Thursday, December 31, 2020

Good riddance to a very bad year

There's much to write about
Believe me, I've got plenty
But all I want to say right now
Is, "F--k you, 2020!"

I'll be back next year with some actual substance, possibly including some startling news that a lot of you aren't going to like very much. (But some of you will be thrilled.)

For now, after this flustercuck of a year, words mostly fail me. Or maybe I have failed them. I know that I've broken a few promises about posting more frequently, but I'll make up for it eventually. I thank every one of you who has visited my Whirled this year, and every other year. May 2021 hold peace and comfort for those sorely in need of it, and hope and promise for all of us.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Spotify series "Fraudsters" tackles Kevin Trudeau in 3 parts

While America's Fraudster-in-Chief, president-reject Donald John Trump, continues to defraud his fans and followers with spurious claims of a "stolen" election and impassioned (and successful) pleas for the rubes' money, it's past time on this Whirled for renewed attention to another lifelong fraudster, imprisoned serial scammer Kevin Trudeau, aka KT, aka Katie, whom I've been blogging about since early 2009. As you most likely know if you've been following this blog even sporadically over the past few years, I've actually written a lot about the similarities between Donald Trump and Kevin Trudeau, not the least similarity being that they share a significant fan base, which is why I lost a few readers when I started writing about the profound awfulness of Trump.

And in fact, Trump and his campaign's efforts to frame their money-raising efforts in a "legal defense fund" to protect the integrity of the election and the Constitution (or some such nonsense) reminded me more than a little of Trudeau's own efforts over the years to raise money for
his legal defense fund. Trudeau's defense fund has been promoted as a means to support unspecified legal efforts by Katie and, by extension, to somehow defend free speech, and freedom in general, for all of us. But according to the terms of both Katie's legal defense fund and the Trumpian funds, the money can pretty much be used any way the recipients want to use it, with zero accountability to those who fork over their hard-earned bucks. The difference, of course, is that Trump's efforts are on a much larger and more dangerous scale than anything Trudeau and his minions have managed so far.

That said, it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the scope and reach of Trudeau's scammery: after all, even though he continues to languish in the minimum-security FPC (Federal Prison Camp) in Montgomery, Alabama, aka "Camp Cupcake," he has still managed, with the help of various proxies and enablers, to maintain a significant following and attract new followers. I've been hammering away at this point on this blog for years. And that's why it's so gratifying to see
the Spotify series Fraudsters addressing Trudeau's long scam career: a career that has been so lengthy that it took not one, and not two, but three separate podcasts to cover it all. The producer and host I spoke to acknowledged that they could easily do a whole season on Trudeau alone.

Since I am kinda media shy, apart from ranting on this blog and on my social media of course, I declined to "appear" on the podcast, but I did provide some info for which I was acknowledged on
Part 3, the episode covering Trudeau's biggest scam of all, the Global Information Network (GIN). That episode aired on December 10, 2020.

Part 1 aired on November 26, 2020.

Part 2 made its debut on Dec. 3, 2020.

Kevin Trudeau may or may not be early-released soon (his official release date is either May or July of 2022), but one point seems painfully clear: In or out of the clink, he is a scammer for all seasons and all reasons. And his years of confinement have done nothing to change this; to this very day he is (again, through proxies and enablers) making himself out to be a hero and martyr along the lines of Jesus, Gandhi, and a host of other famous -- and infamous -- folks. Caveat emptor and all that.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Gratitude Day, 2020

I've been distracted with numerous matters of consequence for the past few weeks, as sometimes happens, but I have not abandoned my Whirled. As the holiday most folks in the US celebrate as Thanksgiving winds down, I know I have a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which is the defeat of #NotMyPresident Donald John Trump.

This is hardly a neat and tidy ending; as I like to say on this blog, in politix, as in Scamworld, there are no neat and tidy endings. Apart from Trump's obstinate unwillingness to concede, and his ludicrous but potentially dangerous legal battles to overturn the election results, Trumpism has left a big ugly stain on America (and the world, for that matter). Even so, I have more hope than I've had in a long, long time for some promising new beginnings.

At any rate, I will be back soon: I haven't forgotten my commitments. I hope your holiday, if you celebrated it, was as good as a holiday could possibly have been in this horrid train wreck of a year. If you are grieving for lost loved ones, I wish you peace and strength and comfort.

May there be better times ahead.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

One way to observe 11th Anniversary of James Arthur Ray Death Lodge: buy and read THIS SWEET LIFE

October 8, 2020 is the 11th anniversary of a reckless and deadly event hosted by sociopathic New-Wage/McSpirituality guru James Arthur Ray: a fake "sweat lodge" ceremony in Sedona, Arizona that injured dozens and killed Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman. Kirby Brown and James Shore died that same day; Liz Neuman died nine days later in an Arizona hospital.

The families and friends of these three good people have all learned to cope with their loss in their own ways since that awful day in 2009. One of the ways that Kirby Brown's family chose was to found a nonprofit organization,
SEEK Safely, to help educate the public, hold self-help leaders accountable, and hopefully avoid more deaths and injuries at the hands of reckless gurus.

And another way they found to come to terms with Kirby's death, while helping many other people who are dealing with profound loss and pain, was through a recently published memoir,
This Sweet Life: How We Lived After Kirby Died, by Kirby's mother Ginny and her baby sister Jean.*

Back in June of this year, and then again in July when I observed the 11th anniversary of the death of another Ray follower, Colleen Conaway, at a Ray event in San Diego, I promised to post a review of This Sweet Life "soon." Anyone who has been following this blog for a while probably knows that on this Whirled, "soon" is a relative term. Multiple distractions have been whirling around me since I made my promise, but it's time to make good on my commitment.

Accordingly, I have begun to write that long-promised post. It deserves more attention than I am able to devote to it today, but rest assured that "soon" is now coming sooner rather than later. [Spoiler alert: I really, really loved this book, though more than once I had to put it aside for a few moments because it's quite difficult to read when your eyes are full of tears.]

For now, I can't think of a better day than today to highlight this lovely but heartbreaking memoir, and to urge you to buy it and read it if you've not done so already.
Here's that link again.

James Arthur Ray continues to struggle on the comeback trail (or "scumback trail," as I like to call it) years after being released from his far-too-short prison sentence for the deaths of Kirby and James S. and Liz. These days, thank goodness, his audiences are still far smaller than they used to be. But his efforts to portray himself as a hero/martyr who has walked through fire and come out strong and triumphant are an insult to the memories of those he killed, and a slap in the face to their loved ones. That's why it's important that as the years go by, we never forget who he really is, and what he has done.

* I used the Amazon link for This Sweet Life because it was the most obvious. But I must add that I HATE it that Amazon is currently also promoting Ray's book about "redemption" as an "also-viewed" title; James Arthur Ray wouldn't know redemption if it spread its legs and sat on his smirky face. But Amazon (almost) redeems itself, so to speak, by also listing Connie Joy's fine book, Tragedy in Sedona: My Life in James Arthur Ray's Inner Circle, as an "also-viewed" title.

