Back in 2004, there was an entity called the "International Web Police," believe it or not.
We killed them. Not on purpose, or even consciously. We had nothing against them, though they seemed like a cult.
It was more like an accidental suicide on their part, actually. All we did was accept their invitation to come speak at their conference (bolding ours).
International Web Police
Internationally Recognized Internet Police Authority
Protecting the Internet Community Since 1986
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is ReDonna Leppla Badge #02530 I am with InterGOV/International Web Police … To insure that every effort is made to address any issue that may affect a Child’s safe use of the Internet, the Web Police will be conducting an open public conference that will address "Child Safety on the Internet.” Many key speakers and experts in the field of child safety will be in attendance to help resolve issues facing every parent and Internet user … Much has been learned in the 17 years that the Web Police has actively been addressing child safety and Internet related criminal activities … A team of our officers has been working for months in organizing this event to insure it is the best conference ever held. It is tentatively scheduled to be held in Orlando, Florida, U.S. (near Walt Disney World), and will be held March 6, 2004 through March 10, 2004.
Please consider attending this exciting event. Due to the large number of attendees, pre-registration is required for guaranteed seating.
Be safe my friends!
We'd set up CheneyBush.com during George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign. (Everyone said Cheney was running the show, hence we put his name first. Also, BushCheney.com was taken.) We'd hoped CheneyBush.com, like GATT.org, would nab some mistaken invitations from entities that deserved ridicule: conservative think tanks, shifty campaign groups, clubs for posh statesmen, maybe even a right-wing news show or two.
But "the International Web Police"? Their email invitation made clear what a mad little minnow we'd hooked, and a quick look at their various websites made it even more painfully obvious.
Web-Police.org, for example, informed us that the Web Police "proudly serve every citizen of the world," and that they'd protected us on the web since 1986—nine years before the Web was invented! They claimed to now have hundreds of agents, in every country on earth, and to receive 2,000 emails a day from desperate victims of pedophiles. Oh, and Web-Police.org and its sister sites—InterGov.org (a UN-like agency), ICC-911.com (an emergency chat site for victims), and Scamwatch.com (sic)—all featured prominent "donate" buttons. It was pretty obvious that these websites were run by a few lunatics masquerading as a vast and powerful bureaucracy.
That's exactly what we'd been doing as well.
We ourselves had used dozens of names in the past to "correct the identity" of the Bush Campaign, the World Trade Organization, Dow Chemical and others. But where we scam to undermine the abhorrent policies of the powerful, these people seemed to be trying to exploit fears—of pedophilia, kidnapping, terror—to generate cash donations. It was hard to believe they ever succeeded, but that was clearly their aim. Unfortunately, there was a chance, however slight, that their impersonations could, in fact, do harm–if someone in a vulnerable state was really trying to find help, how much time might they waste with this? Would they trust the Web Police enough to think that they could really help?
We don’t know. But we do know that the Web Police trusted us enough to ask “The Bush Campaign” for assistance. Perhaps because we too have serious flaws, we couldn’t resist their invitation.
Dear Redonna Leppla,
Thank you for your kind invitation to publicly address the Child Safety Conference … We regret that we cannot send the President himself. We will, however, be able to send a team that has the absolute latest information on policy and plans … We appreciate your invitation and we will guarantee a lively and useful addition to your conference.
I am copying this to Dick Impala, who handles scheduling. Please keep him in the loop.
"Redonna" then passed "Maria's" mail on to "Aaron." "How do we know you're really from the Bush campaign?" asked "Aaron" of "Dick."
"Well, I guess you really don't," "Dick" admitted. "But you're talking to me, aren’t you?"
"Right, Mr. Impala. Well. Please let me know about any special security you'll need for the conference. And we'll see you in March."
Now for the hard part: what does "Bush" want to explain to these fear-mongering, police-impersonating vigilantes? As truth-mongering, campaign-impersonating vigilantes, it is incumbent upon us to do what the real Bush Campaign refuses to do: be frank and honest. And Florida, site of the machinations that stole the 2000 presidential election, is just the right place to do it.
