Philip Van Cleave, President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League and “Friendly Grown Up,” wants to arm your toddler with pistols, machine guns, and grenade launchers.
Van Cleave was apparently duped by filmmaker and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen on the inaugural episode of Cohen’s new television series, “Who is America?” The clip, which has already been viewed upwards of 11 million times on YouTube, features Cohen posing as an Israeli anti-terrorism expert soliciting Van Cleave’s advocacy for a program called Kinderguardians that would train and arm toddlers to protect themselves from school shooters.
Van Cleave is an influential, yet gullible, gun lobbyist in the region. His opinions on second amendment issues are frequently cited by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and he has been interviewed on 60 minutes, Nightline, and by the Washington Post. Van Cleave also organizes an annual pro-gun rally at Capitol Square in downtown Richmond attended by Republican politicians.
This is not the first time Van Cleave has become the object of ridicule in front of a national audience. In 2013 he was interviewed by John Oliver on The Daily Show, and struggled to make a coherent argument against gun control.
Oliver mockingly tells the audience: “You can’t argue with Philip, even his logic is bulletproof.”
Cohen’s prank is far more elaborate. The producers of “Who Is America?” reportedly provided Van Cleave with limousine rides and monetary compensation for meals and other expenses over the course of the two-day shoot.
During the segment, Van Cleave seems blissfully unaware that he is being tricked. He is delighted when Cohen, in disguise as Col. Erran Morad, suggests arming children between the ages of three and 16. “We were thinking seventh or eighth grade,” said Van Cleave, “but you’re talking much younger than that.”
Cohen’s Morad then tells Van Cleave that Kinderguardian’s wants “three-year-olds who are real experts at what they’re doing, not three-year-olds who are reckless.”
“We don’t teach two-year-olds because they call it the terrible twos for a reason,” he adds.
Cohen’s costume, which features extensive face makeup, is barely passable, and the interview and accompanying instructional video are so bizarre that one has to wonder how Van Cleave wasn’t aware that something strange was going on.
The instructional video, which bears some resemblance to the Nickelodeon children’s show “Blue’s Clues,” features Morad and Van Cleave introducing a fictitious gun TV series for toddlers, named “Gunimals.” They start with the “Puppy Pistol,” a .22 caliber pistol with a stuffed dog attached to the top.
“Remember to point Puppy Pistol’s mouth right at the middle of the bad man,” said Van Cleave. “If he has a big fat tummy, point at that.”
Other guns available in the series are “Gunny Rabbit” and “Uzi-corn”, both submachine guns, as well as “Dino-gun,” a fully automatic machine gun, and “Rocket Ship RPG,” a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
“We’re gonna teach you how you can stop these naughty men, and have them take a long nap,” said Van Cleave.
At the end of the clip, in a segment called “Song Time with Gunny Rabbit,” Cohen has Van Cleave perform an instructional sing-along to the tune of the children’s song, “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes.”
“Aim at the head, shoulders, not the toes, not the toes,” sings Van Cleave, in a painfully awkward monotone.
After the episode aired last week, Van Cleave stated that he knew that he was being pranked, and only went along with it so that he could warn other gun rights activists who might also be lured into the trap.
Nate Peterson, creator and host of the Richmond-based podcast “Let’s Get Drunk and Talk About It,” interviewed Van Cleave recently, and said he considers Van Cleave a friend of the show.
“I thought he was done with that kind of stuff, you know,” said Peterson. “If his goal was to see the joke through to the end so that he could stop others from going on the show, he didn’t do a good job.”
It was reported that Cohen has also successfully fooled prominent Republican figures Sarah Palin, Joe Walsh and Roy Moore into appearing on his show, and will be featured in upcoming episodes of “Who Is America?”
“Who Is America?” premiered on July 15. The first season will run seven episodes, with the final episode airing on Aug. 26.