Related on this Whirled

  • October 2010: Musings on a tragedy and its meanings.
    I published this on the one-year anniversary of the infamous "sweat lodge," framing my musings around a review of Connie Joy's Tragedy in Sedona.
  • April 2019: From drawn-and-quartered martyr to "Crisis Coach": James Arthur Ray's newest desperate gimmick
    This is just one of numerous posts about Ray's arrogant yet pathetic attempts to reestablish himself as a selfish-help superstar.
  • August 2020: Whiny babies of Scamworld
    Of the three "whiny babies" I wrote about in this post, James Arthur Ray is the worst, because even after being directly responsible for the deaths of three people in a bogus sweat lodge in Sedona (not to mention being at least indirectly responsible for the death of one person at an event in San Diego, and directly responsible for the physical and emotional injuries of countless others), he continues to paint himself as the real victim.


Monday, September 28, 2020

Trump's tax shenanigans are yet more evidence of his phony populism

The only “populist” shift in the Trump era regards the enabling of cultural grievance. The willingness to use the president’s bully pulpit to take those uppity athletes down a peg. Shutting the door on new immigrants and refugees. Punishing enemies. Law and order for protesters but a get-out-of-jail-free card for cronies. Wanting to use racial slurs without getting “canceled.”

This is just the same old racist, nativist nonsense wrapped in a phony soak-the-rich package.

You might even call it a “
Trojan horse” for the racists and the scam artists.

~ Tim Miller (The Bulwark), September 28, 2020

Back in June and July of 2018 I wrote a two-part post about elitism and phony populism in both American politix and Scamworld. Part 1 focused on the faux-populism of #NotMyPresident Donald J. Trump, who had clearly fooled millions of American voters into thinking that he was a "man of the people," when in fact he was and is one of the worst sorts of elitists. (Not to mention that Trump is a long-time scammer, which is why he became fodder for this blog in the first place.)

Trump's disregard and core contempt for the masses have been obvious to many of us for years, and have become more glaringly apparent in light of his dismissive rhetoric about, and
overall botched response to, the COVID-19 crisis. (Was anybody really surprised by the recent revelation from VP Pence's former coronavirus task force adviser Olivia Troye, who said that at one of the task force meetings Trump remarked that the pandemic might be a "good thing," because it prevented him from feeling obligated to shake hands with "disgusting people"?)

But if there were any lingering doubts about the utter hollowness of Trump's populist rhetoric,
a September 27, 2020 New York Times report about his income tax-avoidance shenanigans over the decades should put those doubts to rest in the minds of all except those who are most seriously infected with TTL (toxic Trump love). The Times article is a long one, the first of several promised ones to come, but very much worth your time to read.

Also worth a look is a response by writer and communications consultant
Tim Miller on the conservative (but non-Trump-infected) site The Bulwark. Titled, "Trump Tax Returns Show He's a Populist Fraud," the piece summarizes some of the most damning information in the Times article. Miller opens by citing the campaign pitches Trump made back in 2015-2016 when he was pandering to the "forgotten Americans," promising to impose a new tax plan that would compel him and his wealthy friends to pay higher taxes. He claimed that he certainly didn't mind paying a little bit more if it would help the middle class, which he said, was "getting clobbered in this country." In September 2015, he unveiled a detailed tax plan and told reporters, "It's going to cost me a fortune, which is actually true." But, as Miller notes, it wasn't actually true, and wasn't just the standard politician's broken promise. Instead...

It was part and parcel of the broader so-called “economic populism” bill of goods that Trump and “sloppy” Steve Bannon, his pit-stained, triplicate-shirted, faux-everyman muse, sold the American people. They were going to raise taxes on the wealthy, take on Jeb and Ted and Hillary’s Wall Street cronies, and finally build a wall on the border, making Mexico pay.

None of this, of course, was true.

There was no economic populist agenda.

The tax bill Trump ended up signing into law was a boon to the wealthy and did nothing to address the “carried interest” tax rate he
promised would ensnare the private equity and hedge-fund guys. Trump gave Goldman Sachs the keys to his cabinet and billed the American people for millions upon millions of their hard-earned tax dollars for copious golf holiday Doonbegdoggles at his own hotels.

Meanwhile Bannon spent most of his time in the White House leaking to Vanity Fair and making immigrants’ lives as miserable as possible, and then was dispatched to a globetrotting yacht life funded by Chinese billionaires and the forgotten MAGA man
whom he allegedly bilked for millions to crowdfund a phony wall.

The reality is that saying that you are an economic populist who cares about the forgotten man is more respectable in elite political circles than admitting you are a race hustler. You can tell it to a journalist or to your friends at the country club and not feel judged. It almost makes you sound like a good person! You are fighting for the working man and want to make things more fair. If anything you are harming your own interests! These new policies might “cost me a fortune.” Sure it will.

A face-saving ruse. That’s all it ever was. A story for the rubes.

Indeed. The big question is this: How much will the New York Times' initial report, and any related articles that may follow regarding the financial info that Trump has fought so furiously to conceal, shake his loyal base? I'm guessing probably not much; the Trumpanzees are already echoing Trump's own cry that this is yet more "fake news," just another lame attempt by Trump's enemies to oust him from the Oval Office. The Biden campaign will almost certainly take advantage of the tax revelations, but how this will all play out in November is anyone's guess. After the last disastrous US presidential election, I'm not taking anything for granted. And you shouldn't either.

Which is why it's more important than ever to
get out and vote.

Related on this Whirled:



Saturday, August 29, 2020

Hallelujah, gonna sue ya: Trumpublican misinfomercial abuses Leonard Cohen's most famous song

You took his greatest song in vain
Though we'd made our refusal plain
You think you got away with it, now do ya?
You used this song to spread Trump's blight
You violated copyright
So now it seems we just might have to sue ya
Have to sue ya
Have to sue ya
Have to sue ya
Have to sue-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ya.

[Apologies to the estate of Leonard Cohen]

The Trumpublican misinfomercial, more commonly known as the 2020 Republican National Convention, has come and gone, thank goodness. The list of lies spewed, shouted, or screamed during that gaudy four-day spectacle, as well as the violations of various laws and norms, have been well covered. These are pretty big issues, to be sure. But since I am a nearly lifelong fan of the late singer/songwriter/poet/novelist Leonard Cohen, and have mentioned him numerous times on this Whirled over the years, I'm going to focus on what is, in the larger scheme of things, one of the more trivial violations. That would be the RNC's misuse -- not once, but twice -- of Cohen's most famous and most-covered song, "Hallelujah" (originally released on his 1984 album, Various Positions).

Leonard Cohen died one day before the most disastrous presidential election in modern US history, though the world didn't hear about his death until a couple of days after the election. Cohen has had a very devoted following for decades, a following that arguably has only increased and intensified since his death. So it's not surprising that fans were furious over the co-opting of "Hallelujah" by the RNC.

