First Amendment Stuporhero
I've blogged several times about infomercial king Kevin Trudeau, one of the most recent posts being about his apparent business ties with Neo-Tech and Mark Hamilton, son of Neo-Tech founder Frank R. Wallace. True-dough and, to a lesser degree, Scamilton, have been so successful because they have struck a resonant chord, playing to people's deepest longings and their greatest fears, as well as their growing discontent and anger -- and not incidentally to the perennial human fascination with "secret" societies, "forbidden" information, and the many "conspiracies" that allegedly keep this information out of the reach of ordinary folks.
Like the big boiler rooms and Internet Marketing Syndicate members that Salty Droid writes about on his muckraking blog, the "secret society" and conspiracy merchants pander to several vulnerable demographics: the young and naive; the panicked midlifers who suddenly find themselves jobless but are years away from retirement benefits; and the old and desperate. Whether the hucksters are selling frauducts, flopportunities, or just misinformation, their marketing is very effective.
The fan testimonials, such as those on Kevin True-dough's KT Radio Network site, speak volumes. Some are giddy "success" stories in which the writers give credit to information they got from True-dough, either through listening to his radio show, buying his books, or participating in a flopportunity such as his Global Information Network (GIN). Many are merely thank you notes for the good work he is doing on behalf of humankind. "We need 1,000 more Kevins!" one writer enthused. Another wrote:
You are a true human being for getting the TRUTH out at great personal risk. There is no way I can get to the next level without your extended “hand” because the system is so rigged. I keep you in my prayers to protect you. You are a forever friend. I look forward to all your shows.And then there are the comments on some of the photos on True-dough's Facebook pages (about which we'll have much more in a little while):
When I read stuff like that I have to ask, once again, "Good Goddess, is there any hope for the human race at all?!?"
- Bless you Kevin Trudeau. Keep up with the greatness that you are achieving in the name of love, fairness and equality. Thankyou x :)
- Kevin - you are from above...
But then I remember that not everyone is buying the hustle. The mainstream media in the U.S. aren't all that kind to True-dough (which only gives him more ammo for his martyr act), and Down Under they don't seem to have much tolerance for him at all, as indicated by the headline on this May 2011 piece:
US felon spruiks with visitors' centre address
I just love the Aussies and their slang. "Spruiker" is a perfect description for True-dough, Scamilton, and their ilk.
And so on. When I read critical comments about True-dough I begin to think that there is hope for the human race after all.
But then when I take a look at how True-dough has continued to sucker people into believing he is a hero, that sense of hope begins to dwindle.
Phony heroics and the First AmendmentThere's no doubt that True-dough is capitalizing fully not only on his checkered (or striped) past but also on current efforts to rein in his...um...overly-enthusiastic marketing. Like most marketers he relies heavily on that most effective of tools: storytelling. He uses storytelling to sell products; for instance, there's that "Secret Brotherhood" whopper he uses to peddle his 14-CD GIN upsell, Your Wish Is Your Command. And more relevant to the topic of this post, there's the well-spun tale of his legal woes. The version of the KT narrative that you believe will depend largely upon whether or not you're a True-dough fan and have an emotional and/or financial stake in his empire.
We've covered this ground here before, but for the benefit of new visitors or those who simply wish to review, here's the simple Wikipedia version of the saga of True-dough v. The Man (I left the footnote reference numbers in the copy so you can see the sources):
In 1990, Trudeau posed as a doctor in order to deposit $80,000 in false checks, and in 1991 he pleaded guilty to larceny. That same year, Trudeau faced federal charges of credit card fraud after he stole the names and Social Security numbers of eleven customers of a mega memory product and charged approximately $122,735.68 on their credit cards. He spent two years in federal prison because of this conviction (Choi, 2005). Later, in an interview, he explained his crimes as:Now here's the version of Kevin's battle that currently appears on his "Stand With KT" Web site, a site that exists to give fans a convenient outlet for contributing to the Mighty One's legal defense fund:
- "... youthful indiscretions and not as bad as they sound, and besides, both were partly the fault of other people, and besides, he has changed. The larceny he explains as a series of math errors compounded by the 'mistake' of a bank official. As for why the bank thought he was a doctor, that was just a simple misunderstanding, because he jokingly referred to himself as a 'doctor in memory'. He still can't quite believe he was prosecuted for the larceny charges. 'Give me a break,' he says."
