In the bottom of a palatial Cleveland mall, in a dimly lit room typically rented out for weddings, a parade of mostly white, middle-aged women have approached a lectern and, one by one, made their anemic pitch for Donald Trump to several rows of mostly empty chairs. The enthusiasm level at this, a "Women Vote Trump" event held during July's Republican National Convention, is low, to say the least.
When sister act Diamond and Silk take the stage, though, the audience, sparse as it is, erupts in cheers. "Ditch and switch!" hollers a barrel-bellied man in an "I Love Women Who Vote Trump" shirt, referring to the duo's campaign to encourage Democrats to register as Republicans.
Diamond and Silk beam back at the crowd. "Oh my goodness!" Diamond, the taller one, coos appreciatively. She cuts to the chase: "First of all, if y'all haven't noticed: We black .... And just because we black, we found out, that doesn't mean we have to vote Democrat." Uproarious applause. "We can come off the Democratic plantation, and we can vote for whoever we want to vote for." Silk, standing to Diamond's left, bobs her head in agreement.
Diamond, who possesses the timbre and timing of a revivalist minister, goes on. "We don't need the media spoon-feeding us a narrative. We can think for ourselves, and we started thinking for ourselves. And in Donald J. Trump, we see a man that never wavers, nor does he back down, and that's what we love." She pauses for emphasis. "I love ev-er-y-thing about Donald J. Trump. He can do no wrong in my eyes."
For Diamond and Silk, loving ev-er-y-thing about Donald Trump means loving him in spite of his years-long racist birther campaign, and his various degrading remarks about black people, like, "Laziness is a trait in blacks," and, "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs .... What the hell do you have to lose?"
It means loving him in spite of the bogus statistics about the African-American community he repeats ("58 percent of your youth is unemployed") and retweets ("blacks killed 81% of white homicide victims"), and overlooking both the Department of Justice lawsuit accusing Trump and his father of housing discrimination and the long, demonstrated history of racial bias at other Trump properties.
And it means loving him right alongside his other supporters, the ones affiliated with the KKK, the neo-Nazis, the white nationalist movement and assorted militia groups.
Diamond and Silk know all this, and they love him anyway.
Statistically, they're an anomaly. A Fox News poll taken in late August found Trump with one percent support among African-American voters nationwide. A national survey conducted by Public Policy Polling around the same time found 97 percent of black voters had an unfavorable opinion of Trump, with the remaining three percent unsure.
Dismal numbers like these have led Trump over the last month to ramp up his efforts to court black voters. The campaign push started with the aforementioned "What the hell do you have to lose?" speech, which was addressed to black voters in Milwaukee, but actually delivered to an overwhelmingly white audience in West End, Wisconsin, an hour away. His messaging hasn't improved much in the month that's followed. At a rally last week, Trump, apparently forgetting about slavery and segregation, told a crowd in North Carolina, "our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they've ever been in. Ever, ever, ever."
The day after that rally, two individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign came under fire for racist comments. In North Carolina, Republican Congressman and Trump surrogate Robert Pittenger said people protesting the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte "hate white people." And in Ohio, a Trump staffer resigned after declaring the Black Lives Matter movement "a stupid waste of time" and asserting, "If you're black and you haven't been successful in the last 50 years, it's your own fault."
At a Fox News "town hall on African-American issues" filmed that week, Trump said he would reduce crime in black communities by instituting stop-and-frisk nationwide. (The practice, which was used for a time by police in Trump's hometown of New York, was declared unconstitutional in 2014; a judge found officers were more likely to stop and search people based on their race than on reasonable suspicion.)
Trump is doing so poorly with black voters in large part because of unforced errors likes those – if you even consider them errors and not part of a strategy to appeal to white suburban voters.
Not one black voter polled by PPP in August said they held a favorable view of Trump. But those pollsters clearly didn't reach Diamond and Silk, who've built a miniature empire on their favorable views of Trump. Real names Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, the sisters are not household names, but they've developed a strong following among Trump's supporters. They have close to half a million Facebook fans, and their YouTube channel has nearly 53,000 subscribers and more than ten million views. The pair posted 29 videos in the last month alone, and averaged 74,000 views per clip.
Before they started talking about Trump, the duo tells Rolling Stone over lunch in Midtown Manhattan in early September, those numbers were significantly lower. "We probably had, what, ten people [watching] our YouTube channel?" Diamond says.