Yet, as anyone who is actually familiar with the lyrics knows, there is also unintentional humor in this song choice. For despite the repeated use of the word "Hallelujah," this song is not triumphant or celebratory, except perhaps in an ironic sense. Nor is it a religious or holy song, at least not in the traditional "Christian" self-righteous sense embraced by so many republicans and
fake-embraced by Caligula himself -- though it does reflect Cohen's longstanding themes of the symbiotic relationship between eroticism and holiness. The point is that "Hallelujah" is in essence a breakup song. It is all about disillusionment, cynicism, bitterness, and ultimately resignation in the wake of a failed love affair.

I have little doubt that Cohen himself would not have approved of this exploitation of his song by the RNC. When I first wrote about this
on Facebook on August 28, 2020, I mentioned that I would be interested to see if there are any responses from his estate and/or from Cohen's children, Adam and Lorca. I also expressed curiosity as to whether the Trump campaign paid applicable licensing fees for the public performances of this song (or any other copyrighted songs they've used, for that matter). After all, music copyright holders are pretty fussy about these matters. You have to pay a licensing fee for public performance of a copyrighted song, and even for quoting song lyrics in a book.

Some of my questions were subsequently answered. Representatives from the RNC had indeed approached the Cohen estate to obtain permission for a live performance of "Hallelujah." Their request was denied. But they went ahead anyway, with a recorded cover by Tori Kelly on the third night of the show, and, following Trump's
70-minute, lie-filled rant on the final night, a live performance by opera singer Christopher Macchio. The Cohen estate was not pleased.
Michelle L. Rice, the legal representative for the Cohen Estate, said the family was “surprised and dismayed that the RNC would proceed knowing that the Cohen Estate had specifically declined the RNC’s use request, and their rather brazen attempt to politicize and exploit in such an egregious manner ‘Hallelujah’, one of the most important songs in the Cohen song catalogue.” As such, the Cohen Estate is “exploring legal actions.”

Rice added that “had the RNC requested another song, ‘You Want it Darker’, for which Leonard won a posthumous Grammy in 2017, we might have considered approval of that song.”
Leonard Cohen is far from the only artist whose work has been co-opted by the Trump campaign without the permission of the artists and/or other copyright holders. From, here's a rundown of that growing list. (And as a bonus, also from, here's a list of performers who reportedly turned down an invitation to perform publicly at Trump's 2017 inauguration.)

I've never been one to advocate litigation to resolve every conflict or disagreement that comes along, but in this case, I hope Cohen's estate aggressively pursues legal action. After all, the Trump campaign
has been suing and threatening to sue a number of media outlets and individuals for years in a desperate but ultimately futile attempt to control the narrative about Trump -- even going so far as to sue a tiny TV station in Wisconsin for a political ad. Litigation seems to be their life's blood. So... fair's fair.

Related on this Whirled:
  • November 13, 2016: And even though it all went wrong...
    I wasn't the only one to view Leonard Cohen's death as darkly symbolic of the looming era of Trumpism.
  • November 10, 2016: You want it darker
    I wrote this one shortly after I found out about Cohen's passing.
  • November 9, 2016: Mourning in Amerika, and what to do next
    Written the day after the election. Even then we knew it would be bad, but our expectations have been surpassed many times over in the years since then.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

We Bilk Them All: Steve Bannon, Brian Kolfage & 2 others indicted for We Build The Wall fraud

Americans have always been famous for their can-do attitude, and for their willingness to take matters into their own hands when the Powers That Be are moving too slowly for them. Maybe that's why so many people bought into a crowdfunding project to privately build the border wall that #NotMyPresident Donald J. Trump has been promising to his xenophobic base for years. But now the leaders of that project, most recently known as We Build The Wall, are under federal indictment for defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors. The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York has unsealed the indictments, as reported on the Department of Justice web site on August 20, 2020.

Brian Kolfage, Stephen Bannon, and Two Others Alleged to Have Funneled Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars From the Organization to Kolfage; All Four Defendants Allegedly Profited From Their Roles in the Scheme

Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Philip R. Bartlett, Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”), announced the unsealing of an indictment charging BRIAN KOLFAGE, STEPHEN BANNON, ANDREW BADOLATO, and TIMOTHY SHEA for their roles in defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors in connection with an online crowdfunding campaign known as $25 million.  The defendants were arrested this morning.  “We Build the Wall” that raised more than KOLFAGE will be presented today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hope T. Cannon in the Northern District of Florida.  BANNON will be presented today in the Southern District of New York.  BADOLATO will be presented today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Wilson in the Middle District of Florida.  SHEA will be presented today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix in the District of Colorado.  The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in the Southern District of New York.
I first saw this matter reported on Axios, but it's all over the news media now.

Here is
a link to the 24-page indictment.
A portion of page 2 of the Kolfage, Bannon et al. indictment

If you're like me, you may be tempted to declare that the folks who poured their money into this scam in good faith completely deserved to be bilked, since they were consciously donating to a cause rooted in the hateful xenophobia and bigotry that form the very foundation of toxic Trumpism. As you'll see below, that's precisely the view I had when I first heard of this scheme, but in my more charitable moments I have made a (mostly futile) effort to view at least some of these donors as merely misguided and fearful rather than hateful. In any case, from a legal as well as arguably a moral standpoint, fraud is fraud, and people who commit fraud should be held accountable. And so far, it looks like there's at least an effort in that direction.

I am as (un)shocked as you probably are that malignant nihilist Steve Bannon, who infested the White House for a while early in the Trump "administration," is among those indicted. Bannon, who was arrested by US Postal Inspection agents while lounging off the the coast of Connecticut on a $28 million yacht owned by a Chinese businessman, has pleaded not guilty. (He called his arrest "a political hit job" -- an effort to stoke fear in people who support Trump's wall -- and he says he isn't going to back down.) Bannon was released on a $5 million bond and ordered not to travel abroad, or to haul his spotty, bloated carcass aboard a private plane or a yacht (such as the one he was arrested on), sans court approval.

Given Bannon's extraordinary arrogance, his massive upopularity, and his general repulsiveness, not to mention his ongoing threat to American democracy, it's not surprising that he has been the main focus of most of the reporting and unabashed schadenfreude. I totally get that. But I was particularly interested in this story not only because I think Bannon is a loathsome toad (absolutely no offense intended to toads), but also because as it happens, the man who actually started We Build The Wall, Brian Kolfage, was the subject of a blog post that I wrote and published back on January 12, 2019 about this project and its many red flags.

Don't go looking for it in the 2019 Whirled archives, though. Out of an (over)abundance of caution I took the post down a few hours after I had published it -- something I very rarely do. I put it back in my drafts folder, even though I continued to update it even after it had been removed from public view.

Why did I remove it? Simply because of Kolfage's fiercely litigious history and the fact that he had so many well-funded backers. Not that anybody reads this blog, but again... abundance of caution.
Here's my post about that deleted post.

But in light of the current development, I feel moved to reinstate the original post here and now. You'll see a lot more about Kolfage's volatility and litigiousness in that post, as well as info about the history of his boondoggle, which began life as a GoFundMe called We The People Will Build The Wall, with a goal to raise a billion dollars, which would then be handed over to the government to help fund Trump's dream project. When that effort ran into glitches and logistical problems -- not to mention complaints -- Kolfage moved to Plan B, and the project was re-branded as We Build The Wall.