Doesn't that make it sound as if his legal woes began only after the publication of the Fearless Whistleblower's books? Since the first one mentioned, Natural Cures, was initially published in 2005, that's really kind of misleading. And what's this about KT being "a former corporate and government insider?" Well, he did spend a couple of years "inside" a Federal institution, so I'll concede that one to him.
FEARLESS WHISTLEBLOWERKevin Trudeau is a best-selling author and leading consumer advocate, standing up for freedom of speech, exposing government and corporate corruption, and extolling natural cures for Americans. In Natural Cures They Don’t Want You To Know About, More Natural Cures Revealed and The Weight Loss Cure They Don’t Want You To Know About, Trudeau offers an unfiltered look at natural prevention, remedies and diets, gleaned from decades of research over dozens of countries with thousands of physicians. After release, these books have spent a total of more than 35 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Millions of copies of his books have been sold worldwide.
Soon after publication, however, the government began to question Trudeau’s freedom of speech, threatening him with silence, jail time and fines of up to $37 million dollars. As a former corporate and government insider, and founder of multiple companies worldwide, Trudeau recognized the government corruption and the influence of major drug companies in his legal battles, and realized he was in for the fight of his life. Natural Cures Health Institute started the Kevin Trudeau Legal Defense Fund to offset millions of dollars in legal fees in his ongoing fight for free speech in the United States.
These days True-dough is all about the First Amendment, framing his entire defense fundraising scheme as a battle to protect the rights not merely of Kevin True-dough, Fearless Whistleblower, but of all Americans. His basic argument on his own behalf is that the First Amendment gives him the right to say and write pretty much anything he wishes.
Besides his multiple Web sites, True-dough has several Facebook pages, promoting various products, his Global Information Network, and, naturally, his dramatic ongoing battle against the tyrannical U.S. government that is oppressing, repressing, and suppressing him. There are also pages of photo albums of hopeful future zillionaires at GIN gatherings, pawing through MLM fodder such as GIN T-shirts, GIN trucker hats, and stacks of Kevin Trudeau "Life's Daily Essentials" nutritional supplements. These pages are magnets for comments from fawning admirers (sample comment: "Because of everything you do i can say i stand on the shoulders of a giant!").
Most of the Facebook activity on behalf of True-dough appears to be in the service of persuading fans to join GIN, or offering encouragement to those who have taken the plunge, and equally or perhaps more importantly, to encouraging people to donate to KT's legal defense fund. The "Kevin Trudeau Show" page has numerous mentions of KT's noble cause. There are fairly frequent references to the Stand With KT blog; on a recent status update, for instance, True-dough (or, rather, someone writing on his behalf) wrote:
Country Music Star Trace Adkins adds his thoughts to today's #StandwithKT blog: http://ow.ly/66Y1I
Though the copy makes it seem as if the famous Trace Adkins actually wrote a post or a comment on True-dough's blog, that's not the case. I followed the link and found this instead:
Country Music Star's OpinionIn the Country music world, you will be hard pressed to find a star bigger than Trace Adkins!
And when I say big, I mean big in size and big in fame. He is man's man - a passionate man about America and especially about the 1st Amendment! When I recently came across this video clip from Trace, I knew I needed to share it with all of you that support Stand with KT!
I'm a critic but I try to be a fair one, and I think it would be egregiously unfair of me not to mention a recent post on the Stand With KT blog, "No Wrong Doing." This post features a video of Kevin telling a recent dinner crowd that after every single Federal government agency investigation of him, the agency has invariably issued and signed a document at the end of the investigation saying they can find no wrongdoing on Kevin's part. "But you never hear about that!" he says. I immediately thought that we should all hear about that. I felt Kevin should publish those documents, and I further decided that if he does I will publish links to them.
