Art professor impersonated tea party activist, staged Facebook hacking, calls it ‘performance art’

Gregg Re | Editor

A Utah college professor helped create and cultivate a fake identity as a tea party activist for nearly two years, using a fictional Facebook account to deceive thousands of conservatives as part of an elaborate “performance art” project, The Daily Caller has learned.

In an attempt to trick national news outlets, Lacey Bassett, masquerading as tea party activist Anna Jones, claimed last week that her Facebook page had been hacked and vandalized. TheDC’s investigation, however, indicates that Bassett organized the vandalism herself. [UPDATE: 90 minutes after this story was published, Anna Jones’ page vanished from Facebook.]

Bassett teaches web design at Provo College and works as a graduate-level instructor at the University of Utah. Her effort to blend in with conservatives apparently began in April 2010, when she tweeted about “infiltrating [a] Tea Parting gathering.” Two months later, she used her own email address to register the domain name “Liber-Tea.com.”

The domain is protected by a “proxy” service that hides the identity of its registrant, but TheDC was able to identify Bassett as the owner by searching archival records created before she enrolled with her proxy provider.

The site became the online home of “Anna Jones,” a self-described tea party activist who would go on to attract 5,000 followers on Facebook — the maximum allowed by the social networking giant.

The site is offline now, but a copy saved by the Archive.org “Wayback Machine” service suggests that it was used to sell tea party merchandise.

“The Liber-Tea is your official supplier of the highest quality Tea Party goods and accessories available anywhere,” the site said. Its home page included a personal note from “Anna Jones, Founder.” Libert-Tea also had a presence on Twitter and on Google’s Blogspot platform.

Before TheDC told “Jones” that her online activities were traceable, she boasted about her popularity and mentioned plans to run for office.

“[I] get about 50 friend requests a day and at least 20 messages,” she said. “It is really hard to keep up, so I’ve been on break for a while.”

A tour of the “Anna Jones” Facebook page reveals a dashing profile picture and hundreds of comments from tea party members and other conservatives.

The phony tea party activist remained relatively quiet during the past year, responding only occasionally to followers’ comments and Facebook posts. But on Friday, she announced on the same Facebook page that she had been the victim of a hacker.

“I am sorry to inform you that my facebook page was hatched [sic] last night by a horrible “performance” artist Mona Del Hirst,” she wrote.

“The page was hatched from 6-10 last night. All correspondence durning that time period was done durring an art show where she opened up my page for drunk gallery viewers to post on. I am furious for the invasion of privacy and I am pressing charges.”

At the time, Monadelhirst.com, a website corresponding to the name of the “performance artist” supposedly behind the Internet vandalism, consisted of an announcement of a March 22 performance. It advertised an “online guerrilla art attack on tea party activist Anna Jones” from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in a special “one-night only” show in a vacant Utah warehouse.

The vandalism supposedly committed against “Jones” during this performance consisted of nine profane Facebook wall posts, including one that asked, “Is it wrong to love God and still feel like you are super-sexy?”

“Farmville would be so much easier if you could buy slaves. Damn you Lincoln!” said another. “Went to yoga today … did full-lotus AND kept an aspirin between my knees!”

A day later, “Jones” asked her Facebook followers for help. “Does anyone have any personal contacts at the Breitbart.com, TheBlaze.com, and TheDailyCaller.com?” she pleaded.

“I am outraged by my page being hacked my Mona Del Hirst! The officials say they can’t do anything,” she continued. “I’m asking for everyone’s help to get her back! Please twitter and facebook about this story, especially contact any news contact you have. This is the perfect opportunity to show how immoral and what vandals liberals are. The only information I could find on her was her site with my name on it. Thank you.”

In an initial email to TheDC, Jones said she was “hoping you did a little hacking for our side. Fighting fire with fire!”

“I’m surprised that I was the target of this. I think maybe I look a certain way and have tried to make sure that my public persona only reflects the deepest passion for my God and country. I feel that maybe my character might be the perfect example of what they dislike.”

TheDC conferred with a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who said that Facebook hacking, if it occurred, was likely a federal crime. Utah’s criminal code considers computer hacking a third-degree felony.

But it appears Jones and Bassett are one and the same, and that Mona Del Hirst was just another Bassett persona.

On Friday, TheDC identified Lacey Bassett — the same Utah professor who registered “liber-tea.com” nearly two years ago — as the owner of the “monadelhirst.com” Internet domain. Coincidentally, within a half-hour of that discovery, “monadelhirst.com” was enrolled in an Internet proxy service, hiding Bassett’s identity.

