sanctioned the use of these computers for the distribution of surveys and questionnaires on a variety of topics.”

21 Comments

  1. If anyone listens to an interview with PV about their methods and attitudes, you would know they are ethical, and anything but ‘far-right’. At this point that label is only peevish name-calling. PV understands ‘relative deception’, where exactly as in how law enforcement operates, winning someone’s confidence based on their internal dissonance allows them to whistle-blow without backlash. Publicizing that legally-obtained insider information vastly benefits the wider world.

    PV has won every lawsuit against them, because their methods are intentionally scrupulously legal.

      1. Although one may disagree with the deception used to obtain the video footage — I do. It is impossible to dispute that HiTOPS is using a required racial literacy class to usher in their curriculum in a manner that circumvents the New Jersey law stipulating the parental right to opt their children out of public school sex-ed classes. One may try to cover this up by labeling the parents who chose to opt their children out of the HiTOPS classes as right-wing. But Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and others may have sincerely-held moral views that are different than the perspectives taught in the HiTOPS lessons on say abortion or pre-marital sex. Let’s work harder to respect the sincerely-held moral views of those living and paying taxes in a diverse community like Princeton. We don’t need to vilify one side or the other. Irrespective of one views on these topics, attempts to deceive parents and circumvent an existing law are not the correct way to address our differences. Open and civil debate would be a much better way!

    1. Curious that “Reader John” neglects to include any links to substantiate his(?) claim. While Wikipedia is not the only information source available, it does include links to its statements, and the entry for PV begins:
      Project Veritas is an American far-right[14] activist[15] group founded by James O’Keefe in 2010.[19] The group produces deceptively edited videos[13] of its undercover operations,[5] which use secret recordings[5] in an effort to discredit mainstream media organizations and progressive groups.[20][21] Project Veritas also uses entrapment[12] to generate bad publicity for its targets,[2] and has propagated disinformation[23] and conspiracy theories[31] in its videos and operations.

    2. HiTOPS is a wonderful organization that has been helping kids in the surrounding towns. I can attest that the staff there (and kids participating in the various boards) are a value-add to serve the needs for families in central NJ with LGBTQ+ kids.

  2. There may be many people HiTops helps, like Joel mentions, but that doesn’t mean the org is doing everything right. Like Concerned Princeton Parent notes, respect and ethics are essential. The wrong things are being focused on in this article – which is written as “far-left” as one could write it. What happened to “journalists” just sharing the information?
    Reaction from HiTops could’ve been published without disposing your own personal commentary on PV or what they may or may not be trying to do.
    Further, even if one has an opinion on the way the story was was gathered/edited together and the commentary voiced over it, there are clearly uncut portions of the video which have HiTops personnel explaining that they love getting into classrooms where parents are uninformed of the content and can’t opt-out and they make it a point to send Google forms/messages directly to children (as young as 2nd grade) without parental knowledge. Whether one wants LGBTQ+ discussions in the classrooms or not, people should be afraid of this kind of connectivity to their children and lessons being able to so easily work their way into classrooms. Next time it might be a topic that YOU don’t want taught.

    1. Where is the link? Can’t find it. Can the editor post it here so let people judge by themselves rather than only hear one side voice?

  3. I worked for ACORN when the founder of PV targeted it.

    I can vouch that they misrepresented the organization using editing techniques that framed our worked in the direst ways, took conversations completely out of context and made it seem like we were engaged in illegal work, and made wildly inaccurate statements within the videos themselves.

    James O’Keefe lost a lawsuit about this, filed by an ACORN employee who lost his job, requiring him to pay over $100K in damages. Investigations by the California AG’s office in the wake of the videos also exonerated ACORN and laid bare the deceptive techniques that O’Keefe used, and that he took with him to PV.

    O’Keefe also was convicted of illegal wiretaps and served house arrest in NJ, while heading PV. Nothing PV does complies with any journalistic ethics and always serve to attack vulnerable populations and preserve the power and wealth of the already powerful and wealthy.

  4. Sex Ed: Parents can opt out. Pathways to Racial Literacy: Parents cannot. HiTops discusses something in the Pathways to Racial Literacy class. That is all the video shows us. There is no indication HiTops is teaching Sex Ed. subjects in Pathways to Racial Literacy. They might simply be discussing that there are important LGBTQIA+ folks who are important in history. Project Veritas has an agenda. They are highly deceptive (and quite intelligent) in the manner they frame issues and edit their media. Parents in Princeton and our school board should not change how our children are being educated in regard to sexual and gender identity simply because PV doesn’t like it. Our kids need to know they are o.k. and are safe and loved no matter how they identify and who they love. HiTops has spent a long time making sure our kids are seen, heard, understood, and accepted. We as a community need to stand up for HiTops and for all of our children.

    1. No, that’s factually wrong. They are not discussing “something” in the RL class. They are explicitly telling that they are using it to come teach SexEd in that class that has no opt out.

