The Yes Men Secure the Homeland

A group of activists—disguised as government officials—get Homeland Security Congress attendees enthused to address climate change.

The Yes Men July 17, 2014

"Benedict Waterman," actually Andy Bichlbaum (L), and "Bana Slowhorse," actually Gitz Crazyboy (R), propose a radical, yet fake, energy plan to the rousing approval of some of America's most conservative government and corporate officials. (Courtesy of The Yes Men)

The hosts of the Home­land Secu­ri­ty Con­gress were get­ting anx­ious. It was ten min­utes past the time for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Gen. Col­in Pow­ell was sched­uled to begin his big announce­ment. The defense con­trac­tors, law enforce­ment offi­cials and assort­ed mil­i­tary per­son­nel in the audi­ence were start­ing to fidget.

As Tito Ybarra began singing his strange song, the defense contractors, law enforcement officials, retired generals and admirals, and even a former Navy Seal danced together in a huge circle.

Ladies and gen­tle­men, Mr. Pow­ell is near­ly here,” announced the con­fer­ence host, a woman named Bar­bara wear­ing a bright red pow­er suit. Please sit tight for anoth­er few min­utes — meet your neigh­bor! And get ready for what I hear will be an extreme­ly inter­est­ing announce­ment about our nation’s new ener­gy plan.” There was a mur­mur of for­bear­ing chuckles.

So real­ly, how long do we think he’ll be?” whis­pered anoth­er of the con­fer­ence orga­niz­ers, a mus­cu­lar woman named Doreen to a man known to her as Mike Lee.” Like all the con­fer­ence peo­ple, Doreen thought Mike was a high­er-up at the emi­nent pub­lic rela­tions firm Burson-Marsteller.

Well, I just got some real­ly good news,” answered Mike. Powell’s unfor­tu­nate­ly still a half hour away, but he’s got a col­league at the Depart­ment of Ener­gy, a guy named Bene­dict Water­man. He’ll be here in just five min­utes. He’ll be accom­pa­nied by Bana Slowhorse from the Bureau of Indi­an Affairs, who I’ve heard puts on an amaz­ing show.”

In fact, Mike had no idea what­so­ev­er where Col­in Pow­ell was at this moment; far from being Powell’s liai­son from Bur­son-Marsteller, Mike Lee” was actu­al­ly Mike Bonan­no from the Yes Men, a group known for imper­son­at­ing gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate officials.

But Mike also had no idea where Water­man” and Slowhorse” were. And that was not as planned. Water­man” was actu­al­ly Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum, and Slowhorse” was actu­al­ly a Native Amer­i­can Tar Sands activist named Gitz Crazyboy.

Final­ly, in walked Andy and Gitz. But what was that on Andy’s head?

Andy’s wig was sup­posed to look like the strange 70s hair of his sup­posed boss, Depart­ment of Ener­gy head Ernesto Muniz. But it had been deliv­ered at 7 a.m. that morn­ing by RuPaul’s wig­mak­er, who had begun work on it after a drag show end­ing at 4 a.m.

Doreen turned to Mike. Wig,” she mouthed, point­ing to her head.

He’s a sci­en­tist,” Mike offered. They don’t know much about hair.”

That’s not hair,” Doreen answered.

Mike’s heart sank. For the sec­ond time in 24 hours, he was cer­tain the jig was up.

The day before, April 30, we were dri­ving from New York to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., head­ed for the Home­land Secu­ri­ty Con­gress, a con­fer­ence run by a sub­sidiary of Northrop Grum­man for busi­ness­es inter­est­ed in secur­ing gov­ern­ment con­tracts relat­ed to home­land secu­ri­ty. Mike had wran­gled a speak­ing spot for Col­in Pow­ell by pos­ing as Powell’s agent.

We knew Pow­ell would nev­er arrive. But in his place would be his col­lab­o­ra­tors” from the Depart­ment of Ener­gy (Andy) and the Bureau of Indi­an Affairs (Gitz). They would announce a U.S. gov­ern­ment plan to con­vert the entire coun­try to renew­able ener­gy by 2030, dis­man­tling fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies in the process and hand­ing own­er­ship of renew­able ener­gy pro­duc­tion direct­ly to indi­vid­u­als — and to Native Amer­i­can tribes, whose reser­va­tions hap­pened to be in some of the windi­est and sun­ni­est areas in the Unit­ed States. The prof­its would serve as repa­ra­tions for geno­cide. The plan was a slight­ly more rad­i­cal ver­sion of sev­er­al actu­al pro­pos­als from envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing The Solu­tions Project plans for all 50 states to con­vert to 100 per­cent renew­able energy.

