OccuList: Protesters’ PR firm denies anti-capitalist aims, has made overtures to ‘Anonymous’ hackers

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Workhouse Publicity, a PR firm that has promoted the Occupy Wall Street protests, represents clients including stalwart capitalist brands Mercedez-Benz, Versace and Virgin Megastore, The Daily Caller has learned.

The boutique luxury communications firm’s president also offered his services to the famed hacktivist collective, Anonymous.

Workhouse president Adam Nelson insisted in a phone interview Tuesday that while he does work with Occupy Wall Street, neither his firm nor the movement opposes capitalism. Indeed, he made a guest appearance on billionaire real-estate mogul Donald Trump’s TV show, ‘The Apprentice,” in 2004.

Now, however, Nelson’s two worlds — the capitalist client list and the activist protest set — are colliding. And the showman and self-promoter may have violated his own rule of PR: Never become the subject of your own campaign.

Freedom fighters to some, international criminals to others, Anonymous claimed responsibility for cyber-attacks on government websites during the Arab Spring, induced a summer media hysteria over cyber security and cyber warfare, and claimed to have attacked more than 70 U.S. law enforcement websites. Anonymous also attacked PayPal for its decision to cut off WikiLeaks last December.

The hacker group claims no traditional command structure organizes its attacks on governments and corporations. But some of its activists were integral to the initial spread of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

IDG News Group reported Tuesday that an Anonymous-affiliated group called “CabinCr3w” hacked and published Citibank CEO Vikram Pandit’s personal information in reaction to police response following protests at Citibank. (RELATED: NPR host a spokeswoman for Occupy DC in possible ethics violation)

Speaking for Workhouse, which he founded with his now-wife Alison in 1999, Nelson told TheDC that at the time of his initial outreach efforts he was not aware of the extent of Anonymous’s reputation. He denied having any direct contact with its members.

“On October 3rd, we cast a wide net when we reached out to different Occupy Wall Street groups on Twitter using a hashtag search,” said Nelson. One of those “Occupy” groups was an Anonymous-related splinter group participating in the lower Manhattan protests.

“Anonymous had not been covered extensively in the left-leaning media services that I get my news from,” said Nelson. “I didn’t have any identifier whether Anonymous was militant or non-militant. In hindsight, I now see that @Anonymouscamp is much more militant than @AnonOps. @AnonOps says on their Twitter profile that they are civil rights and human rights activists, while @Anonymouscamp is militant.”

“I don’t philosophically believe in anything that would militarize this movement, and I would diametrically oppose anything like that,” Nelson added.

Adam and Alison Nelson met in 1998 when he hired her as production manager for his one-man show, “How to Talk Dirty & Influence People: The Story of Lenny Bruce.” Despite his love for counterculture, however, Nelson is not afraid to rub elbows with the “Occupy” movement’s nemesis, “the 1%.”

When The Morris + King Company acquired Workhouse in April 2010, Nelson became the larger firm’s president. Morris + King’s client list includes AOL, CNBC, Wikipedia and Digital Broadcasting Group. Its services include social media strategy.

Nelson stepped down as Morris + King’s president this year and reacquired Workhouse. He told TheDC that he left over philosophical differences and conflicts of vision.

If those conflicts revolved around the sort of corporate support that angers Occupy Wall Street protesters, Workhorse’s own client list doesn’t show it. Nelson’s firm has worked for Virgin Megastores, Benihana and Saks Fifth Avenue — all whose parent companies are publicly traded corporations. Workhouse has also worked with Versace, Coach and Mercedes Benz.

Mercedes Benz and Saks Fifth Avenue did not reply to The Daily Caller’s requests for comment.

Emails disclosed to The Daily Caller on Monday from Occupy Wall Street’s private listserv reveal ample conflict among protesters about associating with a company that represents corporate titans. The emails confirm Nelson’s claim that he reached out to the protest movement to volunteer his firm’s services — not the other way around.

Nelson also told TheDC that he has had no part in organizing demonstrations. “We are simply amplifying the message that is on the ground,” he said. “There was no coordinated media effort by Occupy Wall Street groups before October 3rd.”

“I don’t agree that Occupy Wall Street is an anti-capitalist movement,” Nelson insisted. “This is about hand-to-mouth issues, people wanting to make sure they have enough food to eat at the end of the day.”

Time magazine reporter Megan Gibson disagrees: Writing about Saturday’s “Occupy” protests in New York, she wrote that “Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Salman Rushdie and Julian Assange have all praised those continuing the struggle against capitalism. Thanks to Saturday’s ‘day of global protest,’ the Wall Street protesters now also know they have the world behind them.”

Former Bill Clinton administration pollster Doug Schoen, writing in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, confirmed widespread suspicions that the movement represents the fringe of left-wing socialist politics — the definition of anti-capitalist.

“Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn’t represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse,” Schoen wrote. “Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence.”

Still, Nelson offered his firm’s pro bono services to the protesters, describing what he characterized as a simple agenda-free desire to publicize the message of “the march.”

Nelson posted a Facebook photo album highlighting protesters along with Teamsters and International Union of Painters and Allied Trades members present at the demonstrations.

Workhouse’s Facebook page also promotes the short film, Jesus was a commie.

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