Back from the drafts folder: the original Whirled post

Although much has happened since January 2019 (boy, is that an understatement), I felt that this post nevertheless provides some pertinent background. Since the stories about his questionable fundraising first broke, Kolfage has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has offered details that he says counter some of the most damning reports. And I can't vouch for the functionality of all of the links in this post -- they were valid at the time I first published it -- but I'm keeping them intact anyway. With those disclaimers in mind, here is the original post in its entirety:

Big sale at Wall-mart: right-wing grifter gives donors another chance to squander their money

It really pains me to rag about a military veteran, particularly one who has been grievously wounded. In general I go out of my way to express compassion and support for the (mostly young) men and women who risk and all too often lose their lives in service to their country, though I have zero sympathy or empathy for the
war profiteers and politicians who continually put these young people in harm's way in order to enrich themselves.

But Brian Kolfage is a veteran who, I think, richly deserves any ragging that comes his way. Kolfage is a decorated
war hero and triple amputee who lost both legs and an arm after a rocket attack in 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. So... thank you for your service and all that, Brian. Really. But being a wounded war hero -- even "the most severely wounded Airman ever to survive any war," as your promos continually remind us -- doesn't give a person moral or legal license to exploit that "war hero" persona in order to spread lies and scam people, which is what you, sir, have allegedly been doing. (I'll elaborate, with links, momentarily.)

Kolfage became part of the news cycle (again) last month when he started a GoFundMe campaign,
We The People Will Build the Wall, to pay for #NotMyPresident Donald John Trump's extravagantly expensive (and useless) xenophobic-dogwhistle vanity project. The goal was to raise a cool billion of We The People's hard-earned dollars within one month, and then to somehow spirit those moneys over to the government to help build Donnie's wall. Kolfage wasn't really clear about how the getting it to the government part would work, but he assured his marks that he and his team would work it out somehow. And he promised that if the fund didn't reach the one bil goal, or come significantly close, 100 percent of the donations would be refunded. That was Plan A.

Well, now it seems that they're on to Plan B. While significantly more than 300,000 people who apparently have more money than sense have donated to the cause, raising more than $20 million and making it one of the most successful GoFundMe campaigns ever, that's pretty far short of $1 billion. So now GoFundMe
is poised to issue refunds to donors. But wait, there's more! Instead of simply getting their money back and spending it on something useful, the suckers who donated have another chance to potentially get scammed while expressing their various fears and hatreds.

For Kolfage has announced a new 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation,
We Build The Wall, Inc., which is gladly accepting donations, and to which he will happily re-route any donations made to the GoFundMe page. (That GoFundMe page, by the way, is still up and running as of this writing, making the whole issue a little confusing at the moment.) The nonprof is based in Florida, where Kolfage lives, though the address for old-school rubes who want to send a check is a P.O. box in Houston.

By way of 'splaining the decision to form a nonprof, Kolfage insists that he and his team are much more capable of analyzing needs and getting the job done than any dumb ol' government analysts, and certainly more capable than those horrid obstructionist unpatriotic Democrats, who, according to Kolfage, will do anything in their power to thwart this patriotic endeavor. Which brings us to the part that is even more interesting than the decision to funnel everything into a nonprof: the lineup of folks who are part of that "team."
Here's more on Gizmodo, from a writer, Rhett Jones, who minces no words.
At the moment, donations are still rolling in on the GoFundMe page (which complicates the official story of what triggered the refunds) and Kolfage is far from done. It remains to be seen just how many previous donors will choose to pass their money to the new effort, but Kolfage has assembled a rogues gallery of prominent conservative grifters to serve on his new border wall construction company’s advisory board. Some of the board members include:
  • David Clarke, the disgraced former sheriff of Milwaukee who is the subject of numerous lawsuits related to abuse of inmates. Clarke is also a big fan of wearing shiny trinkets that look like military medals, but are not.
  • Kris Kobach, the Kansas politician who spreads fantasies about voter fraud. Kobach oversaw Trump’s election integrity commission which was shut down without issuing a report after it failed to find evidence of widespread voter fraud.
  • Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater security group. Prince is one of the shadiest people on the planet and oversaw Blackwater when its mercenaries were indiscriminately committing war crimes in Iraq. [Erik Prince is also Trump "Education" Secretary Betsy DeVos' brother. ~ CC]
It seems the only person missing from Kolfage’s impressive board of imposters and sadists is Sebastian Gorka.
And here, straight from the grift horse's mouth, is the full lineup of Team Kolfage.

Clearly, I'm not in sync politically with Kolfage and I do not share his goal for a walled-off southern border. That said, I can disagree with someone's politics without believing that the person in question is a scammer. (Then again, as I've observed ad nauseam on this very blog, in the Trump era
the line between politics and Scamworld has been blurred almost beyond recognition.) Trump or no Trump, though, it appears that Kolfage has a history of deceptive marketing, to put it politely.

For instance, there are reports that in a 2015 GoFundMe campaign,
Kolfage apparently pocketed more than $16,000 that was supposed to go to a veteran mentorship program. Despite Kolfage's naming of specific beneficiaries of his largess, GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne said the money went directly to Kolfage.
Kolfage in Facebook posts that have been deleted said that he was working with Walter Reed, Brooke Army Medical Center and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Representatives for the centers told BuzzFeed News that they don't have record of Kolfage working with veterans at their facilities.

“We do not have a record of Mr. Kolfage visiting Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in any official capacity after 2012,” Gia Oney, chief of public affairs at Landstuhl, told the online outlet. “We have no record of a donation made in his name to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.”
The Hill piece cited above sources a January 10, 2019 report from BuzzFeed, which not only mentions the veteran funding scheme but also Kolfage's documented history of running web sites and Facebook pages promoting right-wing conspiranoid and racist content. In other words, Kolfage pushed fake news, some of it racist, to line his own pockets.

One former employee of Kolfage's, Lindsay Lowery, aka Prissy Holly, worked for Kolfage's chief conservative news website, Freedom Daily, for about a year in 2017. But it appears that it was on Facebook rather than on the website that Kolfage really did his dirty work, according to Lowery.

"After I started challenging some of his business decisions that I felt were reckless for the company and for my career, the real Brian emerged,” she told BuzzFeed News. “Everything is only about his ‘war hero’ persona and money. If there’s a perceived slight on his part, he viciously attacks people...and, in my case, tries to destroy their life and livelihood.”

BuzzFeed News reviewed a cache of internal emails and text messages from several of Kolfage’s former employees and acquaintances that show how he pushed to sensationalize and fabricate right-wing content on Facebook to amass clicks, manipulate users, and in the process, make hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in advertising revenue. In one text, he claimed to run a “multi-million business.”

In addition to Lowery, three sources corroborated the documents and their experience with Kolfage, but were afraid to go on the record, citing his past behavior of lashing out and threatening legal action against those who have spoken against him.

