In a small Wisconsin town, the gang reunited to keep the MAGA 2020 dream alive. There were … some hiccups
The phone rings and it’s Mike Lindell, the MyPillow Guy, recovered cocaine addict, believer that the 2020 presidential count was 20 million off, and, apparently, a fan of 1970s AM Radio. After saying hello and introducing myself, Lindell begins howling through the telephone line, ‘Wanna see my picture on the cover, wanna buy five copies for my mother.’ He laughs loud and says, ‘You gonna put me on the cover of Rolling Stone.” I tell him it is unlikely since the story will only be online.
Undeterred, Lindell is still stoked, urging me to come out to New Richmond, Wisconsin, for a free speech rally starring Diamond and Silk, pardoned felon Dinesh D’Souza, and David Clarke, the former Milwaukee County sheriff who is always in a cowboy hat. Oh, yeah, and a video appearance from that deplatformed guy that Lindell refers to as the ‘real president.’
“The park where we’re going to be once had 40,000 for a concert, and we’re going to try and break that record. I’ll see you there. All I ask is you watch my videos.” He pauses a moment. “And visit my freedom-of-speech website: frankspeech.com.”
This is like your dad saying he’ll take you to watch LeBron play from courtside seats if you spit shine the garage and explain why Mom left him for her jazzercise instructor.
Officially, Lindell’s event is called called the MAGA Frank rally, a name that manages to both pledge fealty to Donald Trump and hawk Lindell’s glitchy “free speech” (conspiracy theory) website. The rally is one part far-right cosplay party featuring a series of wacky and deluded characters who hold no elective office. The other part is fucking scary, the aforementioned hucksters hold dangerous sway over a party that in the not-so-distant past had presidential standard bearers named Romney and McCain. Sure, you could violently disagree with their policies, but they didn’t give you the feeling they would merrily march the country off a cliff dancing to Trump’s piper tune. Lindell’s gathering had the potential to be corny and creepy, a look at America’s diseased underbelly that is now so full of pus it could poison the rest of us.
So, I watched the videos.
NOT LONG AGO, I was staying in Los Angeles at a friend’s house, where Rachel Maddow is venerated and in a corner sit posters left over from the Womens’ March on Washington in 2017. I couldn’t sleep and pounded my lumpy pillow. I look down at the mishmash of cushion and let out a yowl. It was a MyPillow.
Back in 2015, Lindell was just a guy who had never voted and whose smooth voice could sell a pillow to Californians left of Upton Sinclair. But since then, Lindell’s life has spun his car onto the Trumpian gravel road less traveled. It’s not his first spinout; much of Lindell’s adult life was spent sniffing coke and smoking crack while crashing motorcycles and not sleeping for weeks at a time. It’s all in his memoir, What Are the Odds?, which explains how Lindell makes and squanders fortunes, a slave to the white powder. But he’s not that hard on himself. Even at his worst, he portrays himself as an addict with a heart of gold. Not once, but twice, he gives black drug addicts his last dollars so they can make it home and begin the journey to redemption. (The book is, shall we say, light on full names and contains no footnotes.)
Miraculously, Lindell got clean overnight, his pillow business thrived, and he had a dream he would meet Donald Trump — and he did! They became fast friends during the president’s term and Lindell’s admiration grew exponentially. “He is the only president in my lifetime who wasn’t in it for the ego and worked only for the people and not for his own interests,” Lindell told tells me shortly after we meet in Wisconsin.
This is, of course, the upside-down-world version of Donald Trump. The president named Lindell a co-chair of his Minnesota campaign. Lindell admits he was not aware that a Republican had not carried the state since 1972. Election night came and went. Imagine Lindell’s shock that Trump had lost not just Minnesota, but the presidency.
“I was out there, talking to people; it’s just not possible.”
So while Rudy Giuliani was holding pressers adjacent to Philadelphia mortuaries and sex shops, Lindell hired computer experts and hackers — most who appear in his videos without names — and came to the novel conspiratorial conclusion that voting machines across America had been hacked by the Chinese Communist Party and the election had been stolen from his buddy. In the dying days of the Trump regime, Lindell visited the White House and was photographed holding a piece of paper that had the words “martial law” typed on it. This brought the White House press corps running. According to Lindell, this was part of his master plan. “They’d ask about the martial-law thing, and I’d say, ‘Do you know how easy it is to hack a voting machine?” says Lindell. This reverse strategy, according to Lindell, was also used to persuade a reporter to induce Dominion Voting Systems into suing him for $1.3 billion in damages, claiming that MyPillow Guy had repeatedly defamed the company by asserting they were either in cahoots or duped by the Chinese. (He is now countersuing). “Guess what? I had reporters calling me about the lawsuit and I’d say, ‘Did you watch my videos?’ ”
Eventually, Lindell’s baseless claim got him banned from Twitter — “Jack Dorsey should go to jail” — and friendly outlets like Fox, which he repeatedly calls “cowards.” But here’s the twist. Lindell may have been deplatformed and denounced, but he still has the ultimate dead-end supporter in the 45th president. As a result, he is adored by the tail of the conservative movement that wags the dog.
