Why Mike Lindell Can’t Stop
CHASKA, Minnesota - One day in mid-May after a rally in South Dakota to promote his new website, Mike Lindell, the pillow magnate and tireless campaigner of electoral conspiracies, stormed into his headquarters and sat at a long table in a conference room he uses it as a makeshift office and put a pipette under his tongue.
The pipette was full of oleandrin, a plant extract that he - alarmingly, scientists - touted as both a preventive and a “miracle cure” for Covid-19. He pressed.
"Look at this ... I can never get the virus," he said at the beginning of the roughly six hours I spent with him over two days at MyPillow. "It's impossible for me to get it."
Lindell is 59, with the ferocious energy of an auctioneer, a strand of hair that he alternately combs back or drops over his forehead, and an assertive mustache reminiscent of a Mike Ditka in the mid-80s. He speaks loudly and incessantly - "You have to listen," he says - about oleandrin, which Lindell has a business interest in developing; over pillows; and that he was absolutely certain that cyberattacks got Joe Biden in the November elections. Two assistants sat with us in his office while MyPillow executives poured in and out when he called them or waited to get his attention halfway through the door. He was on the phone often, in a series of conversations that sometimes left it unclear exactly who he was talking to.
The May kick-off event for Lindell's Frank in Mitchell, S.D. website attracted ardent supporters but didn't fill Corn Palace. Last weekend there was a second Frank event at which Donald Trump himself made a video appearance on a jumbotron.
Lindell, a former crack addict and born again Christian, says God gave him a platform - "the voice," he says - to help people "work out one of the greatest miracles in history," meaning democracy to save by voiding the results of the 2020 presidential election and returning the White House to its rightful owner Donald Trump. Since election week, he has tirelessly and apparently pushed this idea forward at all levels of American politics: in mid-January, he met with Trump in the White House, just before Trump stepped down; He offered MyPillow customers a discount code, "FightForTrump". He started a website called Frank, which served as a clearinghouse for disinformation about electoral conspiracies. And on Saturday in Wisconsin, he held an all-star rally of Trump megaphone celebrities, including Diamond and Silk, Dinesh D’Souza and Charlie Kirk. Trump himself appeared “live” via video using a jumbotron.
Lindell travels all the time - he won't say where - and mostly stays away from home because he says he fears for his safety. He plans a "state-to-state" tour to convince politicians that the election has been rigged; At his rally on Saturday he promised to “rent a huge space, I don't care if it's a stadium” and to invite politicians and “cyber guys from all over the world” about what he believes to be incriminating “cyber evidence “Ponder” the choice. But for those few days he's back in his hometown, in a nondescript suburban office with a small MyPillow store down the street from the Chaska Curling Center and a Kwik Trip.
In his conference room, Lindell introduced me to two executives he'd grown up with, Bob Sohns and Brad Carlson, and then began a lengthy conversation with them about Giza cotton sheets (delivery issues delayed delivery), a new line of biblical baby blankets Stories about it (Lindell liked the concept but didn't like the "horrible" edging at a rehearsal), the thick couch pillows ("horrible," he told them) and pet blankets his executives asked him to sell.
"No, that's stupid," said Lindell, whose existing catalog includes pillows, sheets, slippers, and towels as well as a life-size Lindell cardboard cutout ($ 39.99), a Lindell bobble head ($ 13.99 or signed for $ 6 more) contains. and his memoir, “What are the odds? From Crack Addict to CEO ”($ 9.97 with a promo code).
"This has to be the stupidest thing in human history," said Lindell of the pet blankets. "Why should I do it?"
He recalled that "this is what you said about pet beds," which Lindell sells, and said there is a market for pet blankets, he relented. "Get it, get it, get her. … Go Go Go GO GO. "
On the conference table, between swatches, pillows, and boxes of oleandrin, lay a pile of fan mail, Lindell's phone - he doesn't use a computer - and several "Boston Broadside" newspapers. The right monthly called Lindell on its March cover "THE BRAVEST MAN IN AMERICA".