They say that back then, their channel, "The Viewers' View," was more television criticism than the Trump love fest it is today. "We were just talking about things that we saw that we didn't like. We thought it was a place to vent," explains Diamond.
You'll have to take her word for it – only one of their early videos is still online. In that video, "Black Lives Matter," a photo of a slave, chained to a post and being beaten, fades into a still of the assault on Rodney King, and then into a photo of Eric Garner in a chokehold. "Has anything changed?" the video asks. "The black race is still part of the human race. Black lives matter. All lives matter." It was posted in January 2015.
The next available video, posted in July of that year, represents a decided pivot; it's called "Dump the rest of those Chumps and vote for Donald Trump in 2016." The vlog that shot them to (relative) stardom – a strongly-worded review of Megyn Kelly's Republican primary debate performance – was posted a month after that.
"We were all on the Trump train from the beginning, and when we watched the debates and we didn't like the questions that Megyn Kelly was asking, we spoke out on that, and that went viral," says Diamond.
"We didn't know that was going to viral. We just put it out there," adds Silk.
In the ensuing weeks and months, the sisters were invited to speak on cable news programs and at Trump rallies and other events across the country. And they did, with an enthusiasm for the Republican nominee that many in his party have struggled to muster.
Like Trump himself, Diamond and Silk are new to the GOP. Lifelong Democrats, they switched parties so they could cast their votes for him in the North Carolina primary. They made a website, complete with step-by-step instructional video, encouraging other Democrats to join them.
Part of their decision was based on an insincerity they perceive in Hillary Clinton's efforts to ingratiate herself to the black community. "When she runs around with a bottle of hot sauce, when she walked up in the black church trying to sing the negro spirituals – she knows she don't go to a black church. When she's running around here doing the nae nae and doing the black dances. Get out of here. You're not black," Diamond says. "You got the Clinton Foundation. What has your foundation done for black people in the hood, like Detroit? Chicago? You were born in Chicago and you ain't never done nothing."
Diamond and Silk are not just skeptical of Hillary, though – they are emphatically for Trump. And they say they have been since day one, when they were on the phone together watching him announce his candidacy from Trump Tower. Diamond recalls Silk's words that day: "She said, 'Girl, this is going to be the next present of the United States.'" Their support has only intensified in the 16 months since, as they developed both an online following and a personal relationship with the man himself, who has thanked them for their vocal support.
At a January rally in Des Moines, Trump introduced the pair by noting they've "become very famous and very rich" stumping for him. In their online store, Diamond and Silk sell branded "Women United 4 Trump" hats and t-shirts for $25 a pop; a "Basket of Deplorables" one goes for $40. They also sell rhinestone-encrusted mugs like the ones they sip from during their videos. The sisters and the Trump campaign have both denied the campaign pays them for their support. (A Nightline investigation found that the same company that makes merchandise sold by the Trump campaign also makes merchandise sold by Diamond and Silk, but they failed to find a financial connection beyond that.)
When they sat down with Rolling Stone in New York in September, the women – who are basically full-time Trump boosters – said they were in town for a business meeting, but declined to elaborate. And they're incredibly tight-lipped about their own lives. The pair will talk at length about the reasons they back Trump, but not about the personal experiences that helped inform that support. Of their early lives, Diamond says only, "We were raised with a mother and a father. We sat down and had a meal at a table. I can tell you that. And were close coming up – we were really close."
Their parents, as Nightline first reported, were televangelists affiliated with Jericho Deliverance Temple in Raeford, North Carolina, outside Fayetteville. Old television spots preserved on YouTube show where the pair got their telegenic presence and entrepreneurial sense. On the Jericho Deliverance Facebook page, Evangelist has advertised everything from "Colon Cleanse Parasite" and "Super Fat Binder" pills to handmade soaps, CDs, and her book, Faith Can and Will Move Mountains, Including the Mountains of Fat. Even their signature tag-team delivery seems adopted from their parents: In old videos, Elder Hardaway punctuates Evangelist's monologues with an "Amen!" the same way Silk often peppers Diamond's with an "Mmmhmm!"
Diamond and Silk say they grew up Democrats, like most black voters in North Carolina – a state that recently saw its voter-ID law thrown out after a judge found it targeted African-Americans with near "surgical precision." The court found that Republican officials had requested data on the use of a number of voting practices, by race, then sought to severely restrict those methods favored by black voters.