Over the next couple of weeks, we prepare a speech about the 2000 election. A tale of cunning and bravado, segueing masterfully from Child Safety to Voter Fraud and beyond: it is based entirely on well-researched, undeniable fact. Reading from it in Orlando, we will describe in brutally honest terms how we, the Bush campaign, cleverly stole the election by barring thousands of primarily Black and Jewish voters from casting their ballots. By the end, perhaps we’ll even get people to scheme along with us about how to steal the next election.
March 6, 2004, the long-awaited day of the "best conference ever held," finally arrives. As we close the door of our motel room and head to the mini-van, we go through our mental checklist once more. The minivan is full of boxes, buckets, and, we assume, a cage.
We drive down the Kissimmee strip past the cheap motels, strip malls, all-you-can-eat buffets, and various run-down attractions. The Web Police relocated down here from Indiana. Their leader, Peter Hampton, moved in a dozen core “officers” and his family a few years ago. On the website it is unclear why they moved, but it seemed like it could be innocent enough. A sort of retirement plan for vigilantes tired of the long winters up north.
One of the down-market motels, the Rodeway Inn, features a big LED sign blinking menacingly: "Welcome! Web Police Child Safety Conference."
We get out of the car. This doesn’t seem like the kind of motel that could accommodate any kind of "extreme event," as Web-police.org describes their conference. Is this really it? The desk boy has no clue. "Conference? Here?" He shakes his head. We take matters into our own hands like the vigilantes we are, and start exploring the deathly quiet motel walkways. Behind the lobby we run into a man with a badge and a suit talking into his collar. Ah!
Aaron Foresman is a grown man, but there is something childlike about him. The thing in his collar is a trucker-style CB microphone, which is attached to a CB radio inside his jacket. He is using it to communicate with someone he is facing in plain view, 15 feet away. She hurries over to meet us, a smile on her face, CB radio on her belt, and "SECURITY" T-shirt tucked into dark khakis.
"Dick Impala" says Mike, extending his hand.
"Hello Mr. Impala, sir, welcome. I’m Redonna Leppla."
"And this is Hammond Lee Luti," Mike says.
"Hello Mr. Luti sir, welcome. I’m Redonna Leppla."
The Web Police websites were sufficiently bizarre that we had already theorized that they might be a cult. The leader, Peter Hampton, seemed to exercise ultimate authority. Ex-Web Police members had posted notes on bulletin boards elliptically or directly accusing Peter Hampton of taking advantage of them financially or worse. Something weird seemed to have happened in Indiana, after which Hampton and key members of the group, including his family, moved the Web Police HQ to Orlando. On one Web Police member's personal website, a radiant Hampton floated in the clouds, complete with headset-microphone.
In the conference function room, a dozen or so people mill about with police badges on their lapels. Some of them wear radios and earpieces. They all turn out to be distant and difficult to engage in conversation. When asked questions, they usually defer to Peter Hampton, the Web Police leader.
Hampton arrives. We recognize him even though he isn't wearing a headset-microphone and is not floating in the clouds. He looks completely present and self-assured, unlike his acolytes.
We introduce ourselves. Delighted to speak on camera about his organization, he answers all of our questions at great length. When asked what the Web Police is all about, he explains that the internet is a very dangerous place. Letting a child roam the internet alone would be 100 times worse than setting a child free to walk from Coney Island to Manhattan on foot. It’s that dangerous, because there are so many more people on the internet—300 million. Creeps lurk everywhere, and the FBI simply doesn't have enough agents to cover the 300 million internet users. Fortunately, the Web Police pick up the slack. They have thousands of representatives—he shows us an endless list on the website—in most countries on the globe, including many small African nations. These agents will stop at nothing to help children, and unlike the local police, they do not have to abide by the rules, at least not fully. They can apply a little muscle. They can do the dirty work. They can show up where local laws don’t protect against pedophilia—like France [sic]—and do whatever it takes to disable the perps. (He mentions this example three times, but adds no new details when we prod.)
And has Peter Hampton himself done any "dirty work"? He stops short of telling us, but raises his eyebrows and gives us a special, knowing look.