One of his fans was thinking along the same lines as I. On the KT Facebook page, the person wrote, "You should post those letters here and link it on wiki. Plaster them all over the internet..." And True-dough's online proxy replied, "funny you should say that, we are already working on that - with everything to be posted at StandwithKT.com soon!"
Funny that KT didn't think to post them years earlier. Maybe his marketing team just came up with that story and it's taking them some time to create the documents to go with it.
While we're all breathlessly awaiting the documents exonerating True-dough of any wrongdoing, information on a 2005 decision in a case where KT turned the tables and sued the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). His suit was dismissed. And here's a link to the FTC's archives on True-dough.
As far as I'm concerned, however, whether or not the FTC or any other government agency has a legitimate case against KT has always taken a back seat to my contention that he is a consummate b.s. artist who sells false promises to desperate and gullible people.
The proof is in the videos
"Oh, Cosmic Connie, enough already with your naysaying!" some of you might be grousing. "How can you say that all of KT's fans are gullible or desperate? After all, success stories abound in the Global Information Network. If you don't believe the written testimonials on the KT Radio network site or the GIN sites, or the enthusiastic comments on the Facebook pages, why not watch some GIN Leadership Cruise videos, and listen to some of the successful members talk about how all of their dreams are going to come true as a result of their GIN membership?"
Okay, I'll bite. I'll give hope one more chance. Here are some vids I found, picked at random.
This one, for example, has had an entire 63 views:My Vision is a Reality: Cruising with GIN (Global Information Network)
Evil emperor, or buffoon in a silly hat?
Throughout all of my posts about True-dough, I haven't really revealed anything new, haven't exposed any hidden secrets or previously unpublicized scandals. And many might think I've belabored the point. Some might say that in spite of his felonious past and long history as a con artist, True-dough is just one relatively harmless guy in a dorky hat, mouthing off on infomercials and radio shows. Unlike James Arthur "Death" Ray, he hasn't killed anyone that I know of, and apparently isn't part of some big evil marketing empire on the lines of the self-described Internet Marketing Syndicate or the Utah boiler rooms, whose scams are, as noted above, continually being exposed on Salty Droid's blog.
I have little doubt that the Syndicate players are scam artists and that the boiler rooms are destructive, and Salty seems to be building a devastating case against all of them. In a recent comment on his "Scamming Two Debbies" blog post he described the boiler rooms as "a giant doom machine." And while it is easy to blame the aggressive, fast-talking closers who man the phone lines, Salty writes...
As detailed here regarding another boiler room …
… most of the sales staff get paid jack shit … come from vulnerable situations themselves … are heavily manipulated … and often drugged.
A loathsome system indeed, and I've a feeling that Salty will be exposing much more about the boiler-room crimes and Syndicate shenanigans in the weeks to come.
But where does True-dough fit on the spectrum of scoundrels? As noted, he isn't a Syndicate member. On the other hand, some might point out that True-dough is an empire unto himself, evil or not. They might also note that the business models as well as the favored marketing techniques of the boiler rooms and Syndicate members have much in common with those that KT has been using for years -- decades, even.
Some might say that the infomercial scammers, Internet marketing spruikers, and New-Wage gurus are all rotten fruits from the same huge evil tree. There's a lot to be said for that argument; the evidence is everywhere, and the same names just keep coming up. I'm not entirely comfortable with providing a link to a post by someone who clearly has his own marketing agenda, but this 2009 blog post does a connect-the-dots with young infomercial scammer Anthony Morrison, infomercial producer Donald Barrett, and Kevin True-dough.
Here's a Wiki-bit on Barrett and True-dough:
On October 5, 2007, the FTC sued ITV Direct, Inc. [Barrett's company ~ CC] and Donald Barrett for misrepresenting Kevin Trudeau's "Weight-Loss Cure" book in the infomercial they produced to market it. In response to the FTC's suit, ITV Direct sued the FTC for alleged harassment and violation of free speech rights. Subsequently, on November 19, 2007, in a separate FTC action, Trudeau was found in contempt of a 2004 court order for making "patently false" claims in the weight loss book.