More than half a year after Trump lost the presidential election and incumbent Republicans grew tired of contesting the result again, Lindell epitomized a specific friction point in the post-election Republican Party's identity: where the belief that the election was rigged , still prevalent in the populist Republican electorate, clashes with a political and legal system that long ago accepted the reality that it wasn't.
Just last month, a judge in Antrim County, Michigan, dismissed one of the last remaining post-November election fraud lawsuits that many supporters, including Lindell, had hoped for. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, recently stated: “I don't think anyone is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that's all over with that. "
Lindell doesn't give up. In return, it becomes less welcome in some GOP circles. Last month he was kicked out of a Republican Governors Association meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, to which he was originally invited. His business has also suffered. More than 20 retailers have discontinued their product and Voting Systems, the maker of voting machines, filed a $ 1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against MyPillow and Lindell earlier this year, accusing Lindell of making false allegations, that the election was rigged.
Lindell calls the Dominion suit a "big joke". However, in a recent lawsuit against Dominion and another voting machine maker, Smartmatic, Lindell estimates he has suffered more than $ 2 billion in damage from “corporations' domination over procedural terror and conspiracy to protect Lindell and others of their constitution Depriving freedom "could suffer political expression." In addition, he said his reputation had suffered and he was "at risk for his personal safety and life".
Not so long ago, Lindell was seen as a potential candidate for public office in Minnesota, an entrepreneur turned politician, not unlike Trump or Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler who served one term as governor of Minnesota. Today Lindell complains that he can't even be booked on TV. (His most recent appearance on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Was "a miracle," he said, though Kimmel mostly mocked him.)
Lindell has said the elections will be "withdrawn" and that Trump will be back in office by August, which Trump himself reportedly told people to do. At the MyPillow headquarters, Lindell secured the exact month and hinted that he "might be gone by September". Regardless of this, he offered another fixed deadline, of which he is certain: “I will tell you that. The choice is 100 percent and there will be no more machines in 2022. "
Even in Minnesota's Republican Carver County, southwest of Minneapolis - and even among some Lindell supporters who have known him for decades - there is a feeling that this couldn't be happening, and that if it doesn't, the impact may be too much for Lindell.
In her living room overlooking the Minnesota River, not far from the MyPillow offices, said Jeanette Lenzen, who once rented an old bus shed to Lindell with her husband Dick, where he made some of his first pillows: “Mike makes me nervous because he's so hyper. ... I like what he's trying to do, but I think maybe he's going too far. "
Lindell, she said, was against "the tweeters and the Facebook people" who she said had "so much power".
"He did so well, I'm worried he'll lose everything," said Lenzen. “He just has all the belief in God that God is going to help him get all this stuff. But sometimes God says 'no'. "
However, when you understand Mike Lindell's biography it is not clear what, if anything, will make him quit.
Before Lindell ever talked about God or Trump or voting machines, before the idea for a pillow came to him in a dream, there was Schmitty's Tavern, the bar he owned in Victoria, Minnesota, and its atmosphere - if you run out Lindell - a stage and left him behind the counter - would on a small scale correspond to the electoral conspiracy circus he is staging today.
Before he bought the gambling winnings bar in 1990, a friend who had scouted it for him told him the clientele were “drunk. They are rowdy and throw things. It's a crazy house! ”Recalls Lindell in his memoir. The friend "wanted nothing to do with Schmitty's".
Lindell thought, "That sounds like my kind of place."
Growing up in a trailer park not far from the bar near a pickle factory in Chaska, Lindell wrote that as a boy he never felt like he was a match for other children, but "learned a technique that made up for it, a new habit that "became a pattern that lasted into adulthood: showing off." There were little things like jumping out of the window of a moving school bus into a snowdrift. And there were things that Lindell said nearly killed him.
"I fell into a lake and was trapped under an ice sheet," he wrote. “I was almost electrocuted so massive it crippled half the city. I bought a motorcycle and wrecked it twice - the second time on my way to a skydiving lesson where I crashed into the ground at 60 miles an hour because my parachute didn't open fully. "
"I felt invincible," wrote Lindell.
In the 1980s, after dropping out of college, Lindell had a part-time job as a bartender in Chaska and learned to count cards, a skill he returned to over the years at blackjack tables in Nevada when he needed money to cover debts. He was addicted to alcohol, cocaine and gambling, was tied to his bookmakers for tens of thousands of dollars, had multiple DUIs and a theft conviction on his file.