Former employees told BuzzFeed News that Kolfage instructed his crew to produce Facebook content to more flagrantly convey a false narrative, in one instance photoshopping former president Obama’s head onto another body to make it appear as though he was having an affair, with the caption, “BREAKING!! OBAMA BUSTED!!! VIDEO LEAKED!!”
Another former employee, who didn't want to be identified due to fear of retaliation, said that at first her work with Kolfage was going pretty well; the pay was fair, and she was able to pitch and write stories. But as time went by her work and the company's mission changed.
“He started creating more [Facebook] pages. I think he had around 10 when I was there and I remember I would see shares and be like, ‘Where did this page come from?’” she recalled. “He was very smart in how he would do it. He never wanted the truth. It was all just for clicks, and the more inflammatory, the better. I felt dirty writing the stuff.”
Later on in the BuzzFeed piece we're told that in one email to employees, Kolfage warned them, “NEVER tell anyone who operates Freedomdaily. It’s a tightly guarded secret, and our LLC has a privacy veil set up to protect it. It allows us to operate without consequence where we can’t be sued or attacked by trolls.”

Without consequence? Sounds like fun! Alas, Facebook did eventually suspend several of his pages, along with hundreds of others, during the Great Fake Account Purge of October 2018. Kolfage claimed that the pages that were suspended
were indeed fakes but that he had nothing to do with them (see the sub-head, "Buzzfeed raises questions," in the linked article).

But the suspensions just prompted Kolfage to double down on his role as a crusader for "American values," most notably, free speech. One of the things he did to fight for free speech was to start another online fundraising venture called
Fight4FreeSpeech, which raised more than $73,000 of a $100,000 goal in two months, with the money to be used for... well, beats the heck out of me. I think it's to sue Facebook for deleting his fake accounts that he had nothing to do with, or something like that. Anyway, he apparently has moved that campaign to a new web site.

Funny thing, though. Kolfage didn't seem to be so enamored of free speech from "radical left-wing extremists" whom he claimed were defaming him and whom
he sued in 2014 in Maricopa County, Arizona superior Court. And once again he used to his crowdfunding skills, this time to pay his legal fees. (The suit was settled in 2015.) According to this earlier (December 2018) BuzzFeed article...
Ken Vanderzanden was one of [the people Kolfage sued]. In 2013, he came across one of Kolfage’s Facebook posts in which he dissected Obama’s birth certificate in an effort to prove it was fake. Amused, the 64-year-old sent him a private message pointing out some flaws in Kolfage’s analysis.

“He turned my private statement into a public statement and made a photo of me a meme, telling the world what a horrible person I was,” Vanderzanden told BuzzFeed News by phone from his home in Portland. “I was endlessly harassed on Facebook and then started getting death threats to my house and had to change my phone number and go into hiding for a while.”

Kolfage published the retiree’s name, address, and phone number on his personal page, according to court documents. Vanderzanden repeatedly reported the harassment until Facebook finally shut down the veteran’s profile, prompting Kolfage to sue for defamation.

Ultimately, they reached a settlement in which both sides agreed to end any disparagement and pay their own legal fees, which Kolfage turned to GoFundMe and other fundraising efforts to cover.
Wow. The free-speech double standards... the right-wingnuttery... the litigious m.o.... the doxxing... Sounds a little like someone else I've blogged about on this Whirled.

According to the January 2019 recent BuzzFeed piece previously cited, former Kolfage employee Lindsay Lowery said that both she and her husband were threatened and harassed by Kolfage after she quit working for him. Two other former employees confirm this story. Lowery says that she'd seen her former boss go after others, but that being on the receiving end of his harassment was terrifying. "He thinks he's untouchable," she told BuzzFeed.

So I'm thinking that maybe Brian Kolfage isn't such a hero after all. And while I am normally sympathetic to people who get taken in by scammers, I will find it immensely difficult to work up any compassion whatsoever for those who choose to throw their money at any of his schemes -- either through GoFundMe campaigns or through web sites or nonprofits -- and who might subsequently feel that they've been had. I'm especially unsympathetic to folks who participate in this latest scam. Like those who voted for Trump, these Wall-mart shoppers deserve what they get. I'm out of patience.

UPDATE: On January 16 [2019], CBS News reported that GoFundMe donors to Kolfage's wall project have so far given $7 million to his new nonprofit -- or, rather, they have allowed their donations to the GoFundMe page to be redirected to the nonprof. Donors who take no action to have their funds redirected will have their money automatically refunded by April 11, and those who specifically ask for a refund should get it back within three business days. Kolfage also says he has received 3,500 mail-in donations so far, but hasn't yet totaled them. And in an email to CBS News, Kolfage disputed the BuzzFeed report that questioned his fundraising for the veterans' mentorship program. He claimed that he used the funds to travel to the hospitals where he conducted his "award winning mentor trips" to visit wounded veterans, and called the BuzzFeed piece a "fake article."

Two days previous to the CBS News piece, an investigative reporter for The Daily Caller -- which, I should note, is a conservative site -- wrote that
Kolfage's new nonprofit org raises, in the words of Charity Watch president Daniel Borochoff, a "huge red flag." According to the article, Kolfage is refusing to answer basic questions about his new nonprofit, which was actually founded two weeks before it was announced. And though he claims that the bylaws of We Build The Wall, Inc. prevent him from taking any salary from donor funds that originate from GoFundMe, he refused to provide The Daily Caller News Foundation with a copy of the nonprof's bylaws to corroborate his claim.

The Daily Caller also noticed the interesting fact that I mentioned in my original post above: check donations are being directed to an entirely different organization with a P.O. box in Houston. Kolfage has ignored multiple inquiries from The Daily Caller asking why he is directing check donations to an org in a different state (We Fund the Wall, Inc.), and whether donations sent to that org can be used to compensate him in any manner. Another big question The Daily Caller had was why Kolfage waited over two weeks to inform his donors of his intention to transfer their contributions to his new nonprof. He has ignored multiple inquiries about this point as well.

Here's a link to info about Kolfage's Florida nonprof.

here's a link to the founding documents, which were signed on December 27, 2018. The stated purpose of the nonprof is "to promote social welfare within the meaning of Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, including but not limited to funding, construction, administering, and maintaining a United States Southern Border Wall and the processes associated therewith." Seems to me that this give Kolfage a lot of leeway to do whatever he wishes with We The People's hard-earned bucks.
Back to the present: hold your applause
I will of course continue to follow this developing story, and I hope you will too. Politico has reported that in the wake of Bannon's arrest Trump has distanced himself from Bannon, calling private funding of The Wall "inappropriate." Actually, as ProPublica reported on an August 1, 2020 update to an article originally published on July 2 in partnership with The Texas Tribune, Trump initially distanced himself from the We Build The Wall project after it was revealed that the wall is unsound and could be in danger of falling into the Rio Grande. He said that the project was built to embarrass him.

But Trump has a habit of changing his tune and contradicting himself; he may be condemning the project today, but who knows what he'll say tomorrow? After all, as Politico also noted,
last summer The New York Times reported that Trump (according to one of the project's backers, Kris Kobach) had given the project his blessing. So there's that. As well, Donald Trump Jr. has also praised the group behind We Build The Wall, gushing that it is "what capitalism is all about." So there's that. (After the arrests were made public, however, DJTJ hastened to distance himself from Kolfage's project too.)

