A one-time county supervisorial candidate said Saturday that he made a video faking his own beheading and posted it on a website to draw attention to his erstwhile campaign and to demonstrate how easily such videos could be produced.
The video came to light after Associated Press reported that it had aired Saturday on Al-Arabiya television.
Sitting on the bedroom floor of the one-bedroom apartment he shares with three roommates in San Francisco's Western Addition neighborhood, Ben Vanderford said he made the video months ago using a digital hand-held camera and homemade fake blood.
"It was not intended to be a mockumentary or a hoax," said Vanderford, 22, who said he is a video-game designer.
The 55-second video shows Vanderford clad in a T-shirt and seated in a darkened room, his hands behind him. As he speaks, he rocks back and forth in his chair. "My name is Benjamin Vanderford," he says, "I'm from San Francisco, California.... I've been offered for exchange for prisoners here in Iraq. We need to leave this country alone. We need to stop this occupation."
The saga of the fake video and the temporary media furor it created unfolded Saturday morning after AP reported that the clip had aired and interviewed Vanderford at his home.
He was later interviewed by agents from the San Francisco office of the FBI. LaRae Quy, a spokeswoman for the office, said that an investigation was pending and that agents would work with federal and local law enforcement officials to determine what might happen to Vanderford. "It's a very unusual kind of situation," Quy said.
Matt Gonzalez, who is giving up the supervisor's seat that Vanderford briefly sought, called the video "just so off the wall. Where do you begin discussing it? As you get older, you realize that playing around like this can be not only dangerous in its own way but can create a lot of injury."
Vanderford said he taped the video at a home in the Oakland-area city of Pleasanton with the help of a friend. He later edited it on a computer at his apartment in San Francisco, applying a filter to make the video seem "cheap, grainy and fake" and adding images of what appear to be mutilated bodies and injured children that he had downloaded off a website. The video ends with a shot of Vanderford lying on the floor with a red substance on his neck and shirt. A hand appears from the top left of the screen and moves back and forth across his neck.
Vanderford said he understood that the video might upset the families of Americans killed in Iraq. But he said he had trouble believing that anyone would think it was real. He had wanted to draw attention to his campaign for the District 5 supervisorial seat. More than 30 candidates have expressed interest in running. Vanderford said he had filed a declaration to run in May but later dropped out of the race.
A website for Vanderford's campaign was filled Saturday with mostly negative comments about the video. The responses, he said, were scary -- in part because he had posted his home address on the site.
Gonzalez said the video was bound to backfire. Besides, he said, "it's a lot easier to walk precincts than to do a stunt like that."
Hollis, a special correspondent, reported from San Francisco. Times staff writer DiMassa reported from Los Angeles.