OLYMPIA, Wash. — A crowd of people gathered in downtown Olympia on Saturday in front of a stage near the Washington State Capitol. They were there for "March For Our Rights 3," a rally bringing together far-right groups to demonstrate against safety regulations instituted during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But by the end, the event appeared to have been sabotaged by an elaborate prank that gained widespread internet attention over the weekend.
And the mastermind believed to be behind it all?
Sacha Baron Cohen -- though it's still unclear whether the comedian was indeed responsible for the stunt. His publicist has not returned CNN's request for comment and he hasn't publicly commented on the matter.
"Unfortunately the event organizers were set up by a false flag gag, designed to try and make the event look bad, and it is suspected it was notorious gag artist Sasha Cohen," the right-wing group Oath Keepers wrote on Facebook, pointing the finger squarely at the British comedian.
Baron Cohen, known for portraying fictional characters such as Ali G and Borat, has previously set up unsuspecting conservatives in attempts to ridicule them on his satirical TV series "Who Is America?", which aired on Showtime in 2018.
Video that was streamed live from the event appeared to show a singer in a red shirt and blue overalls engaging the crowd in a racist singalong. The song's lyrics referenced Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Anthony Fauci, and referred to the coronavirus as the "Wuhan flu." CNN was also mentioned.
Event organizers said they tried to unplug the mic
"We got catfished," Allen Acosta, the event organizer, said in a video from the event, posted by Oath Keepers.
Emcee Matt Marshall, the founder and former leader of the Three Percenters of Washington, another right-wing group, said in the video that a group describing itself as a political action committee (PAC) had reached out to organizers of the "March For Our Rights 3" rally about a week ahead of the event.
CNN has reached out to Marshall for comment and has not yet heard back.
Marshall said in the video that the supposed PAC offered to sponsor the rally, saying it would pay for a stage, hire a production company and book some bands to perform at the event. The group also brought in a team of security guards, according to Marshall.
After the Olson Bros Band, a country group from Olympia, performed, another band took the stage. And then alarm bells went off.
"During the second set... very racist lyrics began," Marshall wrote in a Facebook post. "We tried to contact the sponsors, but they had left the event."
Marshall wrote that he and others involved with the event tried to cut off the power, but were blocked by the private security. Eventually, they were able to reach the stage and unplug the microphone, he said. As they did, the band left and jumped into the back of an ambulance, while the security guards fled in cars, Marshall said.
Another band said some attendees were angered by the prank
Luke Olson, a member of the Olson Bros Band that played before the prank, told CNN that the stunt seemed to anger some individuals in the crowd.
"... People started to get pissed 'cuz I think he made a lot of them look stupid, because they were singing along at first," Olson said. "But as he took it further, the crowd started to get pissed and then he just jetted out and hopped in an ambulance in the back. And there was an angry mob chasing him and trying to stop the ambulance from leaving."
Olson added that he was unaware of what would transpire onstage. He said the band had been contacted by some people a few days earlier about performing at a "Get Back To Work" rally.
"When we got there though, there was a bunch of people with guns, so I think there was some Second Amendment march going on, and also they had a bunch of Republican governor nominees speaking before our set," Olson said. We were unaware of these details though. We were just excited to be playing our first gig in over three months."
Organizers later addressed the incident onstage.
"There was some excitement that went on, and there was a singer up here that does not reflect the values of the people that attended there or the organizer or even parts of the production," Acosta said. "... I am sorry that you were exposed to it."
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