I had lunch with Mike Lindell, the affable, philanthropic CEO of MyPillow, a friendly midwesterner who is spending millions of dollars to discredit American democracy. Here's what happened: https://t.co/RKyAnFznTv
— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) July 29, 2021
Anne Applebaum going Gonzo with a leading loony of Trumpland is a trip. https://t.co/WYjzQI3o3D
— Peter Wolf (@peterawolf) July 30, 2021
Anne Applebaum is an authority on “countries in transition to, or away from, democracy”:
… I met Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, in the recording studio that occupies the basement of Steve Bannon’s stately Capitol Hill townhouse, a few blocks from the Supreme Court—the same Supreme Court that will, according to Lindell, decide “9–0” in favor of reinstating Donald Trump to the presidency sometime in August, or possibly September. I made it through the entirety of the Trump presidency without once having to meet Bannon but here he was, recording his War Room podcast with Lindell. Bannon has been decomposing in front of our eyes for some years now, and I can report that this process continues to take its course. I walked in during a break and the two men immediately gestured to me to join the conversation, sit at the table with them, listen in on headphones. I demurred. “Anne Applebaum … hmm,” Bannon said. “Should’ve stuck to writing books. Gulag was a great book. How long did it take you to write it?”…
… MyPillow has long been an important advertiser on Fox News, so much so that even Trump noticed Lindell (“That guy is on TV more than I am”), but has since widened its net. MyPillow spent tens of thousands of dollars advertising on Newsmax just in the week following the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
And now Lindell is spending on more than just advertising. Last January—on the 9th, he says carefully, placing the date after the 6th—a group of still-unidentified concerned citizens brought him some computer data. These were, allegedly, packet captures, intercepted data proving that the Chinese Communist Party altered electoral results … in all 50 states. This is a conspiracy theory more elaborate than the purported Venezuelan manipulation of voting machines, more improbable than the allegation that millions of supposedly fake ballots were mailed in, more baroque than the belief that thousands of dead people voted. This one has potentially profound geopolitical implications.
That’s why Lindell has spent money—a lot of it, “tens of millions,” he told me—“validating” the packets, and it’s why he is planning to spend a lot more. Starting on August 10, he is holding a three-day symposium in Sioux Falls (because he admires South Dakota’s gun-toting governor, Kristi Noem), where the validators, whoever they may be, will present their results publicly. He has invited all interested computer scientists, university professors, elected federal officials, foreign officials, reporters, and editors to the symposium. He has booked, he says variously, “1,000 hotel rooms” or “all the hotel rooms in the city” to accommodate them. (As of Wednesday, Booking.com was still showing plenty of rooms available in Sioux Falls.)
Wacky though it seems for a businessman to invest so much in a conspiracy theory, there are important historical precedents. Think of Olof Aschberg, the Swedish banker who helped finance the Bolshevik revolution, allegedly melting down the bars of gold that Lenin’s comrades stole in train robberies and reselling them, unmarked, on European exchanges. Or Henry Ford, whose infamous anti-Semitic tract, The International Jew, was widely read in Nazi Germany, including by Hitler himself. Plenty of successful, wealthy people think that their knowledge of production technology or private equity gives them clairvoyant insight into politics. But Aschberg, Ford, and Lindell represent the extreme edge of that phenomenon: Their business success gives them the confidence to promote malevolent conspiracy theories, and the means to reach wide audiences…
Lindell had agreed to have lunch with me after the taping. But where to go? I didn’t think it would be much fun to take someone inclined to shout about rigged voting machines and fake COVID-19 cures to a crowded bistro on Capitol Hill. Because Lindell is famously worried about Chinese Communist influence, I thought he would like to pay homage to the victims of Chinese oppression. I booked a Uyghur restaurant.
This proved a mistake. For one thing, the restaurant—the excellent Dolan Uyghur, in D.C.’s Cleveland Park neighborhood—was not at all close to Bannon’s townhouse. Getting there required a long and rather uncomfortable drive, in Lindell’s rented black SUV; he talked at me about packet captures the whole way, one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding up a phone showing Google Maps. Once we got there, he didn’t much like the food. He picked at his chicken kebabs and didn’t touch his spicy fried green beans. More to the point, he didn’t understand why we were there. He had never heard of the Uyghurs. I told him they were Muslims who are being persecuted by Chinese Communists. Oh, he said, “like Christians.” Yes, I said. Like Christians.
He kept talking at me in the restaurant, a kind of stream-of-consciousness account of the packet captures, his mistreatment at the hands of the media and the Better Business Bureau, the dangers of the COVID-19 vaccines, and the wonders of oleandrin, a supplement that he says he and everyone else at MyPillow takes and that he says is 100 percent guaranteed to prevent COVID-19. On all of these points he is utterly impervious to any argument of any kind. I asked him what if, hypothetically, on August 10 it turns out that other experts disagree with his experts and declare that his data don’t mean what he thinks his data mean. This, he told me, was impossible. It couldn’t happen…
What will happen when Lindell’s ideological, all-American, predicted-in-a-dream absolute certainty runs into a wall of skepticism, disbelief, or—even worse—indifference? If history is anything to go by … nothing. Nothing will happen. He will not admit he is wrong; he will not stop believing. He will not understand that he was conned out of the millions he has spent “validating” fake data. (One has to admire the salesmanship of the tech grifters who talked him into all of this, assuming they exist.) He will not understand that his company is having trouble with retailers because so many people are repulsed by his ideas. He will not understand that people attack him because they think what he says is dangerous and could lead to violence. He will instead rail against the perfidy of the media, the left, the Communists, and China…
An upset MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell on Steve Bannon's podcast this morning says about Fox News: "They should just be a weather channel!"
— Zachary Petrizzo (@ZTPetrizzo) July 30, 2021
In the Mike Lindell – Fox News divorce, it's fun to point out:
38% of Tucker Carlson's advertising came from MyPillow in 2020https://t.co/JtqGoOvRPA
— Ted Newton (@Ted_Newton) July 30, 2021