ACORN and the Firestorm Documentary Reminds Us: We Can Take on the Giants Threatening Our Nation

Written by Steve Pauwels on June 1, 2018

In case you were wondering: Yes, apparently it’s still possible for “David” to take on “Goliath”.

At least that’s one stirring takeaway from the newly premiered ACORN and the Firestorm. Co-directed/produced by Reuben Atlas and Sam Pollard, the documentary circulated through 2017’s American film festival circuit before enjoying a limited theatrical release earlier this year. This lead up to its May 21st television debut on PBS.

ACORN and the Firestorm recounts “the controversies surrounding ACORN, America’s largest grassroots community organizing group… [and] … a pair of amateur journalists who posed as a pimp and prostitute hoping to expose ACORN via hidden camera.”

ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) was founded by organizers who decided it was time to take on what they saw as the cultural and economic status quo keeping down too many of society’s most vulnerable.

The aforementioned journalistic duo is James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles. Early in ACORN and the Firestorm‘s seventy-five minutes, it’s established Giles is — in a quite literal way — a toughy, a real fighter. A serious student of Ju Jitsu, she proves her aggressiveness is not limited to the martial arts studio. It’s a revelation ACORN’S leadership discovered in 2009, up-close-and-personal, courtesy of O’Keefe/Giles’ skewering undercover

(Full disclosure: I know Hannah Giles and work with her father, Doug Giles, at

Watching ACORN and the Firestorm, I couldn’t help but recall a preacher I’d heard many years ago who conceded that, whatever one thinks about the devil, honest people have to admire his perseverance. That brings to mind Jesus’ admission that “the children of this world are” sometimes shrewder “than the children of light” — i.e., even those with whom we disagree can often teach us a thing or two about how to succeed.

Thus, wherever one stands on ACORN, its socialism-soaked objectives and Saul-Alinsky-style efforts; or however one comes down on James O’Keefe’s and Hannah Giles’ audacious exposé efforts; both sides validate individuals with a vision and passion can meaningfully put their stamp on history. I was in a packed room just the other day when someone announced: “Anyone can be an activist”. The primary players represented in ACORN and the Firestorm ratify that claim.

Frank observers who believe men and women are created to make a practical difference in the world can be forgiven for grudgingly extending a smidgen of respect toward the ACORN crowd. Its founders possessed the kernel of a social concern and coaxed it into an impactful national organization. Then, in the wake of the devastating O’Keefe/Giles take-down, the group rebounded — admittedly, under other guises — and presses on to this day. It didn’t quit back then, hasn’t quit yet. Once more, whatever one might think of ACORN’s goals and means, their determination? Impressive. Every “conservative” ought to prove half as resolute.

Then there’s the young woman on the other side, who figures front-and-center in this documentary: Hannah Giles concluded it was time to confront what she saw as malfeasance cloaked in the garb of “little-guy” activism; that somebody needed to lay bare a storied corruption-fighter she believed had succumbed to that same temptation. I know a bit of the backstory and, trust me, it was no more complicated than one person, seized with a heartfelt idea she couldn’t shake and choosing to do something about it. Joining forces with a like-minded young man and his camera, she acted — boldly and creatively.

Big-government-loving, just-throw-money-at-social-organizations types were rattled. My fellow “right-wingers” and I, meanwhile, were offered a clinic in the kind of on-the-ground steps we can take to defy Leftism. I’ll admit, as a Constitutional conservative, I was additionally left with the unsettling conviction that one Hannah Giles making a big splash every decade or so won’t get the job done — certainly not if the end-game is to rescue the American Republic from cynical, unscrupulous peddlers of cultural Marxism.

ACORN and the Firestorm features a penultimate segment on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial which was as unexpected as it was uncomfortable to watch. You’ll have to take a gander yourself to understand the details but, suffice it to say, I was mainly struck by Giles’ dignified, respectful standing-of-her ground, even as she was attempting to reach out to another principal in this real-life drama who, I suspect, was hardly her biggest fan. Another revelation of this documentary: adversaries can sit down and discuss genuine differences of opinion without howling, cursing and scratching out each other’s eyes.

ACORN and the Firestorm does feature a slightly pro-ACORN bias, but it’s not steamrolling.
Both sides are proffered ample opportunity to make their case. Hannah Giles (a libertarian by political ideology) plainly comes off as a thoughtful, well-spoken proponent of accountability and openness for public outfits; she’s no crank or attention-seeking media hog. The ACORN defenders are handed plenty of time to present their rebuttals, as well. Candidly, I suspect supporters of that organization will feel the film vindicates it; similarly, those rooting for Team O’Keefe/Giles will come away impressed by their side’s gutsy righteousness.

ACORN and the Firestorm turns in a competent job sketching the genesis of these two rival “movements” — both of which understand themselves to have a mission: giants to be vanquished. It’s worth the viewing, informative and ought to get up the juices for those of us who bespy “giants” of our own who need a good drubbing.

ACORN and the Firestorm is presently available for viewing until June 4 at

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Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.