      1. That is not factually wrong. There is nothing in the video that suggests that HiTops is teaching Sex Ed. material in the Pathways to Racial Literacy class. NOTHING. There are many people who still hold the belief that miscegenation is morally abhorrent. For some it is a deeply held religious belief. That does not make it o.k. and it would not be appropriate to allow parents to opt their children out of classes that discuss mixed-race relationships. Simply discussing the fact that people have different sexual preferences and gender orientations is not a basis for being able to opt-out. There is nothing wrong with HiTops discussing the fact there are LGBTQIA+ folks in the world as part of a Pathway to Racial Literacy class. And based on the video, there is evidence of nothing more.

        1. Yes, it is.

          1. On 4:16, she’s saying that they are branding themselves as sex education and support.
          2. The letter sent to the PMS last year said they were doing Intro to sexual orientation and gender identity. This is SexEd material. And yes, that letter didn’t have an opt out clause.

          You’re mixing up two separate topics:
          1. Did HiTops use Racial Literacy classes with no opt out in order to teach their agenda as the PV video suggests or not. There are all indications that they did.

          2. Is it good or bad. To a large extent it’s a personal opinion, and I respect yours there.

    2. I was a PMS parent last year. This is what we were told Hitops was teaching:
      Students will participate in three workshops: an introduction to sexual orientation and gender identity, unconscious biases and gender roles/stereotypes, and LGBTQIA+ history.

    3. I don’t think the facts are clear. Would be good to get some clarity from PPS or BoE. If HiTOPS is teaching about LGBTQIA+ folks who are important in history in Racial Literacy, that’s fine (parent can’t opt out, but no NJ requirement to allow parents to do so). Or if they’re teaching sex ed in Health class, that’s fine (because parents can opt out of Health, as per NJ opt-out law). But if they’re teaching sex ed (which includes sexual orientation and gender identity) in Racial Literacy class, that would appear to be circumventing the NJ opt-out law (because parents can’t opt-out of Racial Literacy).

      1. Yes, that is in fact what they were doing…. Teaching sex Ed content in health class, specifically “into to sexual orientation and gender identity”.

  5. HiTops does important lifesaving work to serve and protect some of the most vulnerable teens in our town. IF there is an employee or practice that needs to be corrected, that can and should be done. That isn’t the goal of PV however. They provide fuel for disinformation and demonization of progressive organizations and public schools. Parents here in Princeton choose to rely on inaccurate gossip all the time. A better use of these parents’ time would be to find out if their children are the ones writing homophobic slurs in their racial literacy class this very week, using racist language and posting racist videos in texts, and much more. Andrew Tate videos are apparently popular with your children. Are you “opting them out” of those? My point is “concerned parents of Princeton”: teachers are professionals, school employees are mandatory reporters for child abuse, and the district and BOE are legally responsible for making the public schools a safe and welcoming environment for all children. Parents needs to respect that. A good use of your time is to make sure your child isn’t the problem here. If you’re a parent here in town yelling at BOE meetings, I’d spend some time with your child to make sure they are more respectful when they are in the school buildings. Organizations like HiTops are needed to make sure that students with the highest risks of suicide in our community are safe and protected during one of the most vulnerable periods of their lives. Do not use this as a wedge to delegitimize their work or the schools’ efforts. Focus on your children. There are children who are sharing homophobic, racist, and sexist opinions and slurs this week and every week in our schools. Are you sure they’re not? Do you support that? Do something about it. Teach your children to show respect to others. And try to do that yourself. Please.

  6. While HiTops does teach about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the workshop they do, two topics that are legally considered Sex Ed, I find that classification rather ridiculous. The way HiTops teaches these topics includes no sexual material; they solely cover the fact that various gender identities and sexual orientations exist. You may argue that despite the fact that Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity shouldn’t be considered sex ed, teaching them in this manner still breaks the law. But, to that, I would point out the illegal act of jaywalking, which despite being a crime is fairly commonplace and isn’t really that bad.

  7. @Princeton Parent In your reply, you write
    “teachers are professionals, … and the district and BOE are legally responsible for making the schools a safe and welcoming place for all children.” I fully support HiTops, but it’s not the case that teachers, the district and BOE take seriously their responsibly for making the schools a safe and welcoming place for all children. Parents and students at PHS are well aware that there are teachers and administrators that you want to keep far aware from as they treat students with disrespect and torment the students. Such incidents shouldn’t happen in Princeton, but they do, year in and year out.

    As an example, this is supposed to be a no homework weekend at PHS as it’s a holiday weekend, but nevertheless, teachers are assigning homework in defiance of the district policy. The administrators know teachers aren’t following the policy but they do nothing to protect the students. Students have to cancel weekend plans when a teacher assigns a paper over a “no weekend” policy. The district didn’t renew the contract of Principal Chmiel but he was trying to get the teachers to obey the district’s policy. It’s a shame that the district won’t take the hard steps needed to live up to their stated values.

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