In Schmitty's tavern across from Steigersee, he created “a daily escape from reality,” he wrote. In his book, Lindell describes, “People who dance on the bar, spray each other with super soakers, hang upside down on the rafters ... Lindell was a gracious host who allowed customers to write bogus checks and cash them by payday, and he had a loyal following. He wrote, “I sold alcohol, but not alcohol, if you know what I mean. I sold fun. Family. Affiliation. "
Lindell added, "Maybe it was because I never felt a part of myself since I was a kid."
Today, Lindell is recognizable in living rooms across the country for the late night infomercials that started a massive expansion of the MyPillow brand from 2011 onwards. The privately owned company claims to have more than 1,600 employees and has sold more than 50 million pillows. Lindell is wealthy enough that he said he spent "millions of dollars" on the network security of his Frank website and $ 2 million on private investigators to prosecute his election fraud allegations. He flies in a private jet.
Schmitty's Tavern has since been renamed and remodeled by new owners and is no longer as uninhibited as it was at Lindell. But some of Lindell's old friends and customers still drink there. When I came in with a list of nicknames mentioned in the book - "Skelly, Petey, Pokey, Fly Man, Mohawk, Sibby" among others - and asked if they knew anyone, Paul Johnson, who was drinking a Budweiser, said: " I am Pokey. "
He recalled Lindell being "tamers for days, not just hours, days," he said, a memory consistent with Lindell's own memoir. At the time, Johnson said his expectation for Lindell was that "we would find him dead in the end".
"He's a hyperactive guy," said Johnson. "But he loves people."
Johnson is not, like Lindell, convinced that Trump will be reinstated. But he said, “I like what he does. He won't give in either. "
A man sat nearby, ordered two Jacks and Coke, and said Johnson was probably right. But he felt he had seen it before - in Lindell's two failed marriages, in a career that went up and down before MyPillow.
"He always built things up and lost things," he said.
Almost 20 years since Lindell sold the bar, it's not difficult to see the spirit of Schmitty still alive in Lindell's new obsession. If, as Lindell wrote, Schmitty's was "a place where you forgot your worries for a while," he offers Trump loyalists today a comforting fantasy that they don't really live in an America where 7 million more people are Joe Biden have chosen.
In fairness, Lindell has something different from his time at the helm of Schmitty. The bar helped him learn marketing and "read people". But when I suggested that he build a community around himself in both cases, he didn't disagree.
One difference today, said Lindell, is “The community is much bigger. Much larger."
It can also be more dangerous, at least for the nation, than shooting drunken people at super soakers in a bar. In an interview on MyPillow with evangelical writer and radio host Eric Metaxas, Lindell described himself as the “wheel hub” when it came to unsubstantiated claims about the election when “people just started pouring it on me because I was the "was the last voice so to speak. ... There was no other place. "
The first collateral damage could be Lindell herself. If Trump had won re-election in November - or if Lindell hadn't plunged into Trump's fantasy that the election was rigged - Lindell would have a credible future in Republican politics in Minnesota today. The chairman of Trump's 2020 campaign in Lindell state had been encouraged by Trump to run for governor of Minnesota. State Republican Party leader Jennifer Carnahan prearranged Lindell and wrote on Twitter last year that "we will make him our next governor," and Lindell himself said he was "99 percent" sure he was would run.
After Trump's defeat, both Lindell's interest in running and any chance to do it effectively appear to have waned. In January, shortly before Biden's inauguration, Lindell was photographed entering the White House with notes mentioning the possibility of proclaiming "martial law," which Lindell was inextricably linked to the marginal excesses of a president who declared Minnesota at about 7 Lost percentage points. In response to this newfound notoriety, the Minnesota state press began to scrutinize him more critically. The Minnesota Reformer news site has unearthed allegations of abuse against Lindell by an ex-girlfriend and ex-wife, Lindell claims.
Like Trump, Lindell was banned from Twitter for spreading disinformation about elections. Then came the Dominion lawsuit and the escape of retailers like Kohl’s and Bed Bath & Beyond.