And even though Trump Sr. now claims that he knows nothing about Kolfage's project,
Forbes noted these interesting points:
Trump also “personally and repeatedly” lobbied for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to award a $1.28 billion wall-building contract to Fisher Industries, a politically-connected firm that was also helping We Build The Wall build a private portion of the wall, according to the Washington Post.

The company, which is not mentioned in the indictment, is run by GOP donor and frequent Fox News guest Tommy Fisher and
won the contract after it “captured Trump's attention” and was “repeatedly touted” by him, according to CNN.

The White House declined to comment on whether Trump knew of the connection between Fisher and We Build The Wall.
And I imagine that scads of Wall fans and xenophobes will dismiss this whole case either as "fake news" or as an overblown political witch hunt -- or "hit job," as Bannon put it -- and that they will support Brian Kolfage as the hero/martyr he so wants us to believe that he is. I'm guessing that they'll see this case not as an indictment of Kolfage and his project but rather as an indictment of the Southern District of New York, which has remained unafraid of going after Trump's dodgy business dealings and other related matters.

But even if those charged are tried and ultimately convicted, which at this point is far from a certainty, it's anyone's guess how this will end. You only have to think of Michael Flynn, or Roger Stone, to know that these days, anything goes. In Trumpistan, you're guilty until proven innocent if you're a critic of Trump, and innocent even after proven guilty if you're a Trump crony or sycophant.

So as delightful as the vision of Steve Bannon in handcuffs may be, maybe hold off on the celebration for now.

Update, August 21, 2020: I have added several links and other content to this post since I first uploaded it on August 20. ~ CC

Related on this Whirled:
Related off-Whirled:
  • August 20. 2020: Steve Bannon, Kris Kobach, and the 'We Build the Wall' Scandal
    Writing for investigative journalist Greg Palast's site, Zach D. Roberts sheds some much-needed light on We Build The Wall principal and founding attorney Kris Kobach, who, though as mentioned above was not named in the current indictment, is a scoundrel who's just as much of a threat to American democracy as Trump is. (Also be sure to read
    the linked excerpt about Kobach, taken from Greg Palast's new book, How Trump Stole 2020.)
  • August 20, 2020: Bannon Grifter Indictment: More Steel Bracelets for Team Trump
    Amanda Carpenter, writing for The Bulwark, is a writer after my own heart (of snark). She really nails Trump and the rogue's gallery of grifters with whom he has long surrounded himself.
  • August 20, 2020: Trump struggles to explain the 'culture of lawlessness' around him
    Spoiler alert: The best he could come up with, when cornered by a reporter, was, "There was great lawlessness in the Obama administration. They spied on our campaign illegally." But don't let the spoiler keep you from reading Steve Benen's short but link-filled piece on the utter hypocrisy of the man who claims to be "tough on crime" and "the law and order president."
  • August 21, 2020: Prosecutors Arrest 'We Build The Wall' Leaders For Convincing Donors They Weren't Taking Cash
    A good capsule summary of the whole saga, from Snopes. Includes background about specific accusations leveled against Brian Kolfage in 2019, and his denial of the accusations, and explanations about where he really got the money to buy his expensive toys.
  • August 19, 2019: Brian Kolfage; A Pattern of Cons
    From The Weird Turn Professional blog (the name of the blog is apparently derived from a quotation by the late "gonzo journalist," Hunter S. Thompson). The blog's author, whose name doesn't seem to appear on his blog (maybe I'm just overlooking it?), claims to have originally broken the story of Kolfage's scammery. Whether he did or not, his post is filled with exhibits and links that seem to reinforce the narrative of Kolfage as a serial huckster. Embedded in the post is this video, dated August 6, 2019, stating that Kolfage's project was under criminal investigation in the state of Florida. If I had seen that vid when it was first posted, I would have reinstated my back-burnered January 2019 blog post then and there.
  • Ongoing: Wikipedia entry on Brian Kolfage
  • August 23, 2020: Trump Claims He Rejected Wall Scam, But Sponsors Boasted Of His Support
    Not to belabor the point, but Trump's attempts to distance himself from this scam and these scammers are about as credible as his tan.
  • August 24, 2020: Federal Prosecutors Have Steve Bannon's Murky Nonprofit In Their Sights
    ProPublica highlights details in the 24-page indictment that seem to be describing Bannon's group, Citizens of the American Republic.
  • Ongoing: The Brian Kolfage Facebook "fan" page, which publishes whiny posts appearing to be from Kolfage himself (going on and on about "witch hunts" and whatnot). The right-wing followers and fans are just eating it up.
    Facebook's transparency info states that the confirmed page owner of the Brian Kolfage page is the above-mentioned Citizens of the American Republic in Mclean, Virginia. The page was originally created in November 2014, under the name, "Fans Of Brian Kolfage -- American Patriot." At the time this link is being posted here (on August 25, 2020), 584,065 people "like" this page, and 630,184 folks are following it. Kolfage's latest post at this time compares the SDNY action against him to the court action against the National Rifle Association (NRA). He writes:"I gave 3 limbs defending this freedom, and I'd proudly give another to fight back at this injustice to preserve the future of this nation."
    So... don't expect the hero/martyr narrative, either from Bannon or Kolfage, to let up any time soon. And as I noted in my post above, it would be a mistake to assume that any of these con artists will see a moment of jail time. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Oleandrin: Are Trump and cronies trying to crapitalize on a new phony COVID-19 cure?

Quick take: Donald Trump, his sycophantic mega-donor Mike Lindell of MyPillow fame, and sleepy-eyed Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson have, in various ways, been pushing an unproven supplement -- an extract from the (highly toxic) oleander plant -- as a "cure" for COVID-19. The supplement, manufactured by Phoenix Biotechnology and aggressively promoted by the company's Vice Chairman and Director, Andrew Whitney, could potentially make Lindell and Carson a shipload of money -- and could earn Trump some much-needed political capital, if not actual money. Trump has been strongly suggesting that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "approve" oleandrin, and Whitney has been putting pressure on the agency as well. Almost certainly there are multiple potential conflicts of interest here... but it's just another day in Trumpistan.

Watch: CNN's Anderson Cooper nails the MyShillow guy, Mike Lindell, on Lindell's unfounded claims about oleandrin.

In March of this year I published a post about some of the craziness inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. I reviewed not only some of the wackier conspiracy theories about the virus, but also some of the fraudulent "cures" or unproven remedies that various hucksters were pushing. Now there's another miracle "cure," which at best is unproven: oleandrin, an extract from the extremely toxic oleander shrub, manufactured by Phoenix Biotechnology and currently being pushed by Andrew Whitney, Vice Chairman and Director of the Phoenix Biotech board. And #NotMyPresident Donald Trump, his hyper-enthusiastic mega-donor Mike Lindell of MyPillow (MyShillow?) fame, and Trump's [totally unqualified] HUD director, Ben Carson, seem to have jumped aboard the oleandrin express.