LINDELL URGED ME TO meet him at the River Edge Apple River Campground at 7:15 a.m., but he doesn’t show up until a little after 8:00. He is in a state of agitation. Today’s rally was thrown together in two weeks, and Lindell is a micromanager. He orders trailers to be moved so they don’t appear on camera, and he becomes obsessed with a giant flag to the side of a stage. “That can’t come loose when the president is talking,” says Lindell to a work crew.
We then settle into his air-conditioned bus for a chat. A gofer gets him coffee, which he pounds and then demands a second cup. I ask him how he went from a 2016 nonvoter to 2020 expert on data machine manipulation. The pillow salesmen was always a Trump election truther but, according to him, it was the January 9th arrival of a trove of never-really-explained data that convinced Lindell — if not anyone else — that his pal was getting robbed.
“Everybody brought me everything,” says Lindell, fingering his mustache. He had an aide retrieve his hearing aids and then resumes. “I was the last hub in the wheel, the last voice for America. All I did was put in millions of dollars to validate it.” Behind Lindell, Charlotte’s Web plays on a screen. It’s the scene where the rat scurries around collecting treasure and garbage. “I’ve said it before, if I knew this had happened in reverse and Trump got put in, I’d still be sounding the alarm.”
Not bloody likely. Lindell explains that it was the Chinese Communist Party that was behind the hacks. But it is never explicitly explained how in any of his videos. His latest is Absolute 9-0, a reference to the fact he believes the Supreme Court will unanimously reinstate Trump as president after the justices see his not-disclosed information. As promised, I watched Absolute 9-0 and tell Lindell the numbers rolling by as his unnamed hacker spoke in sentences that used English to make an indecipherable word salad had confused me. “Oh, those numbers were just b-roll,” says Lindell, twitching in his blue suit and violet tie.
Lindell says there is an easier way to prove it was all bogus.
“There was 147 million registered to vote. OK, Biden got 80 million and Trump got 75 million. That’s 10 million extra voters.” Lindell nods repeatedly, proud of his point. In fact, over 213 million American were registered to vote — Lindell was off by just a bit, i.e., 66 million. He then mentions that 1.7 million Pennsylvanians requested mail-in ballots while the election count shows hundreds of thousands more, proving more fraud. In reality, Pennsylvanians requested over 3 million mail-in ballots. As Lindell becomes more caffeinated, the claims become increasingly exorbitant. “Trump won 80 million to 68 million,” Lindell says as conservative outlets line up in the bus for their interview. That would be a 19 million-vote swing. Lindell is a college dropout whose main mathematical background comes from card counting at casinos. He says that number will be confirmed when there are audits done in all 50 states.
Lindell backs off from his earlier claims that Trump will ascend back to the throne in August and now says, “Six months from now, Trump will be our real president and our country will be heading toward its greatest rebirth in history.”
It is time for Lindell to tour the grounds again, but I ask him quickly about the insurrection of January 6th. Lindell gets angry. He argues that connecting the Capitol insurrection to his constant railing that the election was stolen is ridiculous. “What are you talking about? Number one, I’ve never even watched footage of that. But in my opinion, it was a setup. I’ve been to over 50 rallies year. There has never been one incident. And you don’t think it was a setup? Gimme a break.”
“You mean the guy who works for Governor Kemp? They’ve been in it from the start. Same with Ducey in Arizona. Let’s talk about the death threats I’m getting.”
Maybe another time.
IT’S LIKELY THAT LINDELL is getting his marching orders from El Ex Presidente, although he won’t say so directly. Regardless, Lindell and his squad are fighting a two-front war remarkably similar to Trump’s own doomed crusade: vote fraud and Big Tech traitors. Lindell’s greatest supporters are sitting in the next luxury bus. The first thing you notice about Diamond and Silk is that Diamond does most of the talking, with Silk serving as her hype woman. It’s a style they honed as the Hardaway sisters, the children of a televangelist. “We’re in the United States of America; this is supposed to be the land of the free, the home of the brave, not slaves,” says Diamond outfitted in a black dress on a 90-degree day. “We’re supposed to be able to attain the American dream, not live the American nightmare.” The duo prattles on about how shadow banning and Facebook intervention hurt their ability to make a living. “You can’t ban me for being black and having views you don’t like,” says Diamond. This is true, but the hilarious thing is that Facebook has long maintained it hasn’t blocked or suppressed their content and the duo hasn’t come up with any specific evidence, much as they didn’t come up with any reason for lending their names to an anti-sanctuary bill sponsored by noted racist Steve King of Iowa.