And those are just a couple of examples of familiar swine feeding at the same trough (no offense intended to swine). At any rate, although True-dough may not be a Utah boiler room owner, he does use call centers to process responses to his infomercials and other marketing efforts, with all of the concomitant sneaky call-center tricks that have generated hundreds of consumer complaints about him over the years. Here is just one link. (According to this fact sheet on True-dough's misdeeds, there were 192 complaints about True-dough on the infamous Ripoff Report as of February 2008, but amazingly, every one of those seem to have disappeared, even though the Ripoff Report says they never delete complaints.)
My own guess is that many of the hucksters in the Syndicate, and for that matter many of the boiler room operators, envy True-dough and look up to him as a marketing genius. Maybe they're even taking note of how deftly he is handling his FTC and other prosecution issues, of how he is taking the lemons of potential career disaster and turning them into pure marketing lemonade. Maybe some of the Syndicate members will soon be setting up their own "legal defense funds." But they may not be nearly as successful as KT because, let's face it: few of them have either his longevity or his broad platform. Over the years True-dough has successfully painted himself as a hero to many ordinary frustrated people, and the same cannot be said of, say, Frank Kern or Jeremy Johnson (who?).
The consensus on Salty's blog is that indictment of Internet Marketing scammers and boiler-room operators is the only way to stop them. For instance, see the thread on this blog post, beginning with my comment August 25th, 2011 at 12:19 pm. I expressed my doubt that the FTC and other authorities could do very much, and I pointed to KT as an example. One participant going by the name Sh-t Storm listed some good reasons he thought I was wrong, and Salty added that KT continues to operate not because the government can't do anything, but because they won't. In any case the main focus of the general discussion was the IM Syndicate, and there's speculation that the Syndicate members are getting scared, and justly so.
That may be, but if I'm perfectly honest I have to say that not all of the issues surrounding True-dough are completely black or white. (And I know I've covered much of this before too, but I think it's worth repeating.) Not only are there some possible First Amendment issues -- though they're not nearly as dramatic as True-dough self-servingly portrays them -- but it is also true that our daily lives are compromised, our privacy violated, and our very freedoms threatened, by government and corporate interests alike. It's true that giant industries such as the pharmaceutical industry are more interested in their own bottom lines than our health. It's true that medical science doesn't know everything and that some accepted medical treatments sometimes do more harm than good. It's true that the major political parties and other institutions, including religious institutions in many cases, are more interested in their own power than in improving the quality of life for average people. This is true in the U.S. and all over the world. Everywhere you look you can see evidence that "the fight is fixed, the poor stay poor and the rich get rich," as Leonard Cohen said in his song, "Everybody Knows."
In other words, there's just enough "truthiness" in True-dough's Web site copy, infomercials, and radio rants to keep him well-supplied with fans and followers and, more importantly, with paying customers. Given the state of the world today it is all too easy for True-dough and other scam marketers to don the crown of truthiness, polishing it till it shines so brightly that it blinds the hopeful masses to the slimy, grasping hands that are reaching for their wallets.
The big problem -- and again I beg your indulgence as I re-state the obvious -- is that among these few kernels of truthiness there are also multiple layers of deception, misleading content, tall tales, and outright lies. One of the biggest current True-dough lies is the implication that pouring thousands of dollars into GIN will magically enable one to rise above the problems of ordinary citizens and join the ranks of a largely imaginary elite on some remote and resplendent beach. "NEXT year...I will be Swimming in the Caribbean or someplace as nice...OR Better!" wrote a hopeful Global Information Network affiliate recently on Facebook, reminding me of the wistful prayer at a Passover Seder: "Next year in Jerusalem." The difference is that the Seder participant has a much better chance of getting to Jerusalem than the average affiliate does of reaching those glorious turquoise waters via GIN. The money the affiliate gives to GIN, however, will almost certainly end up in a sweet Caribbean tax shelter. From there some of it will probably travel to the bank accounts of those pricey attorneys True-dough brags about, and much of the rest will go to supporting KT's lavishly fulfilling lifestyle, which he dangles like a carrot to current and prospective affiliates.
