It is well known that President Donald Trump likes to watch Fox & Friends every morning. So it is likely that the commander-in-chief was watching Thursday when a young man at a diner in Riverside, Missouri, schooled Fox News reporter Todd Piro on the particulars of the Green New Deal.
But even if Trump didn’t see it, everyone else did. As of Friday, a video clip of Fox’ interview with Jack, a customer at The Corner Cafe, had been viewed about 2 million times—boosted in part by a retweet from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who cosponsored the ambitious plan to decarbonize the economy.
In the interview, Jack appears like a random dude sitting in a random diner at 6 a.m., who just happened to know a ton about climate policy and just happened to disagree with everything that Fox News stands for. That is likely why almost every article written about the segment thus far (and there are a lot) does not explain who Jack is or why he was at The Corner Cafe that day. The mystery is part of the virality.
But Jack, whose last name is Vandeleuv, doesn’t want his identity to be a mystery. The 23-year-old from Overland Park, Kansas, told me he’s a volunteer climate change activist with the Sunrise Movement—the same group that’s led the charge for a Green New Deal.* And his presence at the diner on Thursday morning was no accident.
Here’s a condensed and lightly edited transcript of our conversation:
Earlier this morning I was on a radio program, and the host and I were talking about your Fox & Friends segment. The host said, “I just want to know how this guy got in the diner in the first place.” So let’s start there. How did this happen?
At about 8 or 9 p.m. the night before, one of the members of Sunrise KC [the Kansas City chapter of Sunrise — Editor] got a Facebook message from a friend who had just run into a Fox producer at a restaurant, and the Fox producer said that Fox and Friends were going to be at this diner in the morning. They wouldn’t say what it was about; just that something’s happening.
So a call went out on Facebook, and me and one other person from Sunrise KC showed up there at about 6 a.m. And we were lucky enough he happened to put us on air.
What was the best-case scenario in your mind? What were you hoping would happen?
We thought maybe they would put us on air—but really we thought it would be about Howard Schultz’s town hall that was happening later that evening somewhere in Kansas City. We thought maybe they would take questions from the diners about what they wanted to ask Howard Schultz about, and we’d get to ask what he’s going to do about climate change.
So this probably went way better than you thought.
A little bit, yeah.
Was there a pre-interview? And was it with Todd Piro? Because he seemed kind of bewildered by your answers, like he wasn’t prepared for them.
Yeah, there was. Todd came up to us and said, “Are you here for us, or to eat?” And we said both. He said, “What’s your issue?” We said climate change. He said, “Do you support the Green New Deal?” We said yes. Then he asked some other questions about it, but he seemed really fixated on the cost of the Green New Deal. So I was prepared for him to ask about that in case he gave us a live interview.
I think what he was surprised by was that he was expecting to be able to trip us up.
You know, he was expecting to be able to hammer in on this question and get a moment out of it. And I think I held up in the moment, and it seemed surprising.
I was definitely surprised. Like when Piro asked “How are we going to pay for it?” and you immediately said “How did we pay for World War II?” I was like, “Oh, snap.” Why did you choose that comparison?
Two reasons. One is that I have a degree in history. Two, more importantly, is that I think that’s the most helpful analogy for the Green New Deal, right? That’s why they call it the Green New Deal. Because once upon a time in America, we were facing a huge problem, and the government made a massive investment to employ tons of people. So I think that analogy is inherently baked into the Green New Deal, and I think people intuitively understand it.
It was also just a sink or swim moment, and that was what came out of my mouth. And I’m happy with it. But I don’t have any training for this kind of stuff and I don’t have any particular expertise, but I was really inspired by David Wallace-Wells’s book on climate change that came out earlier this year.
Is that why you joined the Sunrise Movement? Like, is climate change just something you’ve read about and decided to be concerned about? Or is there anything personal in your life that has made you more concerned about climate change than perhaps the average person?
There’s something I’ve connected with in the last year that I hadn’t connected with before. When I was 14 months old, my house flooded in Illinois. My mom was pregnant with my little brother, and she had to take me and climb up on the roof to get away from the water and sewage. After that, we were in a hotel for a little while, and eventually we moved away to Phoenix, Arizona. It’s a story that’s always been in my family and it’s one of my earliest memories.
I’ve done some research about it online as an adult, and it was supposedly a once in a 100 year flood. The New York Times at the time called it a biblical event. My understanding through my parents is that because of some technicality, our insurance covered the flood. But I know from the news that I’ve gone back and read that only 1 percent of residents in that area had flood insurance because no one was expecting a flood.
And now stuff like this is happening all the time. I’m not in an area affected by the flooding in Iowa and Nebraska, but it’s super close to me. And so it’s just really starting to hit me recently that this is something that really does affect me in a very concrete way.
You’ve gained a lot of internet popularity since your segment aired, mostly for being this random dude who schooled Fox News on climate change out of nowhere. Are you worried that people might be disappointed now to know that you weren’t just a random guy—that you’re affiliated with this climate group and that you had an agenda all along?
I don’t know how people are going to react to anything that’s going on. But I see myself as a random person. I only joined Sunrise in February. Everything I do is 100 percent volunteer. I work part time at my local library to make money. To go from that to AOC tweeting me out is not something I would have expected.
Honestly, I have not finished processing this and don’t really know what it means for me. But I will say it’s been really crazy. To show up at a random diner and speak my understanding of climate change, and then get this crazy outpouring of support. I think it shows the value of showing up, and voting with your feet.
* A previous version of this article misstated where Jack Vandeleuv lives.