Prankster and master of disguise Sacha Baron Cohen pulled off a new prank over the weekend, showing up as an invited guest performer at an alt-right group's rally for "rights" in Olympia, Washington. He took the stage disguised as a bluegrass singer, and sang a number calling the coronavirus a "hoax," and "Obama, what we gonna do? Inject him with the Wuhan flu!"
Baron Cohen, who's best known for the 2006 movie Borat and for other characters he's created on HBO and Showtime series, has had to up his costume and makeup game in recent years as more politicians and members of the public are aware of his antics. On Showtime's Who Is America? in 2018, Baron Cohen disguised himself as several new characters in order to mock both liberals and conservatives — though his bread and butter has always been about exposing the hypocrisy, hate, and racism of the cultural right.
As NPR reports, an event called "March for Our Rights 3," which has libertarian and militia leanings and talks of being "constitutionalist" — which is mostly about one amendment in particular, the Second — was hijacked by a group purporting to be from Orange County, California called Back to Work USA. The apparently bogus group had gotten in touch just a week before the rally and offered up a headliner — country singer Larry Gatlin — as well as $50,000 to pay for a stage, tent, and porta-potties.
Rally organizer Matt Marshall tells NPR that he and his group reject all racist and white nationalist ideology — but we've all heard these whines before the gun-toting set who tend to enjoy gathering crowds and then pretending that everyone is on the same anti-racist page, when they clearly are not. And Baron Cohen clearly wanted to exploit that by bringing an obviously racist act on stage and filming peoples' reactions, as he is often wont to do.
Some in the audience walked away while Baron Cohen's character was singing, according to Marshall, but a number of others can be heard cheering and singing along with "inject him with the Wuhan flu" in the video below.
The lyrics also called for chopping up members of the World Health Organization "like the Saudis do."
"It's sad, it's unfortunate that some people chanted back," Marshall said.
Marshall won a seat on his local school board in Washington, and he's part of a "makeover" of sorts that militia groups in the region have been undergoing in order to appear more mainstream. His group, the Washington State Three Percenters, claims not to be a paramilitary or militia organization, but simply a nonprofit supporting "constitutionalist conservatism." The name, though, derives from the national Three Percenters group, which is an anti-government militia group — and Marshall claims his group severed ties with the national organization in the last two years. The name derives from a disputed claim that three percent of American colonists took up arms against the British in the American Revolution.
The national Three Percenters was founded, tellingly, in 2008 following the election of Barack Obama.
Marshall's group has been vocally supportive of Washington State lawmaker Matt Shea, who admitted two years ago to distributing a flyer that called for killing non-Christian males and suggested a war was coming that would bring about fundamentalist, biblical rule. Shea hosts a twice-weekly radio show on the American Christian Network called "Patriot Radio."
Sacha Baron Cohen and his reps have yet to claim responsibility for the prank on Saturday, but Variety has confirmed that he was responsible — and Marshall himself tells NPR that as soon as he heard the "bluegrass singer" on stage, he said out loud "is this a bad impression of Borat?" Fans are speculating online that this was likely a segment being filmed for an upcoming second season of Who Is America?
It would just be the latest comedic coup for Baron Cohen, who punked Rand Paul into getting seduced by his gay character Bruno, and got Dick Cheney to happily autograph a waterboard. (Notably, as the character Ali G, Baron Cohen pitched Donald Trump back in 2003 on "ice cream gloves.")
Marshall and his team said they were unable to catch the pranksters, and Baron Cohen and his production team reportedly fled into waiting cars just before Marshall got security to remove them.
But below, you can see he gives an interview to someone afterward, and Baron Cohen had re-disguised himself to film the interview as well.