Besides, they’d rather talk about critical race theory, which Diamond calls critical conspiracy theory. “Why are you teaching children to hate each other? That’s not what Martin Luther King taught.” I started counting to myself and got to seven before the other culprit emerged.
“If you want to talk about black and white, everybody is not 100 percent black. President Barack Hussein Obama, who’s biracial, has a white mother, a black father, but he’s a race baiter; he puts out the most race stuff. What about him? He’s black and white. Well, did his white mother’s ancestors own slaves? It makes us go farther. And now he’s pushing this racism on me. It’s socialism, it’s Marxism, and he’s the face of it.”
Of course Diamond, Silk, and Lindell live in their own political Narnia that has only a tangential connection to reality, but then again, so does a significant segment of today’s Republican Party. It’s not clear whether I should be laughing or crying. Either way, hatred of Obama is the third leg of the end-of-days square, paired with voter fraud and Big Tech tyranny. (Later, Dinesh D’Souza will describe Obama, a man who has been out of office for almost five years, as the snake at the head of the oncoming Democratic totalitarianism.) The fourth side, and the potentially most impactful with the Lindell wing of the party, is a feeling of abandonment from the RNC and Fox, which doesn’t send a crew to the rally. Later, former Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke says he won’t give a dime to the GOP until it signs on to Trump’s new contract for America, a document that is rumored to be under construction but currently exists only in Trump’s and Newt Gingrich’s heads.
“Isn’t this a shame?” says Diamond. “We have the RNC and the GOP that’s supposed to be for the Republican Party, but to have Mike Lindell doing more for voter integrity than the very people that’s supposed to be for the people? If you’re not fighting for American first, what are you doing to earn your salary?”
I say goodbye, but Diamond admonishes me to run her words as is, without any commentary. I’m about to tell them that’s not what journalism is about, but I’m busting for a piss. I just smile and head back into the summer cauldron.
THE WEATHERMAN SAID TODAY was going to be the cool day, which seems like nonsense as the temperature head into the upper 80s with most of the crowd broiling in an unrelenting sun. Maybe that’s why the event isn’t attracting the 40,000 or even Lindell-predicted 20,000. Instead there’s a healthy 3,000 to 5,000 people, probably similar to the turnout Foreigner will get in July at a local casino. The usual crowd is here, a trio of Proud Boys in yellow shirts and a QAnon man and wife who said the return of Trump is somehow tied to the 11 books of the Bible that the Canaanites had excised from the final book. And there are impressionable young minds. I take a photo of two high school kids in “defund the media” caps. They’re all smiles until I tell them if they are successful my second-grader son will starve to death. The girl looks like she is about to cry.
In a patch of shade, I find a fortyish mom named Martha. She looks exhausted, as one would after driving through the night from Dayton, Ohio. She did so at the behest of her 11-year-old daughter, Khloe. The girl is a political junkie, and their last vacation was to the CPAC conservative fest in February.
“I think Biden cheated,” says Khloe, wearing a blue-and-white shirt she swiped from her dad’s drawer. “It’s not hard to count all the votes. And it took so long. There are a lot of blue states that should not be blue states.”
Khloe also mentions with a smile and a shrug of her shoulders that her attempt to convert her fellow classmates has met with mixed results. “I told them I could send them some streams that would change their mind, and some of them stopped talking to me.” She added with some glee, “I’ve been banned from some TikTok accounts.”
I ask here where she gets her news. “My mom got me into the PT News Network,” says Khloe, mentioning a far-right website that is pro-Devin Nunes and anti-1619 Project. “They have a lot of good information,” says Khloe. I want to ask her about checking out mainstream sources, but it’s too late. She curls up and falls asleep.
YOU HAVE TO GIVE CREDIT to Mike Lindell for taking on all comers. Unlike Dinesh D’Souza — who refuses an interview at a conference about media cancellation — Lindell welcomes them all, which is either bravery or malignant narcissism. But anyone who thought an interview between Lindell and The Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper would be a positive experience has not owned a television for a decade. In the minutes before Trump is going to drop in via satellite, Lindell and Klepper square off in an absurdist duel as a TV crew and a few gawkers watch.
ML: “You didn’t watch Absolutely 9-0?
JK: “I didn’t.”
ML: And you call yourself a journalist. That’s horrible.”
I’m torn watching the exchange. As a journalist, I agree it is not cool that Klepper didn’t watch the film. As a human being, I am jealous that Klepper’s brain cells remain unsullied of Lindell’s mumbo jumbo. Point: Klepper.
Lindell is pissed.
“We’re supposed to let people like you destroy us and take away our voices? Fox isn’t here, shame on Fox. Have you watched Absolute 9-0? You didn’t even watch it.”