The Yes Men chose the Home­land Secu­ri­ty Con­gress as our audi­ence for this plan pre­cise­ly because they were not our peo­ple. Many of them would be bonafide, gun-lov­ing, flag-tot­ing, rightwing patri­ots. Our goal was to see if we could pro­mote this rev­o­lu­tion­ary (but entire­ly fea­si­ble) plan to peo­ple on the exact oppo­site end of the polit­i­cal spec­trum. If we could get even those on the Dark Side” to embrace a plan to end fos­sil fuels and democ­ra­tize ener­gy, it would con­firm our sus­pi­cions that there’s only one force on Earth that’s hold­ing us back from a sane future: the fos­sil fuel indus­try itself, and the tiny num­ber of peo­ple who work for it.

But first, we had to actu­al­ly get to the con­fer­ence. And one hour out of New York, two phone calls made it seem we nev­er would.

The first call was from Doreen. Mike, pos­ing as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Col­in Pow­ell from PR giant Bur­son-Marsteller, had been speak­ing to Doreen every oth­er day for the past three weeks. He’d got­ten Doreen to sched­ule Pow­ell to announce at her con­fer­ence, Obama’s top-secret new Ener­gy Secu­ri­ty plan.

For the first time, Doreen sound­ed sus­pi­cious. She’d been try­ing to reach Mike all morn­ing, and asked Mike some prob­ing ques­tions about where he worked, which office, and how long he’d been there. She end­ed the call abrupt­ly. When Mike tried to call back a few min­utes lat­er, she didn’t pick up.

It’s over,” he said to Andy, who was rid­ing shotgun.

Ten min­utes lat­er, Mike’s phone rang again. It was an unknown D.C. number.

I work for Bur­son-Marsteller,” said a woman’s voice. What office are you with?”

Uh, Wash­ing­ton,” Mike answered.

Who hired you?” asked the woman.

Uh, a man named, uh, Jack Par­ent,” Mike impro­vised. He hired me, you know, on a spe­cial project. Very special.”

There’s no Jack Par­ent,” said the woman. Who are you real­ly?” Then she hung up.

They fig­ured us out. It’s over,” said Mike.

We’d spent months plan­ning this action. Not only was it an amaz­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty to test out our the­o­ry of what’s hold­ing us back from a sane cli­mate pol­i­cy, it was going to be the final scene in our new movie, The Yes Men Are Revolt­ing. We’d built the entire movie around this scene. We had no more time — and, more impor­tant­ly, no bud­get — to come up with a whole oth­er end­ing. But we decid­ed to con­tin­ue to Wash­ing­ton anyhow.

Then, 15 min­utes out­side of D.C., Mike got anoth­er phone call.

Still on sched­ule? What time can we expect you at the hotel?” Doreen asked.

Mike’s jaw dropped. I’ll be there.”

Great,” said Doreen. Look­ing forward!”

Slow­ly, it dawned on us what had happened.

Unable to reach Mike, Doreen had called Bur­son-Marsteller to find out where he was. To get to the bot­tom of it, the pub­lic rela­tions peo­ple had called Mike. But fol­low­ing that, they hadn’t got­ten in touch with Doreen.

At the con­fer­ence the next day, Andy, wear­ing his ridicu­lous wig, ascend­ed the podi­um as Bene­dict Water­man, under­sec­re­tary of pol­i­cy imple­men­ta­tion for the Depart­ment of Ener­gy. Doreen, though sus­pi­cious, did not intervene.

On behalf of the Depart­ment of Ener­gy, I am very excit­ed to announce that we are today begin­ning a process that will con­vert the Unit­ed States ener­gy grid into one that’s pow­ered entire­ly by renew­able sources — and we’re going to do it in only slight­ly more time than it took to win WWII,” Andy announced. The joint DOE/DOD plan, he said, would be called Amer­i­CAN, the Amer­i­can Renew­able Clean-Ener­gy Net­work, and would involve dis­man­tling the fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies, and putting own­er­ship of the new, clean pow­er facil­i­ties in the hands of communities.

The audi­ence repeat­ed­ly inter­rupt­ed his speech — with applause.

Andy explained how con­vert­ing to renew­able ener­gy would cre­ate mil­lions of jobs, even­tu­al­ly save half a tril­lion dol­lars per year on health­care costs, result in low­er ener­gy costs and greater price sta­bil­i­ty, and — bonus! — give our civ­i­liza­tion a chance of sur­viv­ing well into the future. More applause.