But there is a point where black and white sometimes blend to shades of gray. In my opinion, the fact that much of what True-dough peddles is bulls--t doesn't necessarily mean he belongs in prison. If GIN is a fraudulent scheme then it needs to be stopped somehow, but I don't think True-dough belongs in prison just for producing crappy books and infomercials that are full of lies and misrepresentations. Nor, for that matter, do I think that all infomercial and Internet hustledorks should be locked up and the keys thrown away. Many should be behind bars, no doubt, but not all of them. And while it does make me profoundly sad to think of some desperately earnest affiliate investing twenty grand or more to become rich the "lazy" way, as I wrote about in this recent post, I also have to acknowledge that there is plenty of available information exposing these hustles for what they are. Yet people continue to believe what they want to believe, ignoring the sage advice about things that sound too good to be true. Too many continue to act as if throwing money at something or someone will buy them the life of their dreams.
Kind of like Gilligan's Island, except the comedy is unintentional
Still, the hustledorks have to bear a large part of the culpability for taking advantage of human frailty. Consider the latest desperation marketing by Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, who recently blogged that he is thinking of hosting a $50,000-per-head "Mastermind" weekend on Richard Branson's heart-shaped Makepeace Island, which is located off the coast of Australia. That $50k is only for the privilege of hanging with Joe and his genius pals on the island; attendees will still be responsible for any expenses to get there. (Or they could just rent the isle themselves for $16,000 per day.) While Joe cautions his readers not to spend money they don't have, and not to go into debt, he also "challenges" them to stretch their thinking and imagine themselves prosperous enough to blow fifty grand on a weekend with him and his masterful masterminders.
If the time isn’t right now, then this is a perfect addition to your vision board, and write it down on your ‘if it fell out of the clear blue sky’ list. (Or as in my most recent “wouldn’t it be cool if…” blog post http://blog.mrfire.com/cool-law-of-attraction-short-cut/)
But if you have the money and you really want something, make the purchase because if you don’t, the unconscious message you send to yourself is of scarcity.
Taking an adventure trip to Spiritual Treasure Island is an inspired prosperous purchasing EXPERIENCE of a lifetime!
This is like a Rolls-Royce Phantom Mastermind but on an island, and instead of an evening, it’s an exclusive weekend retreat.
Consider this: Just going on a trip with big thinkers can expand your mind, open you to new ideas, and lead to breakthroughs that are impossible to predict right now.Right after that is a picture of Mr. Fire and Gorgeous Fitness Model Jennifer Nicole Lee, who went on a Rolls-Royce Mastermind with Joe in early 2010 to learn how to attract miracles in her life and take her businesses to the next step. (Months later, she attracted some mean ABC reporters.)
Then Joe goes on to relate how he and his buddy Pat went on a day trip to a nearby city one day, and on that trip they came up with an idea that made them tens of thousands of bucks. Writes Joe:
And that idea came from a day trip to a near-by city! (The idea we received became [link to low-priced info-frauduct on how to get rich via ClickBank].)
Imagine what could happen going to an island off the coast of Australia!!!
And...wow. Imagine what could happen going to, like, OUTER SPACE!!!!!!
Or to another dimension entirely!!!!!!!!
And consider the amazing achievements real people have really achieved by paying Joe $5,000 to ride with him in his Rolls-Royce. You can read about some of them here. Just imagine how much more could be achieved by spending ten times that much to go to Shill-again's Island!
Joe already has one ostensibly serious taker for his Island Mastermind, though if I know my New-Agey flakes -- and I think I do -- he shouldn't start counting that money just yet. That person wrote:
I am up for the challenge to go to Makepeace Island with you.
I am selling my home.