To show his support, John Thomas, a Republican strategist from California who had met Lindell at past Conservative Political Action Conferences, recently told Lindell that he had bought some of his papers. (They felt better after washing, said Thomas. At first, "they rubbed me a little.") He was worried about Lindell's business, he said, but Lindell didn't share his concerns. He said Lindell told him, “You've already done your worst. What else can you do to me? "
Lindell is seen entering the west wing of the White House on Friday, January 15, 2021.
Lindell's outsider status owes at least in part to his total personal commitment to Trump's conspiracy allegations. There is a class of successful Republicans who, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, have managed to remain loyal to Trump as they passed the constant scrutiny of the election. And then there is Trump himself, who remains obsessed with the election but is in a class of one. Politically, if there is one example of how not to play it, it could be Lindell.
The reveal of Lindell's Frank platform was a debacle to say the least. The launch of the website in April was overshadowed by technical glitches that prevented registration and which Lindell attributed to a "massive attack". The site is billed as a social media oasis of "free speech", especially for people who are excluded from other platforms, and does not yet contain any social media components. Instead, it offers a hodgepodge of unidirectional content, much of which has been debunked, including Lindell's documentaries: "Absolute Proof: Exposing Election Fraud and The Theft of America by Enemies Foreign and Domestic," "Absolute Interference: The Sequel to Absolute Proof with New Evidence." Foreign and domestic enemies used computers to hack the 2020 elections "and" Scientific evidence: Internationally renowned physicist absolutely proves that the 2020 elections were the greatest cybercrime in world history ".
During a 48 hour live stream of Frankathon to promote the site, which featured a cast of Trump World characters including Mike Flynn, Ben Carson and Steve Bannon, Lindell was caught by a caller pretending to be Trump played a prank obsessed with Kimmel's jokes about him and when it got dark for a moment in the studio, he suggested that his enemies "attack our power grid here" in addition to "death threats and everything else".
"At some point, maybe five or six months ago, people thought he was a likely Republican candidate for governor," said Arne Carlson, a former two-time Republican governor of Minnesota who was banned from the State Party in 2010 for his moderate policies once you see these late night comedies on TV it's a tough ordeal to survive ... I think he's just laughed at. "
Carlson said, "He got a personality while promoting MyPillow, and then evolved into this cartoon." Lindell, he sighed: "One of the great intellectuals of our time."
One characteristic of conspiracy theories, researchers have found, is that they can act as a coping mechanism in times of uncertainty or fear, providing simple and satisfactory answers to conditions believers cannot accept. The fact that a large majority of Republican voters believe Trump's claims that the election has been rigged has enabled the party to forego the kind of heartbreaking autopsies that traditionally follow after electoral defeats. No introspection is required for Lindell if Trump hasn't actually lost. Voting machines have been hacked, he believes, and Trump will be reinstated.
"It's kind of crazy," said Mike Webb, a Chaska coffeeshop owner and former mayor of Carver.
Nearly a decade ago, during his tenure, Webb was involved in land-use discussions regarding the Lindell pillow factory being converted into a bus shed. Lindell said the local regulations were too burdensome; Webb said Lindell only used the city as a stopgap measure before moving to a facility in Shakopee, a nearby town.
"The guy is like this out there and he's so narcissistic that everything he says revolves around him," said Webb. "So he follows his own meandering flow in whatever he wants to do and expects everyone to follow him, and if they don't, they are just wrong."
Dave Pokorney, a former long-time Chaska town councilor, described Lindell as "so random - at some point he does something sensible and then he's gone." He was "not surprised" that Lindell believes the election was stolen.
"I'm surprised others believe that," he said.
Lindell's theories were flatly rejected by experts. Trump's own Justice Department said it had found no evidence of fraud to the extent that it would change the outcome of the November election. A council of federal officials and electoral regulators, including a representative from the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, described the election as "the safest in American history," and Trump and his allies have lost more than 60 lawsuits based on one Repeal were directed to the election. Still, about two-thirds of Republicans believe Biden did not legitimately win the November election last month, according to a poll by CBS News, a result that is in line with other polls.