Andy also not­ed anoth­er rea­son, per­haps more impor­tant from the DOE’s point of view, for why Amer­i­CAN was need­ed. He point­ed to a slide show­ing pro­test­ers block­ing the Key­stone XL pipeline. A rev­o­lu­tion­ary ener­gy pro­gram today is eas­i­er than a real rev­o­lu­tion tomor­row,” Andy intoned — and received yet anoth­er round of applause.

Final­ly it was time for Bana Slowhorse”— actu­al­ly Gitz Crazy­boy, the Cana­di­an Tar Sands activist — to take the stage on behalf of the Bureau of Indi­an Affairs. Gitz, who stands about 6‑foot‑2, was dressed like a Hol­ly­wood Indi­an,” with a huge black Bil­ly Jack” hat. He told the audi­ence he was a mem­ber of the Wannabe Tribe, in a native joke from the 1970s by Onei­da com­ic Char­lie Hill. No one got it.

Gitz described how Amer­i­CAN would at long last put an end to the dis­ease of fos­sil fuels, imposed like small­pox on his peo­ple — and, of course, on the whole world. His dis­turb­ing, mov­ing speech com­bined fab­ri­cat­ed pan-Indi­an mythol­o­gy with heart­warm­ing but equal­ly bogus anec­dotes — but the core mes­sage was com­plete­ly sin­cere: A rev­o­lu­tion­ary ener­gy pro­gram was tru­ly the way to ensure that our gen­er­a­tion would be remem­bered not as the one that watched the world swirl coun­ter­clock­wise down the toi­let, but as the one that final­ly put an end to the unlim­it­ed greed at the root of the Indi­an geno­cide and, now, plan­e­tary destruction.

Final­ly, Gitz intro­duced our secret weapon: Ojib­we come­di­an Tito Ybar­ra, sport­ing a suit, a big pur­ple head­band and a neck­lace of over­sized turquoise beads, and hold­ing a hand drum. Gitz intro­duced Tito as Four Feath­ers, a great chief whose feath­ers rep­re­sent­ed his func­tions in Wannabe soci­ety: drum chief, fire chief, water chief and mid­wife. (Yes, midwife.)

Gitz asked every­one to rise and form a cir­cle. He showed them how to link arms the tra­di­tion­al” Indi­an way: If you’re stand­ing next to a man, grab on his belt loops, ready to tug it up tight in case he begins to stray from the path.

And then, as Tito began singing his strange song, the defense con­trac­tors, law enforce­ment offi­cials, retired gen­er­als and admi­rals, and even a for­mer Navy Seal and aspir­ing Repub­li­can Con­gress­man Lar­ry Wilske danced togeth­er in a huge cir­cle, some of them sport­ing spe­cial head­bands with Native Head­band” embla­zoned across them, and adorned with a lit­tle plas­tic wind­mill. They danced enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly, for renew­able ener­gy and revolution.

After­ward, two dozen Home­land Secu­ri­ty Con­gress atten­dees gave their busi­ness cards to Andy, Mike and Gitz, and told them about the emo­tion they’d felt, and how excit­ed they were to be part of this great his­toric moment.

Per­haps we shouldn’t have been so sur­prised that, giv­en the option, even those we con­sid­er oppo­nents would join in on an evi­dent­ly sane plan to save the future. After all, it’s not secu­ri­ty or defense con­trac­tors who are block­ing enlight­ened cli­mate pol­i­cy. Pure­ly out of secu­ri­ty con­cerns, the mil­i­tary has actu­al­ly been con­vert­ing its own bases to renew­able ener­gy, so that they can stand alone if the whole grid goes down. The Pen­ta­gon has even pub­lished stud­ies about cli­mate change and its dire secu­ri­ty impli­ca­tions, and has late­ly become some­what vocal about the inevitable vio­lence that will come if we fail to sta­bi­lize the cli­mate. Maybe that’s why the GOP-con­trolled U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed an amend­ment to the Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion bill that blocks the DOD from even talk­ing about cli­mate change.

The les­son we take away is that only a tiny hand­ful of peo­ple stand on the oth­er side: name­ly, the fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies, their lob­by­ists and their cronies in Congress.

This doesn’t make the fight any eas­i­er. It doesn’t mean we can achieve sane pol­i­cy with­out rev­o­lu­tion; after all, fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies are some of the rich­est com­pa­nies in human his­to­ry. But it does mean that the rev­o­lu­tion is cer­tain to suc­ceed, since at least 99.9 per­cent of us are arrayed on this side of the struggle.

Onward.

Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonan­no, respec­tive­ly Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos, are The Yes Men, a cul­ture jam­ming activist duo. Their most recent film is The Yes Men Fix the World.
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