Scheduled to start at 9am, the conference still shows no signs of life at 9:30. There are only about 16 people here, and about ten of them are Web Police, including Peter Hampton’s wife and daughter, as well as a young mother and two children. The older of the two boys, perhaps 16 years, stands in a corner surveying the room silently, wearing a headset microphone. We try to talk to him, but he is preoccupied and seems very uncomfortable when approached. The younger brother, a 14-year-old, is more willing to speak, and does so in the presence of his mother. He built and maintained the website for the Web Police. He seems like a nice kid. He and his brother are home-schooled, his mother explains.
Then there are the non-Web Police. A man wearing an American-flag necktie hovers around his sales table. It seems unlikely anyone there will buy the net-nanny software, and the man seems annoyed. A woman from Amber Alert, the organization that finds missing children, is there as well. There is also a TV reporter from a local station, the only African-American in the room.
Perhaps because of low turnout, it takes until well after 10 am for things to begin. Peter Hampton steps up to the podium. We are the keynote speech, and since this is supposed to be a short introduction, we are seated at the table to his left. Hampton spends the next 50 minutes droning on about the Web Police, the dangers of the internet, and how much the Web Police are doing to ensure children are kept fully safe. Finally, he introduces "Hammond Lee Luti."
Andy steps up to the podium. Mike mans the computer-projector and turns on the title slide. As "Hammond" launches into the speech, "Dick" clicks through one illustrative slide after another. (What follows has been condensed from the full presentation, for your comfort.)
Thank you very much. We're very happy to be here to help give you a clearer view of the Bush Administration and its policies. And I'd like to just say—it’s great to be here in Florida, the state that went the distance for us in 2000. Thank you, Florida.
And thank you, Web Police. As Peter said, you can't always tell the difference between a child and an adult. Well, we can't either!! That's why we have the concept we call "political children." "Political children" are, very simply, all of us. And we have defined "parental responsibility" in an extremely broad way.
Just like human children, political children—citizens—don't always know right from wrong. Like regular human children, all of us political children must be kept shielded from a lot of "real life" things, or we will make fatal mistakes.
But just like literal children, citizens don't always want to be kept good and safe. Sometimes they struggle and scream against being kept safe, sometimes with ear-piercing shrieks that can make your skin crawl.
There was recently one event that enabled us at the White House to impose strict safety on everyone regardless of what they thought they might need, regardless of how much they might resist
[slide image of 9/11]
Today I'd like to tell you in detail about how we in the Bush administration have used this attack by a crack team of Saudi Arabian terrorists to enforce safety for all children, everywhere.
I'd also like to tell you in some detail how we can all make sure that safety for all of us continues to be the rule well into the future—so that we do not drop the ball when we are running downhill the fastest.
As you all know, we Americans have a very important concept called Freedom of Speech. This freedom is extremely important to us—for one thing, corporations depend on Freedom of Speech to do their lobbying, which is how they let us know what they need, and how they can help us.
Freedom of Speech can also, however, be extremely dangerous. This is why we at the White House have worked to eliminate limits to the maximum number of outlets one corporation can own: when there are fewer owners, there is greater safety.
One example is ClearChannel, which owns a large majority of US radio stations. ClearChannel's pro-war leadership sponsored most of the pro-war rallies nationwide through its stations; thanks to this, the TV news could show these pro-war protests rather than anti-war protests, and could adapt their coverage accordingly.
Responsible media ownership is only one way that Mr. Bush assures our safety today. He has shelved the misleadingly-named "Clean Air Act," which in fact serves only to make air pollution more difficult, and has gotten rid of various other environmental regulations as well.
Mr. Bush has also restarted the Mininuke program that would enable us to triumph in any conventional battle. Furthermore, Mr. Bush has set up a series of camps, such as the one at Guantanamo Bay, that concentrate dangerous elements and operate outside of our framework of law.