For people like Lindell, believing that Trump hasn't lost is an invitation to replace grief with something more reassuring: a sense of purpose.
“Lindell found Jesus, right? He got sober. This is the really important piece for me. He found the truth. He'd made money ... and done drugs and all that stuff. It's all emptiness, ”said Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist who co-founded the anti-Trump-Lincoln project before stepping down in December. “What gave him the assurance he was looking for was Protestant Christianity. He was born again. ... He needs the rigidity of a social structure to say that this is right and that is wrong, and that keeps me going. "
Madrid said: “You annoy this and start to go a little off the rails. ... I don't think he's a bad person. I think he's a lost man. ”In the election conspiracy, he said,“ He found something to hold onto. ”
Judging by opinion polls, it seems that there are many Republicans in this camp. They believed Trump. Or they believed pastors who told them he was chosen by God and it doesn't make sense to them that he didn't win. For these people, Lindell offers a special kind of security. Here's a man who not only says Trump won and will be reinstated, but his own story of redemption - stop crack, build a business and ammunition, gradually find God before settling in on a religious retreat "Full devotion to Jesus Christ" embarks on Lake Tahoe in 2017 - was so unlikely that it could happen if he believed Trump could come back.
"He's part of what God sent to save us, and I really believe so," a woman named Lori Wallender of Minocqua, Wisconsin told me last month before Lindell's rally at Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. Todd Taylor, who is Lindell's step-brother and oversees the MyPillow manufacturing facility, said, "I know Mike gets this news and follows what he said, maybe in a dream, and he is following this path."
He said, “There is something to be said about that. A lot of things happened to him that cannot be explained. "
Lindell says that what he is offering is simply "hope". Out of any supporting cast from the Trump era, he has the change to keep Trump believers busy - running a website, producing documentaries, hiring investigators, and holding rallies. It's at the same time the entertainment they lacked in the post-Trump era and the promise that the Trump era is not really over.
It no doubt still exists on MyPillow. Metaxas told Lindell that visiting headquarters felt like “a pilgrimage to something more than it is. It represents something. ”Trump supporters, who have less access to Lindell than Metaxas, sometimes call the pillow maker's customer service department instead.
One of the days Lindell was in town, I was waiting at the MyPillow store attached to Lindell's headquarters when Sue Wiebe, who answered the phone, said to a caller from New Jersey, “Keep praying . He will do this. I have trust."
When she hung up, she said this type of call was not uncommon.
She said, "There are a lot of people who call and say Mike is a disciple of God."
Last month, the week Lindell visited Chaska, the local amateur baseball team, the Chaska Cubs, held its home opener in Athletic Park, not far from Lindell's birthplace. As fans filled the wooden benches in the stands, Bob Roepke, a former mayor of the city and until recently a board member of MyPillow, lingered on the right field line. Lindell's former Peewee hockey coach was there too.
Roepke ate popcorn while leaning against the fence and said what Lindell is going through now is not much different than when he owned Schmitty's, the "the devil broke loose" bar.
“Don't you think that if you've lived on the edge and in the extremes, he just goes to life like that?” Roepke told me later. "I don't think he'll ever say 'uncle'."
Roepke left the board because of his disagreement with Lindell over the election and decided that "maybe it wasn't the healthiest thing for me to keep going."
He's also got into conflict. He still respects Lindell. He likes him personally. Lindell has been a generous benefactor of local charities for many years. He employs people, including recovering addicts, who would be passed over by other companies. As a member of the board of directors of MyPillow, Roepke saw Lindell show unusual loyalty to his former business partners and longtime friends. These qualities, Roepke suspected, stemmed from Lindell's upbringing in what was then a relatively small Chaska.
But at the Cubs game, Roepke was able to point out people who had volunteered in the stands and people like him who had worked in government. If Lindell was right, all of these people, knowingly or not, were busy cheating on their friends and neighbors of their voices. As do countless thousands of other people across the country - all with no verifiable evidence or motive.
Where Lindell's conspiratorial side came from, he said, "I don't know."
He shook his head. Lindell had built a life for herself, destroyed it, made it more stately and a little chaotic again. But this? Roepke said, "It's off the rails."
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