I’ll have some money when that is complete.
And I am open to however the money will present itself.
I am ready to live the life of my dreams, ready to contribute on a whole new level, ready to be financially free and ready to have more fun!
Won’t all that just be so cool…?
Thank you for all your great work – I am doing just about everything that you send me.
Thank you, Karl [sic]. I appreciate your kind words.Bursting with curiosity, I followed Kari/Karl's link and learned that apart from being an actor and acting coach and a life coach, she has a remarkable skillset that includes various visual arts and crafts, crochet hat-making, ear candling, ear wiggling, throwing confetti in Times Square on New Years' Eve, driving a stick shift, juggling three balls, and blowing saliva bubbles. She also notes that she is good with her hands. She should be a lot of fun on Mr. Fire's Fantasy Island, but I am trying hard not to think about it too much. The thought of the saliva bubbles and the handwork alone are enough to put me off my feed for a week.
The points. Finally.
One point I'm working towards in my snarky little hater way is that Mr. Fire's notion of "prosperous purchasing" in this context is a ludicrously transparent hustle. You can just see the wheels of hype-notic copywriting turning, and they're getting a little creaky from overuse. But another point, perhaps less popular with some consumer advocates, is that anyone who would be stupid enough to pay $50,000 to spend a weekend on an island with a hustledork and his minions has to take at least some responsibility for a lousy ROI.
The same might be said for anyone who researches MLM/get-rich-quick schemes, and reads a little about Kevin True-dough's background, and still continues to believe that (1) True-dough really was a member of a "secret society" from the age of twelve (or fifteen, depending upon which story you're reading or which infomercial you're listening to); (2) True-dough is a heroic consumer advocate and First Amendment champion; and (3) it really is possible to get rich the "lazy man's" way by "investing" $20,000 or more into True-dough's GIN scheme.
This isn't about blaming the victim, and where there really is victimization I think victimizers should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But I also think that at some point people have to choose to wake up and smell the con.
Meanwhile, I will continue to exercise my own First Amendment rights, through snarkitude, ample links, and the occasional serious rumination. You should too, if applicable. If you live outside the U.S., you should exercise your own applicable constitutional and human rights. And if you or someone you know has been scammed, Salty Droid has several handy links on his site that you can use to report it.
PS added 28 December 2011: I was Googling around today and saw this May 2011 post, which is much more concise than mine. It's from the fab As Unseen On TV Web site, a fact-check site for infomercials. If I had the power to do so, I would require every TV infomercial to have the URL to this Web site prominently displayed on the screen throughout the entire spiel. (Not that it would do much good to those who don't have Internet access, but it might help a lot of folks.)
Additional reading, if you're not completely worn outMore True-dough on this Whirled:
- August 2011: Calling all lazy men: let's build a pyramid together!
- August 2011: Everything old is Nouveau again (or, Neo-scam by any other name), Part 1 of 2
- June 2011: Holy Guacamole! True-dough's racist rants
- June 2011: For he's a jolly good felon: True-dough speaks out for Death Ray
- December 2009: Illuminutty: the secret brotherhood of the chronically gullible
- November 2009: How to take over the world
- July 2009: Horse farts and related matters
- January 2009: Mr. Fire meets up with true doughOn conspiracies: Skeptical Inquirer has had some very interesting articles this year on the conspiracy meme, such as this piece. (Naturally, some conspiracy theorists took umbrage.) If you're interested in the conspiracy-theory phenomenon as explored by Skeptical Inquirer, and especially if you're interested in the 9/11 conspiracy theories, do yourself a favor and order the July/August 2011 issue of the magazine. The SI writers did a fine job deconstructing all of the claims of the 9/11 "truthers." Not that I really expect the fans of Kevin True-dough, lover of 9/11 conspiracies, to take my advice, but the rest of you might enjoy it.And speaking of skeptics... here's a March 2006 piece about True-dough and his first Natural Cures book, written by skeptic and author Michael Shermer for Scientific American. Of course the piece brought out some passionate True-dough defenders.