Klepper tries humor
“Mike, I’ve watched all your pillow commercials.”
“What does that have to do with that? You’re being a jokester. Shame on you.”
A producer shouts in what about the death threats against Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger. Mike looks like he’s about to blow an artery as he repeats what he told me.
“Brad Raffensperger and Kemp were in on it.”
The Daily Show crew looks both horrified and excited.
Lindell waves them away.
“I’ve got to get ready for the president.”
BESIDES THE FIASCO of The Daily Show, whose staff Lindell declares “horrible” people from the stage, not a lot has gone smoothly today in rural Wisconsin. Around 11 o’clock, Mike had the crowd whooping for a flyover of World War II planes, but they didn’t show. His tension level kept ratcheting higher. After three dudes saw my media credentials, they reported that they were not able to post photos and information about the rally to their social media platforms. I relay this to Lindell, and he turns on me. “Why are you trying to cause trouble? Our network is fine, if they have problems that’s something Mark Shuckabuck [Zuckerberg] is doing.”
Shortly after 3 p.m., his mood is elevated. The planes finally show up, pumping some energy into the rapidly wilting crowd. Then, just a few minutes later, Donald Trump pops up on the Jumbotron.
“So here he is, the greatest president we’ve ever had … Donald J. Trump. God bless you, sir.” With Trump huge and a smiling Lindell tiny, it looks like a scene out of 1984.
Trump goes on autopilot. He says he was cheated in Wisconsin and everywhere else in America except for the District of Columbia. He takes credit for the vaccines and $3 billion in shipping contracts for Wisconsin. On it goes. Then it happens.
“Mike, I want to thank you, you are a courageous patriot.”
Lindell looks three inches taller and a decade younger. This is what it is all about.
From there, we go into summer reruns. Trump relitigates hydroxychloroquine, Hunter Biden’s laptop, Russia, everything but his golf handicap. He says the Senate would have gone 60-40 Democrat if not for his Herculean efforts.
And then he is gone. And here Lindell has made a grave mistake. He has chosen to speak after the president. He steps to the mic as a third of the crowd heads for waiting shuttle busses. He then speaks for more than 50 minutes, giving what can charitably be called an executive summary of his 400-page memoir. He throws in some red meat about getting back to the Bible. “We are about to have the greatest revival for Jesus.” He hits on how great our economy was pre-pandemic. But from there it is a slide show of his triumph over drugs and sin, complete with a photo of a crack-addled Lindell.
Finally, there’s a pivot back to election fraud, wherein Lindell spins a series of fuckups as an ingenious plan to keep reporters interested in his story. He announces a July cyber summit and a mock election at which he’ll show specifics of how the election was stolen. The end result is not surprising.
“I see Donald Trump sitting in the White House as the greatest president in history. I see the machines gone forever. I see us all coming together as one nation under God.”
The remaining crowd cheers, but is now so thin you can hear individual whoops and war cries.
He stops after 53 minutes, and Steely Dan blares on the PA system. But there’s one more task. A hundred or so supporters remain, and Mike Lindell works the rope line. He looks exactly like a politician. I tell him goodbye. He smiles.
“Call me anytime, there’s always new information. I’m available.”
I HEAD BACK TO my hotel for a Silkwood shower. I change my clothes and jump into my car. It’s about 35 minutes into Minneapolis, and the sun is setting, mercifully; the evening takes on a golden American glow as the lights of CHS Field, home of the AAA St. Paul Saints, are just taking effect. I keep driving into Minneapolis and park just short of a closed-off street.
The first sign you see says “You Are Now Entering the Free State of George Floyd.” It has been nearly 13 months since Floyd was choked to death, and the area now known as George Floyd Square remains a living monument. A life-size blue angel with wings lies near where he died with the words “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, Mama.” Fresh flowers and a teddy bear rest at a nearby shrine, and pilgrims lay down offerings and solemnly pose for pictures. About half a block away, there’s a different kind of energy as a crowd of maybe 100 watch different men and women krump the night away, their exuberant movements suggest a happy exorcism, the bad spirits being chased away by joy. I ask a few in the crowd if they know about Mike Lindell and they shake their heads.
I stop at one of the shrines and linger for a bit on my way out. A slight woman named Crystal politely approaches me and explains she is raising money for a square regular who is pregnant and has nowhere to go. “We even take Venmo,” says Crystal. But I fish out a bill that’s been in my wallet since before the pandemic.
I ask her if she knows of Liddell. She doesn’t but is curious. I explain how he is from Minneapolis and has spent a small fortune attempting to overturn an election that happened over 200 days ago and has been declared the fairest in American history. She shakes her head in disbelief.
“He spent all that money?” She gestures at the neighborhood. “Does he have any idea how much that could help people around here?” She smiles and gives a that’s-how-America-works shrug.
And she disappears into the twilight.
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