Mr. Bush has also expanded various freedoms that are essential for us all to be safe. One of these is the FBI's freedom to investigate and detain—freedoms curtailed after abuses by J. Edgar Hoover in the 50s and 60s, and reinstituted through the US PATRIOT Act. The US PATRIOT Act has since been used to arrest and detain thousands of dangerous Muslims, as well as lawyers for Muslim defendants, Haitians posing a threats to our economic security, etc.
Another area of freedom that Mr. Bush has greatly expanded is the freedom of corporations to do business safely. Mr. Bush has given companies doing essential work in Iraq full judicial immunity from prosecution for any human rights or other abuses. Also, tort reform—limits to lawsuit settlements—will give companies here at home the kind of immunity they enjoy in Iraq.
Ladies and gentlemen, we now come to the important part of this lecture. We will now explore how you can help make sure that we, the Bush Administration, are allowed to make our various safety measures permanent.
To make this very important bit clearer, I'd like to use some visual aids, if I may. Dick, could you bring me the child?
Mike goes to the box of props and picks out the baby doll. Rocking it back and forth in his arms, he hands it to Andy. Mike then produces, from behind the desk, a bucket labeled "PORNO," filled with water. Andy holds up the doll.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the child that represents all of us—the political child, if you will. As you can see, this child is unprotected. If I put him or her into this bucket of water, he or she will get very wet.
Dick, could you open the bag?
Mike holds open a clear plastic zip-lock bag. Andy drops in the doll. Mike zips it up, attaches a vacuum cleaner hose to a special hole in the bag, and turns on the vacuum cleaner, sucking the air out of the bag and squashing the doll's face grotesquely. Andy holds up the bag with the squashed doll inside.
As you can see, the child now has a protective coating. This bag represents responsible media ownership, the USA PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo, etc. These things keep the political child—all of us—safe from the various dangers the world offers.
Andy drops the now protected baby into the bucket of PORNO.
See? It works.
Of course this is only one half of the safety equation. We have to keep the child safe, this way; we also must keep our President safe from the political child that is all of us.
The greatest danger to the safety of our President and his plans, after all, are the elections. We must safeguard elections so that we are certain that they will go his way.
Mike, could you hand me the cage?
By now, a number of people in the audience look quite uncomfortable. Most uncomfortable of all, though, is Mike, who has just noticed that the cage is nowhere to be seen. With a brief excuse he runs out to the car to look for it, leaving Andy to improvise.
"Ah, things will happen," says Andy, "you can't predict everything! But with a lot of foresight, we can at least make ourselves safer. It helps to remember what we need to remember, but if we don't, ah, we can still be safe if we're strong enough. The bag is pretty good. Um, any questions?"
A man raises his hand. "Who are you really?"
A chill goes through Andy. It's the proverbial naked-on-the-first-day-of-class nightmare, but worse. We've scammed trade lawyers, textile experts, and even a mainstream TV news show, and no one ever batted an eyelid—with the result that we have never bothered to anticipate what to do if they did. And it has never occurred to us that the attendees of the Web Police conference would be the ones to unmask us.
"Um, we're Bush campaign representatives. We go around the country explaining just what it is that Bush represents, and we hope that you understand what we're talking about. And we hope that it all makes sense."
Andy reels out another skein of words, never pausing, to make the time pass. Finally Mike returns with a milk crate. The cage, it turns out, has remained in the motel, but Mike was lucky enough to find this crate protecting a sprinkler head on the lawn outside. With no clue that things haven't gone so well in his absence, he plops it down on top of the baby doll in its bag, in front of a wide-eyed, sweating Andy, who resumes what now seems like a forced march to the end.
"Thank you. Now we are safe from the child."
He resumes reading from the script, with more vigor and expression than before, as if these could mask our now obvious fraudulence.
Now all of these achievements in safety you've seen demonstrated here—all of this—would not have been possible without the election of George W. Bush. If Mr. Bush doesn't win in 2004—eight months to the day from today—many of these forms of safety that we have established with great effort are likely to disappear.
If it were up to Kerry, he would probably take this baby right out of this cage.
Mike takes the baby out of the cage.
If it were up to Kerry, he would probably take this baby right out of this bag.