Diamond and Silk say discriminatory tactics like these, which are being pushed by members of their newly adopted party, don't bother them. "It's like when I go to the bank: If the bank is open from 9 to 5, I'm going to be there when it's open," Diamond says. "What the left tend to do is bait people. I'm going to give you a sandwich, possibly give you a box of cheese. But I need for you to go down here and vote for this person. That's that they do. They don't educate people."
In Diamond's view, Clinton uses the idea of racism to frighten black Americans into voting for her. Democrats, she says, "do that all the time, 'cause they know it pulls at the heartstrings of black people. It pulls at that victimization sometimes that black people feel when you use that word 'racist' or 'bigotry' or 'bigot' .... This is what I don't understand: Donald Trump has been in the public eye for over 30, 40 years, and not one time did they start calling him a racist until he started running against these Democrats."
Diamond is wrong about that, though. In 1973, the DOJ sued Trump Management Inc., accusing the company of housing discrimination. According to the government, Trump employees marked applications from African-Americans and Latinos with a "C" for "colored."
Diamond's eyes narrow when she's presented with this information. "Now, did they sue Donald Trump or did they sue the business?" she asks. The suit named both Donald Trump and his father, Fred.
"That story does not make Donald Trump a racist. 'Cause his father was running a business ... you can't accuse him when somebody in the business may have done something. That's not his fault. So don't put that on Donald Trump."
"That don't make him a racist," Silk echoes her sister.
"That don't make him a racist," Diamond says again.
What about Trump's 1991 "laziness is a trait in blacks" quote?
"Did you hear him? Do y'all have that on recording?" Diamond asks. (The quote comes from the 1991 book Trumped: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump-His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall; Trump has said the things written in the book were "probably true.")
"That don't make him a racist," Diamond says.
"That's his opinion," Silk says.
"There's some lazy black people, white people, Hispanic people and Latino people. And we want to get people out of this laziness. We want them to come up where they're thriving. Bring them back to a good job, so they won't be lazy," Diamond says. "That don't make him a racist. What's the next one?"
OK, sure, the next one: Does it bother them that Trump was so slow to disavow the support of former Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke?
"He can't help who embraces his campaign. But Hillary Clinton can help who she embraced! You remember when she goes and she said Robert Byrd was her mentor and her friend? And he was a KKK member."
Byrd, the late senator from West Virginia, founded the local chapter of the KKK in his early 20s. He later disavowed his affiliation with the Klan, and in Congress was, according to the NAACP, "a stalwart supporter of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and many other pieces of seminal legislation that advanced the civil rights and liberties of our country."
Diamond and Silk don't think much of the NAACP, and they don't mind that Trump has not taken the organization up on its repeated offers to speak to its members.
"The NAACP is supposed to be for the advancement of colored people. Colored people ain't advancing," Diamond says. "People are tired of these organizations and groups that think they're supposed to be for black people, and they're doing nothing for black people."
"That's right," Silk says.
Diamond: "The NAACP don't speak for all black people."
The sisters seem like they could spend all day batting away examples of Trump's racism, and what they would much rather do is focus on the positive: why they're supporting him.
"That border needs to be secured," says Diamond. "I want good jobs back here where people are thriving. I want him to come in and clean up these communities. He's a builder: build back up these communities. I want some people to start having pride. I'm tired of seeing a black man leaving the family because a black man don't have a job."
Silk interjects, pointing to the 1994 crime bill signed by Bill Clinton. "You have those black men get out of prison that did their crime, they did their time, but then they can't get a job because they have a felony on their record. What Donald Trump is [interested in is] lowering taxes and then allowing you to create your own business. So for those men that get out of prison – if they won't give you a job, you can create your own job. You can be your own boss," Silk says.
Diamond jumps back in. "It's time for people to come up. I want to at least see our community come up," she says. "You're [not] going to see all these people burning down their communities if they were coming up. You wouldn't see all this bickering and fighting and this back and forth if people was coming up. It's time for people to thrive – all people. This is not black poor people – it's white poor people, Asian poor people. We want Americans to thrive again. We want our country to be put first, whether you're a veteran, whatever color you are. We want you to be put first."
One could point out that under Bill Clinton, the median household income for black Americans grew by 25 percent, and that at over the same period, African-American unemployment dropped precipitously, from 14.1 percent to 8.2 percent. But Diamond and Silk will not be swayed. In the face of all arguments to the contrary, they believe Trump is their man.
They just haven't had much success convincing their friends of the same.
And that's fine, says Diamond. "The more they hate, the more we educate."