The Interwebs
are on fire with the news, first reported at length on August 16, 2020 by the inimitable Jonathan Swan at Axios:
To the alarm of some government health officials, President Trump has expressed enthusiasm for the Food and Drug Administration to permit an extract from the oleander plant to be marketed as a dietary supplement or, alternatively, approved as a drug to cure COVID-19, despite lack of proof that it works.

Driving the news: The experimental botanical extract, oleandrin, was promoted to Trump during an Oval Office meeting in July. It's embraced by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and MyPillow founder and CEO
Mike Lindell, a big Trump backer, who recently took a financial stake in the company that develops the product.
  • Lindell told Axios that in the meeting, Trump "basically said: …'The FDA should be approving it.'"
  • The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
...It's part of a pattern in which entrepreneurs, often without rigorous vetting, push unproven products to Trump — knowing their sales pitches might catch his eye. Trump will then urge FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to "look at" or speed up approval.
  • In March, Trump personally lobbied Hahn to authorize hydroxychloroquine's emergency use to treat COVID-19.
  • The FDA obliged. But in June, after a large trial, the agency revoked that authorization and warned of the "risk of heart rhythm problems" in COVID-19 patients treated with the drug.
As Swan notes in his article, the Washington Post was the first to report the July Oval Office meeting.

Why oleandrin? Is there any evidence at all that it might work? Well... maybe. And maybe not. Swan continues:

A July 2020 study from the University of Texas at Galveston shows, in a laboratory setting, that oleandrin can inhibit the coronavirus in monkey kidney cells. This study has not been peer reviewed and one of the authors of the study, Robert Newman, is chairman of Phoenix Biotechnology's scientific advisory board — the company developing the oleandrin product.
  • Phoenix Biotechnology's website listed Newman as the president of the company and a member of its board of directors until quite recently (Google's cache shows he held both roles as of August 12th).
  • When Axios checked the website on Friday night, Newman was still listed as president. But on Saturday evening, after Axios had emailed questions to Whitney, Newman was no longer listed as president of the company; the website listed him only as a scientific adviser.
In an interview with Axios, Mike Lindell said that he's such a believer in oleandrin that he now has a financial stake in Phoenix Biotechnology and wants to make sure that every American has access to this "cure" for COVID-19. He explained that he first became aware of the botanical when Andrew Whitney called him on Easter Sunday with the news that it could cure COVID-19. Lindell then took the information to Ben Carson, who hopped aboard. Lindell claims that he has been taking oleandrin himself and has shared it with family and friends; he believes it's kept him from getting COVID-19 and has cured other people. This despite the lack of published clinical studies showing that the botanical either cures or prevents COVID-19.

So far the FDA hasn't said the product is safe or effective for the purposes claimed by its backers. In fact Lindell said that the head of the FDA, Stephen Hahn, wasn't even in July's Oval Office meeting about oleandrin.

As for Whitney, he says he approached Lindell because he's one of the country's greatest businessmen, and he was impressed that Lindell mobilized MyPillow to make face masks.

Read the entire piece on Axios.
Here's that link again.

Turds of a feather...
It's no big surprise that Mike Lindell would be pursuing the oleandrin business op, nor that he would be the conduit between Whitney and Trump. Lindell is, if nothing else, an inveterate hustledork, and he sure does love his president.
From the Washington Post, May 27, 2020:
Mike Lindell is what you might get if you took the political personalities of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, shred them down in a hammer mill, mixed the aggregate together, stuffed it in a linen case and sold the product between segments on Fox News.

He’s a serial As-Seen-On-TV entrepreneur and an evangelical Christian who travels the country preaching the Gospel. He’s also a mile-a-minute talker who used to own and tend a bar and is quite comfortable swapping stories for hours with anyone who will listen.

“When you hang out with Mike, he has that kind of hyperkinetic energy,” said Matt Schlapp, who runs the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, at which Lindell has spoken. “You might wonder, ‘Did this guy take too much cold medicine?’ ”

But Lindell swears he’s not on anything. Not anymore. He’s a former crack addict, a retired card counter with a history of bad debts, near-death experiences and soured marriages before fully accepting God into his heart. Such a past might be a liability for someone thinking about moving into a life of politics...
Not to worry. In today's GOP, it doesn't really matter what your past is. Donald Trump lowered that bar into the ground. You can't even see the bar anymore.

Nor does it probably matter much that in some respects Lindell seems a tad hypocritical: another rich bidness man who reaped the benefits of the infamous 2018 Trump tax cuts, and boasted up, down, and sideways about the new era of prosperity that Trump had ushered in -- but then, instead of letting all of those gains trickle down to his employees, he pissed on them (the employees, not the gains). This is from
a May 2019 CityPages piece: now seems Lindell's sugar high has come to a halt. Last week, he announced the layoffs of 150 MyPillow production workers in Skakopee [Minnesota].

The official rationale was the need to take production space at the facility to accommodate shipping for a new venture,, an “online store for entrepreneurs and inventors to sell their products.”

Left unsaid was the apparent decline in MyPillow sales, which have made the production of 150 workers unnecessary.

Not all Lindell's woes can be attributed to the larger economy. He's facing
boycotts over his advertising support of Fox News bombardiers Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson. He's also soured at least some customers with his business practices.

Two years ago, he was forced to lay off 140 people after complaints of
false advertising. The Better Business Bureau withdrew the company's accreditation, and changed its rating from an A+ to F.

Two years later, that grade remains a F. So while Lindell may have a generous friend in the White House, it appears his customers still have some say over his continued wealth...
It certainly hasn't all been an easy road for Lindell. Back in 2017 the Better Business Bureau accused him of swindling customers, an accusation that came on top of "multiple lawsuits and burned partners," as The Daily Beast reported in April of that year.
MyPillow, a pillow and mattress-topper company best known for its infomercials and outlandish medical claims, came out swinging for Donald Trump during the presidential election. “I’m here to give all my credibility to Mr. Donald Trump,” the company’s founder and spokesperson Mike Lindell told Fox News during an interview at the final presidential debate, where he had scored seats to support Trump.

But Lindell might be the rare businessman with less credibility than Trump. The Better Business Bureau yanked MyPillow’s accreditation this week and slapped the company with an “F” rating, over what customers described as a misleading ad campaign.

MyPillow has racked up years of customer complaints, from allegations of the pillow’s trumped-up health claims, to
a recent complaint that reads “I want to murder Mike Lindell” 15 times and accuses the company of selling overpriced wares.