Mike takes the baby out of the shrink-wrap.
If it were up to Kerry, he would probably take this baby and expose it to the gravest dangers!
Andy grabs the doll and energetically hurls it five feet into the "PORNO" bucket, where it makes a big splash.
This baby would no longer be protected. We would no longer be protected—from ourselves, from each other, and from the gravest foreign dangers. That is why it is essential that together, we make certain that Mr. Bush is reelected in 2004. Fortunately, we have a very good chance of doing so, thanks to a certain brand-new technology, and thanks to your help.
Andy collects the baby from the bucket, drops it back in the cage, and puts the last prop over the cage: a large cardboard box mocked-up to look like a Diebold voting machine.
Now some of you may recognize this machine. If you don't, you soon will, because thanks to our efforts to keep our country safe, most voting will be done with one in 2004.
Now you may remember that in 2000 we didn't win the popular vote. Nor did we win the majority of votes in Florida. Had all the votes been counted, Gore would have won the election. But we managed to prevent 80,000 Blacks and 10,000 Jews from voting—almost all of them Democrats—and we managed to keep 170,000 ballots from ever being counted.
But as you remember, there was a tremendous amount of unpleasant fuss, including intimidation of ballot counters. No one likes doing that.
This time, we have to assure that it'll happen again, without the risk of a less safety-oriented Supreme Court. How will we do that? Three ways: Machinery, Tabulation, and Scrubbing.
Machinery. In 2000, a great many Florida voting machines broke down and failed to work, or worked slowly, especially in poor areas. Many thousands of poorer people were turned away, along with their Democratic votes.
The new voting machines develop bugs and fail to work much more often than the old-style voting machines. Precinct workers who judge their precinct to be dangerous can simply opt not to reboot their machines when they crash. Furthermore, the vote tally can easily be altered, without the least trace, by anyone with access to each precinct's vote-counting computer.
Tabulation. In 2000, votes could unfortunately be recounted. Only the decision of the Supreme Court stopped 170,000 votes from being recounted, which would have certainly resulted in a dangerous outcome.
In 2004, to avoid this sort of situation, the votes will not be re-countable, because they will be only electronic. And a proposed bill in Congress to require paper receipts has so far been successfully blocked by Republicans, we're happy to say.
Scrubbing. In 2000, 90,000 voters were removed from the voter rolls here in Florida because their names and addresses partially matched the names and addresses of convicted felons. Almost none of the 90,000 voters that were eliminated were actually felons, but almost all of them were Black, hence most likely Democrat. Today, a number of states are doing just the same thing.
A summary metaphor
One nice analogy for this change in voting technologies is the change in execution technologies during the French Revolution. You think the "dangling chad" problem was bad—try on a "dangling head" scandal for size! Now that was a real "in your face" problem.
Anyhow, if the election were a beheading—executing the will of the public when that will runs counter to its own safety—then what happened in the Florida election of 2000 was beheading in an extremely clumsy way. A whole series of clumsy executioners—from the President's brother to the Supreme Court—each took a thwack at the neck of the body politic, until finally it came right off.
The voting machine of 2004, on the other hand, is the guillotine: the process can happen the same way each time, guaranteed, without a need for a wide variety of operators of varying competencies. The voting machine, like the guillotine, can make the process much more efficient, more reliable, and much quicker—and much less noticeable to the victim.
Yes, it's thanks to this plain little box called the voting machine that we in the White House can ensure that George Bush and his White House can continue to ensure the safety of all us "political children" in the various ways that he does.
But here's where you come in. Just like the guillotine, the new voting machines do not run themselves. They need operators—and not just any operators, but operators willing to go to the extra mile—sorry, kilometer—to make sure that things go right on November 2. Between now and then, you can learn how to edit Microsoft Access tables, so that if you land a precinct worker position—captain, janitor, repairman, etc.—you can go in and verify that the votes tallied in any given day are kept safely in the right direction. All you need is a key to the building!
Help keep us safe for the next four years—or even more! Join us!
The situation has become a good bit tenser than earlier, when Andy had asked for questions. The Web Police in the front row applaud politely as he finishes, but everyone else is utterly livid.