Bassett had also registered the URL for Project Ground Floor, the venue that hosted the supposed hacking event attributed to Mona Del Hirst. As with “liber-tea.com,” TheDC was able to identify her through records created before the domain was enrolled with a proxy service.

When TheDC confronted Bassett, she denied that she was Mona Del Hirst in disguise but admitted her involvement in her work and defended it as artistic.

“I am a web designer and illustrator, and I have collaborated with Mrs. Hirst on a number of projects,” she wrote in an email to TheDC. “I registered the site for her and have since removed public visibility of the registration. … I have no problem being associated with Mrs. Hirst. Indeed, I feel that this is a part of being an observer of her work; its participants become co-creators, to such an extent that the work becomes a reflection of those participants, from the casual collaborator to those most vehemently opposed to its success.”

When TheDC asked her for information about how to contact Mona Del Hirst, however, Bassett had no reply. She also did not reply when asked if  “Anna Jones” was her pseudonym.

The Daily Caller was unable to reach Del Hirst for comment independently, since no such name exists in Lexis-Nexis public records collections. The artist, if she exists, has no presence on Twitter, Facebook, or websites that promote artists — with the exception of one-page eponymous website that announced her performance-art hacking of a fictitious tea party Facebook page.

As of Monday, monadelhirst.com is still online. But instead of advertising the March 22 “hacking” event, it taunts tea partiers directly.

“Dear Tea Party,” it reads. “Was it as good for you as it was for me? Love, Mona Del Hirst.”

Bassett left another taunt in the Web page’s HTML source code in the form of a hidden message: “If you are reading this you have some interest in knowing who I am… Well then, good luck finding me darling… You are going to need it.”

Within hours of TheDC receiving Bassett’s email defending her involvement in the escapade, six tweets belonging to “Anna Jones” were deleted, including the only one identifying her as the proprietor of Liber-Tea.com. Numerous Web pages owned by Bassett went offline in the same stretch of time.

Both “Jones” and Bassett also stopped responding to requests for comment via phone and email.

One of the websites Bassett took offline was thecorporatewebpage.com, a guerrilla-commerce site featuring sexually explicit merchandise including something called “Anoint My Anus,” a sex doll whose package featured an image of a young boy — with the slogan, “Jesus loves the little children but not as much as you.”

The product’s online description read, “Designed to look and feel just like the sweet little boy you’ve been eyeing since you christened him.”

The University of Utah, Bassett’s current employer, reviewed information Monday about Bassett’s apparent ruse — and her affinity for anti-Catholic sex toys — but told TheDC that it won’t likely weigh in immediately.

“Lacey Bassett is a Graduate Teaching Assistant, not a professor — and in reviewing the info you provided, Ms. Bassett is not speaking for the University of Utah,” university spokesperson Keith Sterling told TheDC.

“As a graduate student, Ms. Bassett is subject to the same standards of behavior as other students on campus,” Sterlin added. “The University will explore this issue further.”

Bassett currently teaches several web design courses at the University of Utah, according to the school’s website. Her public LinkedIn profile also identifies her as a “professor” at Eagle Gate College.

Not all of Jones’ followers were fazed to learn that Bassett was behind Liber-Tea.

Jerry Buzz Sawyer, a Florida man who had been Jones’ Facebook friend for months, said he had suspected something wasn’t right with her account.

“To be honest, when I first saw that profile picture, I thought something was up,” he said. “I thought maybe she was trying to get intel on us.”

Sawyer said he had never met Jones, adding that she never spoke in depth with him about her career or personal life.

Another of Jones’ Facebook friends, who spoke to TheDC on the condition of anonymity, said that “roping in a bunch of beta males (conservative or otherwise) with a single pretty photo isn’t exactly difficult to do on Facebook.”

“Don’t tell me that such a tactic surprises you,” he continued. “It’s so very, very Alinsky. … My reaction to Mona Del Hirst is one of bored pity. If that’s the most effective strategy she can come up with to argue against the Tea Party’s point of view, then the Tea Party has nothing to fear from her. It’s the intellectual equivalent of a fart joke.”

[UPDATE: Since this story’s publication, Bassett has confirmed that she was both Jones and Del Hirst in a lengthy exposition on the website monadelhirst.com. On the site, she claims to be an innocent artist while downplaying her own (real life) deception.]

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