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Saturday, July 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington

Actor Cohen pranks right-wing rally in Olympia as racist bluegrass singer

UPDATED: Sun., June 28, 2020

Sacha Baron Cohen arrives at the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 5 in Beverly Hills, Calif.  (Invision)
Sacha Baron Cohen arrives at the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 5 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Invision)
By David Gutman Seattle Times

Sacha Baron Cohen, the actor, trickster and provocateur best-known for the satirical characters Borat and Ali G, seems to have ambushed a right-wing rally in Olympia on Saturday, performing as a racist bluegrass singer before leaving the scene, according to videos of the event.

At least two organizers of the conservative event, the March For Our Rights 3, and a Yelm City Council member said the singer was Cohen, who’s known for his absurd characters who often spotlight racism in the people he interacts with.

In one video posted late Saturday night, a singer believed to be Cohen performs for more than eight minutes, dressed in overalls and a straw hat and backed by a five-piece band.

His song largely consists of a couple of derisive refrains, continuously repeated, with alterations.

The subjects of the singer’s derision run through a range of frequent right-wing targets, including Hillary Clinton, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates and the World Health Organization, with racist references to subjects like the “Wuhan flu.”

The crowd can be heard but not seen in the video. The reaction tends to be tepid, with some cheers, some boos and a few singers joining in.

In another video, the singer concludes, saying “thank you very much, I’ve got to be going,” as someone in the crowd yells “go home racist” through a bullhorn. The whole band then quickly exits the stage.

“A lot of people don’t like this singer that’s up there, and so people are starting to rebel,” a woman on the video says. She’s talking to gubernatorial candidate Tim Eyman, who is conducting an interview.

Allen Acosta, an organizer of the event, said that a few days prior he was approached by a group called Back to Work USA, that offered financial help and security for the rally.

After the singer started performing, “people were like who are those guys,” Acosta says on another video. “When I saw the altercation up in front, I came over to take a look at what was going on.”

“We got catfished,” says Acosta, who has run for state House as a Libertarian. “There was a singer up here that does not reflect the values of the people that attended there or the organizer.”

James Blair, a Yelm City Council member, said in a Facebook post that Baron Cohen paid for the stage setup, and his security blocked event organizers who tried to get him off the stage.

“I am deeply ashamed of any individual who was singing along with the lyrics of this song, whether they were an actual attendee or a paid actor doesn’t matter to me,” Blair said.

Matt Marshall, a leader of the far-right group Washington Three Percenters, said they tried to force the band off the stage and pull the power to the sound system, but security prevented them. He said the band left in a “staged ambulance.”

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