The BBB also took issue with MyPillow’s price scheme, albeit in less violent language. The consumer rights organization cited MyPillow’s ongoing “buy one, get one free” offers, which advertises two pillows—usually $49.99 each—for “half price” at $99.97. The total savings were one cent.
In October, MyPillow customers filed a class-action suit claiming to have been duped by the offer.
And what about those burned partners? Also from the Beast article:
In 2013, Salesforce sued MyPillow for $550,000, accusing the company of breaching contract and stiffing them on a $125,000 credit card bill. Earlier that year, two of Lindell’s early backers accused him of cutting them out of their rightful share in the company, which they said was a combined 42 percent.
Given his troubles, it's not surprising that Lindell would be on the lookout for new business ops. "Well, gee, Cosmic Connie, that's what entrepreneurs do," you might be saying. "Even the honest ones." Point taken; and in fact for the past few years Lindell has been putting money into other ventures too, such as financing films for the theocracy -- one example being an anti-Planned-Parenthood (actually anti-abortion) documentary, Unplanned. From The Hollywood Reporter, November 21, 2018:
Lindell also has a cameo in Unplanned that's sure to raise eyebrows in certain circles, as he is seen bulldozing a Planned Parenthood site to make way for the headquarters of an anti-abortion group called 40 Days for Life. "I'm pro-life and I'm happy to do it," Lindell says.
The film did respectably at the box office, though critical response was less than enthusiastic, and the American division of Planned Parenthood stated that its arguments were false. More than likely, the movie did little to change anyone's mind about abortion or Planned Parenthood.

But this oleander product may just be the Next Big Thing for which Lindell has been searching.

Ben Carson's involvement with oleandrin isn't really all that surprising either, considering that he has rock-solid Scamworld/huckster creds, even to the point of lying about his involvement with dodgy supplement MLM firm Mannatech -- a matter that was widely reported way back in 2015 when he was still a GOP presidential candidate.
From New York magazine, October 29, 2015:
Last night’s Republican presidential debate was hardly lacking in demonstrable lies uttered with total conviction. One of the more audacious was Ben Carson’s claim that he never had “any kind of relationship” with controversial nutritional-supplement company Mannatech.

the debate in Boulder, CNBC moderator Carl Quintanilla asked Carson why he had maintained a ten-year relationship with Mannatech, despite the fact that the company paid $7 million to settle a deceptive-marketing lawsuit brought by the state of Texas in 2009. The suit accused Mannatech of circulating materials that advertised its supplements as a miracle cure for Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, autism, and cancer.

"Well, that’s easy to answer,” Carson replied. “I didn’t have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda. I did a couple speeches for them. I did speeches for other people. They were paid speeches. It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them.”

...Carson’s non-relationship with Mannatech dates back to at least 2004, when he spoke before a meeting of its sales associates, The
Wall Street Journal reported last month. In that address, the celebrated neurosurgeon credited Mannatech’s supplements with curing his own prostate cancer.

“Within about three weeks my symptoms went away, and I was really quite amazed,” he says to loud applause in a 
video of the event. 
That was then. For the past few years, Carson has been largely preoccupied with making life more miserable for the financially and residentially challenged, while continuing to spew some of his nutcakey ideas. But who says he can't do a little bit of oleandrin hustling on the side?

Lest you be tempted to trust Carson's judgment on oleandrin as a plausible COVID remedy because he's an actual doctor, albeit a retired one, and that he is, after all, a member of Trump's coronavirus task force, I would ask you to consider two points: (1) the aforementioned years-long involvement with a highly questionable supplement MLM and Carson's lies about that involvement; and (2) the fact that his specialties were neurosurgery and pediatric neurosurgery (and though generally renowned, he was known to push ethical boundaries at times), the point being that Carson is not an expert on antiviral drugs or infectious diseases. And let's add a third point for the heck of it: Carson's shaky relationship with actual science (and that's putting it kindly).

And Trump? You probably know that he too has a solid Scamworld background, along with just generally being a serial failed businessman (and, of course, he and his family continue to capitalize on his presidency). But even if Trump doesn't have his pudgy fingers in the oleandrin pie as of yet, even if he has no plans to make money from it, there's a good bit of political capital that he stands to gain if the product really takes off. The political factor alone is a reasonable explanation of why Trump continued, against the advice of most experts, to push hydroxychloroquine as a COVID remedy (though there was also speculation that he had some financial interests there too), and more than likely his desire to look like a COVID hero war president sheds light on the fact that back in April, he seemed to be suggesting even more dangerous remedies.

Perhaps Trump reasons that if this oleander thing works, or even just look like it works, he could be perceived as the standard bearer for the defeat of the COVID monster. Maybe people might even forget about his gross mismanagement of the pandemic crisis.

Or maybe not.

It's all about the money (as usual)
Andrew Whitney and Phoenix Biotech are currently pursuing two avenues for their fruit of the poisonous shrub: having it approved as an actual drug to treat or cure COVID-19; or as a dietary supplement, sold with the disclaimer that the FDA has not evaluated claims made by the manufacturers and that the product is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure disease. My money is on Whitney pushing hard for the latter option, since the approval process for a drug is longer and more rigorous than that for a mere supplement.

So far FDA director Hahn, who is an MD, seems to have resisted Whitney's pressure, which I'm thinking is a good thing, given the great risks. The medical profession, aware of those risks, has reacted with alarm, as reported on Med Page Today:
The thought of another potentially dangerous compound being touted as a "miracle cure" by the Trump administration, like hydroxychloroquine, had medical experts up in arms on Twitter on Monday.

"Oleandrin? Yeah that would definitely end up killing people,"
tweeted David Juurlink, MD, PhD, of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto.

Juurlink told MedPage Today that oleandrin is "akin to digoxin. Too much can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but the main concern is arrhythmias, which can be fatal."

Jennifer Gunter, MD, tweeted that it's "easier to kill a person with oleandrin than COVID-19" and highlighted a case report in which two people were poisoned after eating snails that had munched on an oleander plant.
It's going to be a long, long road to November 3, for many reasons. How the oleandrin story will go is anyone's guess at this point, but there's definitely reason for concern. As Jonathan Swan concludes in his piece in Axios:
Scientists around the world are in a race for cures, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. Government regulators are investigating hundreds of products. When a biotech executive like Whitney can take his case directly to the president, it casts doubt over the scientific rigor of the drug development process.
Caveat emptor.

PS added 19 August, 2020: On an interview aired on August 18, CNN's Anderson Cooper cornered the MyShillow guy re the oleandrin frauduct, coming right out and calling him a snake oil salesman. Nothing Lindell said contradicted Cooper's assessment. Among other things, Lindell flat-out lied that he has "no monetary gain here." Some highlights from the interview:
Lindell: Well, the 1,000 people are out there. I don't know if you can't find it. But I'm not a medical doctor. I just know that Ben Carson, who's on the task force, he brought it to the President, going --
: OK. But, stop, sir. Ben Carson has in the past been paid to promote supplements and got in trouble for it in 2015. So he has a track record on that. You are telling people that this cures Covid. You have no studies to prove it. And you are saying 1,000 people were tested --
Lindell: You know what: I got my own study. When I took the -- When I've seen the test of 1,000 people that it was safe. That's all I needed.
Sir, OK, if you've seen this test, where is this test?
I've been taking it since April. I've been taking it since April. I have 100 friends and family -- this thing works. It's the miracle of all time.
Cooper: You said -- Sir, you said you've seen this test, where is it?
: The tests are out there. The thousand people -- phase one, phase two.
: Where is the test? Show it to us.
I don't have the test.
Watch the video embedded at the beginning of this post; if that link doesn't work, here's a direct link.