It was the middle of the day on Friday, and Eric Boehlert heard a knock on the door. A senior fellow at Media Matters, a nonprofit watchdog that challenges conservative news outlets, Boehlert works from his Montclair, N.J., home.
A short, bearded man stood outside, holding a clipboard and wearing a Verizon uniform. He asked Boehlert if he'd be willing to take a customer survey. Verizon had, perhaps coincidentally, been at the house a week earlier to handle a downed wire. Boehlert quickly agreed and noted that a Verizon worker had actually failed to show up when he said he would.
But as the survey went on, it started getting strange. "The only weird part before he got to his final question was he started telling me, 'Oh, you know, it's really tough out there, the economy, and I'm just happy to have a job,' and stuff like that, which I thought was weird for a customer rep to be telling one of his customers," Boehlert recalled to HuffPost.
"So he gets to the last questions, and he's really reading intently off of his clipboard, and he says something about making the kind of salary I do, working from home, something something about the 99 percenters," Boehlert said.
The man claiming to be a Verizon representative finally asked his question. "After he mentioned my salary and that I work from home, all the bells went off, and this is not who this guy says he is. Therefore, I kind of lost track of the exact wording of the question, but it definitely was like very accusatory of me and I'm a hypocrite and how do I have this supposedly cushy job while I'm writing about real workers and the people of the 99 percent," said Boehlert.
"So there was this pause, and I said, 'You work for Verizon?' And he just sort of looks back at me and [says], 'Will you answer the question? Will you answer the question?' And I said, 'Can I see your Verizon ID?' And he wouldn't produce any Verizon ID, and I think he asked me another time to answer the question. And basically I just said, 'I'm done so you can leave now.'"
The man started to walk off.
Boehlert decided to follow him to obtain his license plate number. By now he had realized that the man was likely pulling a political stunt, and James O'Keefe's notorious "To Catch a Journalist" project came to mind as a possibility.
"The only sort of comical part was he forget which way he was supposed to run in case I started following. He ended up sort of in the road, and he sort of turned left and then right," said Boehlert. "The last I saw him he was in a full sprint down my street running away from my house."
Boehlert then called the Montclair cops to report the incident. He also rang up Verizon.
Lee Gierczynski, a spokesman for Verizon, told HuffPost that whatever the man was doing, he wasn't a Verizon customer service representative. "Security determined that Verizon had no door-to-door sales people in that area. There were no Verizon employees in that area," he said, adding that Verizon "does not send out employees to conduct consumer surveys door to door."
Gierczynski said the company forwarded the information to local police. The Montclair police department didn't return calls requesting comment.
It's impossible to say whom the man was working for, and O'Keefe's spokesman didn't respond to requests for comment. But the nature of the interaction dovetails with past O'Keefe stings.
O'Keefe, who runs Project Veritas, is on probation after posing as a telephone repairman to try to tamper with the phone lines in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's New Orleans office. He is famous for dressing up as a pimp in a video targeting the community organizing group ACORN, although he never wore the actual costume inside the group's office, despite the misleading editing that implied he did.
Project Veritas is reportedly crumbling amid internal accusations of amateurism and credit-hogging by O'Keefe.
As part of the "To Catch a Journalist" series, O'Keefe recently targeted HuffPost's Sam Stein. A Project Veritas associate surreptitiously filmed a journalism professor saying that Stein "goes out drinking at night with people," which this reporter can independently confirm is true.
O'Keefe then dramatically altered the language in talking to Stein. "Do you booze your sources up to get a story out of them or get your sources drunk to get information out of them? Because that's what somebody told me," he asked.
Stein said no -- an answer O'Keefe used to call him a liar.
But O'Keefe is not the only one who might want to embarrass Boehlert. He regularly tussles with conservatives online, particularly commentator Andrew Breitbart. In the days before the attempted prank, activists suggested targeting Boehlert on Twitter.
"#ows, @EricBoehlert is cashing 6-figure checks to support you. When u r run out of Zuccotti park, beers and brats at his place in NJ," tweeted @Flynn1776. That handle belongs to Mike Flynn, an editor at Breitbart's BigGovernment.com, which was the first to publish O'Keefe's ACORN sting.
He later added, "Wait, let's have an #occupy @EricBoehlert party. He's paid by the 1% after all. I'll send in the clowns. Redundant, yes, but it will be fun!"
Mandy Nagy, a Big Government writer who also lives in New Jersey, tweeted back, "I'm in! RT @Flynn1776 Hey@Liberty_Chick let's get NJ TeaParty folks 2 #Occupy @EricBoehlert. His paychck comes frm 1% & pol class after all."
Nagy and Flynn didn't immediately respond to tweets requesting comment. In response to an instant message asking if he was responsible for the fake Verizon representative, Breitbart said no.
Update: Thursday, 10:40 a.m.
Update: Thursday, 12:34 p.m. -- Mike Flynn responded, "Absolutely not involved in any way. By that, I mean zero, zip, nada. Considering that Boehlert is paid to bully people on twitter (nice work if you can get it, I guess), I would guess the list of potential suspects would be very long. But, just to again be clear, I had no involvement in this."
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Eric Boehlert as the founder of Media Matters for America. He is a senior fellow at the organization.
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