A vigilante cult posing as policemen has tricked them into attending a conference of only 18 people where the keynote address is by a vigilante group masquerading as the Bush campaign. They take it out on the immediate culprits.
"This is nonsense," a man says loudly.
"You're from Move On!" a woman shouts.
"I'm a Democrat," another man says, "but this is just wrong."
Mike, taken aback but still playing the game, responds calmly. "We're just trying to represent Bush as accurately as we can."
"Everything we said was true," Andy adds.
"No it isn’t!" a man yells. "All that stuff about stealing the votes—you're liars."
"It's all true!" Mike says, raising his voice. "All the major newspapers in Florida reported that Gore won the recount!"
"Liars!" the man shouts.
We hectically gather our things and head out as quickly as we can. A group of irate people follows us into the courtyard.
"Are you with the Bush campaign?" a woman asks loudly.
"We represent Bush as honestly as we can," Andy says.
"Are you official representatives of the Bush campaign?" the woman says, louder.
"We see it that way."
"ANSWER MY QUESTION."
"Look," Mike says, "we're comedians. We didn't mean any harm."
"Get their license plate," the woman tells ReDonna. She, the woman, and four or five others follow us into the parking lot. There, the angry woman finally realizes that Dan and his video camera are with us. (Dan is Dan Ollman, then 23, who edited and largely directed The Yes Men, our first feature.)
"What are you filming?" she asks.
"What's it to you?" asks Dan, not the most diplomatic fellow even in the best of circumstances.
At this she grabs the cable connecting the camera to the microphone and begins to tug. Dan gets even less diplomatic, until a man intervenes and tells the woman to back off. He assures her that we'll get our just deserts later.
"We've called the FBI," he assures us. "You won’t get away with this."
We leave without saying more (though Dan who lobs a few insults his way) and pull out of the Rodeway Inn parking lot, back onto the Kissimmee strip. We're too shaken up to say much except "yikes," "fuck," and that sort of thing.
Both of us, Andy and Mike, look around for white SUVs (imagining that's what FBI vehicles look like). We're pretty sure they're already on our tail, and that warrants have been sent out for our arrests.
"Maybe we should ditch the props," one of us says. The other one sees a likely ditch-spot: a fence in front of a motel, likely hiding a dumpster. Indeed it does, and in go the shrink-wrapped baby doll, the bucket labelled "Porno," the cage, and the big cardboard box labelled "Diebold."
Back on the highway, another idea hits. Our flights out of Florida are scheduled for the next day. One of us wonders if we can move them to today. We get on the phone to the airline and find out it'll cost us about $1000.
Mike's paranoia evaporates first. "Let's just go to Disney World," he says. By the time we arrive, Andy's fine too.
We head first to the Hall of Presidents, where we decide to ask the Disney historian about election law.
"But how can it be? I mean, if the President's brother knowingly committed fraud, wouldn't the President automatically be implicated?" (2020 note: Indeed, in 2004, the President's brother committing fraud is what passed for scandalous.)
The historian pauses just a heartbeat, then launches into his stentorian response.
"IF THERE IS FRAUD OF THAT SORT, AND AN IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDING IS HELD, THE PRESIDENT COULD INDEED BE REMOVED. BUT IT WOULD NOT BE AUTOMATIC."
"And in a Republican Senate..."
The historian smiles. He excuses himself; it's time for him to begin the auditorium show.
We make it out of Florida the next day without meeting any law enforcement or street justice. A few weeks later, we try to track down the news story shot by the camerawoman we saw at the lecture. The video clipping service has no record of such a story, so we call the Orlando news stations directly. None of them has any idea either, but Mike keeps trying until finally a producer at one of them resolves the mystery.
"That story never got made," she tells Mike. "The tape was seized by the Secret Service before it could air."
Six months later, our work representing the Bush campaign ends in abject failure as Bush is elected to serve another four years. (As it happens, we're in Florida at that point, having gone door to door to "get out the vote" after our fake Bush campaign truck blows its second engine. But that's another, much longer story).